Sebastien Bourdais’ racing career has taken him to some of the most significant and legendary circuits in motorsport, ranging from Indianapolis and Le Mans to Monaco and Monza.
However, it was at the Milwaukee Mile last weekend that the Frenchman produced one of his most outstanding victories, crushing the field en route to his second win of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Bourdais was reflective at the time, refusing to focus on the stats and numbers involved in his victory. However, there is one number that remains with us all.
The heyday of Bourdais’ career may appear to have been and gone. It is remarkable to think that this time ten years ago, the Frenchman was en route to the second of his four Champ Car titles.
Since then, he has cut his teeth in F1, been spat back out by the unforgiving Red Bull junior system, finished second at Le Mans three times and returned to the United States.
Just as Juan Pablo Montoya has proven in the past two years, coming back to IndyCar takes guts. Coming back and being successful though is the mark of a true champion.
Speaking after his victory in Milwaukee, Bourdais was thankful to the KV Racing team for giving him the car to prove that he has lost none of the pace that served him so well in the past.
“[The team] gave me a chance to finally get me back in a car that’s something able to contend for wins,” Bourdais said.
“Not every weekend, but it’s a very competitive field. When you look who can win every weekend, it’s actually not so easy.
“I’m 36 years old, and I don’t feel I’ve been any better than I am right now. I’m just hoping it lasts as long as it can.”
Bourdais’ stock appeared to have nose-dived when he was dropped by Toro Rosso after just 27 races in 2009. The great talent that had tamed the American single seater racing scene was deemed to not have been good enough for F1.
At the time, it was an unfair assessment, and the success that has followed for Bourdais since he last raced in F1 has only made that clearer.
After all, the Red Bull junior programme is F1’s attitude to driver ability and worth at its most brutal. Bourdais’ replacement, Jaime Alguersuari, was dumped at the end of 2011 alongside Sebastien Buemi. Jean-Eric Vergne lasted two seasons before being replaced, whilst Antonio Felix da Costa never even reached F1, and is now a race winner in DTM.
The moral of the story is that there is life beyond and after F1, as Sebastien continues to prove.
Bourdais’ efforts at Toro Rosso were not aided by the fact he had Sebastian Vettel for a teammate during the German driver’s breakout season. The baby-faced 19-year-old stormed through the spray to win at Monza in 2008, becoming the youngest ever winner in the history of the sport.
However, it is often forgotten that it could also have been Bourdais’ breakthrough weekend. The Frenchman had qualified fourth, but a problem with his steering wheel caused him to stall at the start and drop a lap down. He eventually finished 18th, but posted the second-fastest lap of the race.
That came just one week after another near-miss in the Belgian Grand Prix. In one of the most eventful F1 races of the 21st century, a late rain shower caused chaos at Spa. Bourdais had risen to fourth by the penultimate lap, but Toro Rosso’s decision to keep him out on dry tires backfired as he dropped to P7 at the flag.
“It was a lottery on the last lap,” Bourdais said after that race. “It’s a horrible situation, as everything had been under control until then. It was so close to being a great result. I felt I could almost touch it.”
But he never did. By the time Bourdais was dropped following the German Grand Prix in 2009, he had finished no higher than seventh and had scored just six points in total.
At the age of 30, it was difficult to see what the future would hold for Bourdais. Unlike many other Red Bull juniors, he did not have time on his side.
That said, unlike some of the other Red Bull juniors, he did have an enormous amount of talent on his side. And it is a real testament to his ability that has got back to the top step of the podium in IndyCar not just once, but three times now since returning.
If he ever needed to, Bourdais has proven himself once again. He is comfortable in the series which, importantly, doesn’t feature the age ‘problem’ that F1 has – just look at the speculation surrounding the futures of Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen, who are both 35.
Of the top 10 in points in IndyCar at the moment, seven drivers are north of 30 – the lone exceptions are Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden. Bourdais is sixth in the points, yet still behind 40-year-old Helio Castroneves and 39-year-old Montoya, the championship leader.
At 36, Bourdais has never felt better – and you can see why. This success may not last forever, but you would be a fool to think that his two victories in 2015 have been a mere flash in the pan. He is in a comfortable place, but do not think for a second that will become mistaken for complacency.