Sebastien Buemi has given the clearest indication yet that his place in F1 may be under threat, after admitting that he needs to assert himself as the number one choice at Scuderia Toro Rosso.
The Swiss driver is entering his third season with the midfield outfit, but had to endure an uncomfortable winter before the 2010 campaign and another before testing recommenced this month with Toro Rosso never formally confirming its line-up. That naturally led to speculation that neither Buemi or team-mate Jaime Alguersuari were entirely safe in their seats, particularly with rapid Australian Daniel Ricciardo installed as test and reserve pilot following a strong showing in last November's rookie test in Abu Dhabi.
Although he edged Alguersuari 8-5 in terms of points last season, and 11-8 in qualifying across the season, the Spaniard was reckoned to have finished the year more strongly than Buemi, and therefore have a stronger hold for 2011, but both have survived the rumours and, with no-one else announced as the wraps came off the STR6 in Valencia, will start the season in tandem once again.
However, the Red Bull driver academy is not known for its leniency - just ask Brendon Hartley, Mikhail Aleshin and Robert Wickens, amongst others - and reaching the top flight is no guarantee of retaining the drinks company's backing. Helmut Marko, already a controversial figure in F1 circles following his unswerving support of Sebastian Vettel last season, has already hinted that no-one is safe on the roster, and Buemi accepts that he may need to raise his game in 2011 if he is to remain, not only at STR, but also in F1.
"In Bahrain, I have
to be ahead of Alguersuari - in qualifying and the race," he said, having begun testing with the new Toro Rosso machine, "But I'm not afraid that I am not faster than him. I have too much self-confidence, and have proved it in the past several times."
In order to improve his chances of remaining on board through 2011 and into next season, Buemi has made several changes to his support team, with a new chief mechanic already working alongside him in testing and a new fitness regime underway in preparation for the longest F1 campaign in history. He went marginally faster than Alguersuari in Jerez, while Ricciardo wound up half a second slower than the pair after opening the test on Thursday.
"Certainly, one is never certain what is going to happen in the future," Buemi noted, after revealing he had bulked up for the year ahead, "Red Bull has backed me with confidence since 2005 and I hope I'm going to be a member of the family for a long while yet."