Finally confirming one of the worst-kept secrets in the Formula 1 paddock, Sébastien Buemi has been confirmed as a race driver at Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2009 – but there is still no news as to who will partner the young Swiss ace at the Red Bull 'junior' concern.
There had been numerous hints and rumours over the past few months that Buemi was as good as a shoe-in for one of the two seats at STR, and now it is official that the GP2 Series graduate will make his F1 bow in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in March.
“I am naturally very happy to be driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso this year,” enthused the 20-year-old. “Being a Formula 1 driver has always been my target, since I first started racing. This year I will do all I can to bring home the best possible results and to show Red Bull that the confidence it has shown in me is justified. I want to thank Red Bull for this opportunity and for all the help they have given me in my career, dating back to 2005.”
Buemi has indeed been supported by Red Bull for much of his career as part of the energy drinks company's Junior Driver programme, and in 2008 he acted as Red Bull Racing's test driver in the top flight, in addition to competing for Trust Team Arden in F1's feeder category, finishing as runner-up in the Asia Series and sixth in the main drivers' title chase, with a brace of victories along the way at Magny-Cours and the Hungaroring.
“We are delighted to welcome Sébastien, who was already part of the Red Bull family, to our team,” enthused STR team principal Franz Tost. “Our engineers have been impressed with his speed in the car and his ability to learn and progress during the testing he carried out for us last year. That, along with some impressive performances in GP2, was enough to convince us to give him the drive.
“His appointment also fulfils the aims of the Red Bull Junior Driver programme and meets Dietrich Mateschitz's intention to use Scuderia Toro Rosso as a showcase for young drivers the company has supported in the lower formulae.”
Buemi will take to the track for his first outing as an official driver for the Faenza-based outfit at Portimao in Portugal later this month. The second seat is still being disputed between 2008 STR incumbent Sébastien Bourdais and out-of-work Super Aguri F1 refugee Takuma Sato, with a team release stating that 'an announcement will be made at some point before the Australian Grand Prix', and financial clout widely expected to have the last word.
Meanwhile, following the departure of Massimo Rivola, STR has announced that Gianfranco Fantuzzi will assume the position of team manager at the Red Bull-owned operation. Fantuzzi began his F1 career with Ferrari back in the 1970s, eventually progressing to the role of race engineer at the Scuderia
, before moving to Minardi, taking charge of logistics at Toyota and switching to Toro Rosso as general manager in 2006.