Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can Senna step up with Williams?

Will Gray

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New Williams signing Bruno Senna

Bruno Senna has spent his career both benefiting and suffering from his famous F1 name - but if you forget the branding and just consider the results, does he have what it takes to finally make it in F1?

Senna started racing early and was a promising young karter when his famous uncle Ayrton tragically died at Imola in 1994. His family soon stopped him from racing, and he only got back to the track 10 years later.

In British F3 he had a less than inspiring 10th place championship finish and his second season there was a mixed bag with a lucky escape from a massive crash at Snetterton but five wins taking him to third in the championship. He had a promising start in GP2 in 2007, with victory in his third race, but he only finished eighth in the championship.

All through this time, he showed flashes of speed but a lack of consistency, and the name was a mixed blessing with some saying he didn't have the talent to match the heritage and others seeing shades of his uncle in his style and approach.

In his second GP2 season in 2008 he did manage to string good results together. Winning the title would have put him in a category alongside Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, both former winners themselves, helping him to slide aside that name and put himself there on merit alone. Instead, he finished second to Giorgio Pantano, a veteran F1 reject.

It's fair to argue that to beat Pantano should have been a given if Senna was to prove himself, but at least that season showed Senna deserves the time he has already had in F1.

No less than nine drivers from that season graduated to F1, and all of them finished behind Senna that year. Lucas Di Grassi was third, Romain Grosjean fourth, Senna's new team-mate at Williams Pastor Maldonado fifth, Sebastien Buemi sixth, Vitaly Petrov seventh, Karun Chandhok 10th, Jerome D'Ambrosio 11th and Kamui Kobayashi 16th.

Of those, more than half were, like Senna, in their second GP2 season — Di Grassi, Maldonado, Petrov, Chandhok and Buemi — and of those all but Buemi continued in GP2 for a third year but still did not win the title, with Nico Hulkenberg coming in and taking it instead.

At the time Gerhard Berger, a former team-mate and long-time friend of Ayrton who mentored Bruno Senna early in his career, concurred: "Bruno is good enough for F1, but the same applies also to Roman Grosjean and Sebastien Buemi — and so far none of those three have totally convinced me. You could say that I don't yet see a new Vettel."

Since then, Senna has had time to show those qualities, but he has not had the machinery.

He now has 26 F1 races under his belt — so he certainly cannot be described as a rookie — but 18 of those came with HRT in their first season and eight in a car Renault themselves admitted was a "failure" and was dropping back down the grid due to a lack of development.

When Senna arrived at Renault, technical director James Allison said warned that many promising careers have failed when drivers joined the championship in the middle of the season. That was the risk for Senna, but with only his time at HRT on his F1 credentials it was essential to prevent his career from going off track.

Senna's enthusiasm was pointed out as a vital quality amongst the technical team, and that will certainly be welcome at Williams too, but his technical feedback remained relatively un-discussed — which is why Williams put it to the test in their decision making process.

There is no denying Senna got the drive thanks to his Brazilian sponsors' financial clout, but how much that was balanced out by talent testing remains a closely guarded secret at Grove.

Senna was rejected by Brawn in 2009 in favour of Rubens Barrichello and was rejected again by Renault after last season — a bizarre decision given the money Senna is supposed to bring with him - but if anyone can get the best out of him, it's Sir Frank Williams.

And maybe he has seen what Senna's former boss at iSport, Paul Jackson, saw back in that 2008 season in GP2.

"His speed is obvious, but he's also incredibly bright," Jackson said then. "Driving the car uses only a small percentage of his mental capacity, and that's typical of the really top guys. He learns very quickly. He missed out for 10 years, but he's proving it's possible to fill the gap..."

The only question that remains, then, is how big that gap is and how long Senna has to close it.

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