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The battle for the last remaining seat in Formula 1 brought back some memories from days past. Force India had to choose between Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi and both were recently testing in Barcelona. Thirteen years ago, something similar happened at Williams. We all know who got the nod back then but who was Jenson Button's rival? GPUpdate.net found him and had a good chat.
Bruno Junqueira had everything going for him in 2000. The Brazilian was testing for Williams and when it became clear that Alex Zanardi wouldn't be driving for the team in the coming season, he thought his Formula 1 debut was right around the corner. But Williams brought in Formula 3 driver Jenson Button and gave him the drive after a shoot-out in Spain. Junqueira would never drive a Formula 1 race and continued his career in the US, where he gained considerable success.
Junqueira was more than happy to talk about his time as a Williams test driver. "At the time, Williams had the idea to have a third driver," he said. "They needed a test between me and Darren Manning, who was the new British hope as the Macau winner in '99. But also, they wanted to test a German driver, because they were going to drive with a BMW engine. Because I did so well for the Petrobras Junior Team, who had the same sponsors as Williams, Williams gave me the test.
"It was a good, proper three-day test in Jerez. Everything worked well and I was chosen to be the third driver. If Alex Zanardi had any problems, I would be the one to replace him. And when Zanardi got fired, I couldn't belive it. I was going to get the drive! But then I was contacted and they said 'we have a very good British driver and we want to test him, with you as a benchmark'."
And despite a hopelessly unreliable BMW engine, a comparison could be made after a couple of days of testing. "At the time, they didn't show anybody any laptimes," Junqueira explained. "It wasn't like today, where there are timing screens. So they made sure that they didn't tell me the lap times. Someone told me I was like a tenth quicker than him. But more important than that, I heard that me and Jenson were basically the same, performance-wise, on the long run. The engineer liked me because I had more experience. I was like 24, he was 20. I had a Formula 3000 season under my belt, he just had Formula 3.
"But for some reason, they chose Jenson. I think he was a great talent and he's a great driver, but it was very hard. I was all by myself and I didn't have much information. At the end of the day, I'll never know the whole truth. I don't know if I was bad, or that they just wanted an English driver. It's hard to say why; in Formula 1, it can be so many things. But they picked Jenson. That's what happened.
"My goal was Formula 1, but I didn't have a chance to race for a good team in 2001. I had like five offers on the table at the end of 2000. But mostly for testing, even a two-year testing contract. The racing seats that were available were not 100 percent sure, you had to wait and they were at small teams. Maybe they needed money and then I got a good offer to come to the US. And in my second year there I finished second in the championship, but I never got the chance to come back to Europe."
Junqueira finished second in the Champ Car series for three years in a row and took pole at Indianapolis in 2002. "A journalist asked me, after Jenson got the championship, what I thought," he added. "But it's funny, in the first five years in the US, I won a lot of races and finished second in the championship three times. And he didn't win anything. So I said 'for sure he made more money, but I had more fun'.
"In racing, it's a fine line between getting it right or wrong. Sometimes, you have to be a little bit lucky. My goal was to race in Formula 1, but I'm very happy with my career. I tested for Formula 1 and took the F3000 championship. Mark Webber finished third that year, Fernando Alonso fourth. Of course, those guys were very talented."
Junqueira still follows Formula 1 and would love to return to Europe one day. But that dream of racing in Formula 1, that one will never come true.
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