Sebastien Buemi’s elevation to Formula One was something of a surprise in 2009 for, in many people’s eyes, the Swiss driver had not really done enough in GP2 to warrant the call from Red Bull.Read more
As with many of F1’s younger element, Buemi began his motorsport in karting, one of the few competitive racing categories permitted in his homeland, and quickly became successful, winning national titles before moving up and claiming the European ICA Junior title in 2002.
That precipitated a move into single-seaters in 2004, starting out in the German Formula BMW series, where he finished third overall behind a dominant Sebastian Vettel. Encouraged, Buemi made his own title bid the following year, but his seven race wins were not enough to deny Nico Hülkenberg, who was handed the crown after Buemi lost points for a driving infringement.
Undeterred, the Swiss moved up to the F3 Euroseries with ASL Mücke Motorsport in 2006, claiming a win at Oschersleben – plus third and fourth respectively in the non-championship Zandvoort Masters and Macau GP - in his rookie season. However, his inexperience meant that he would be a contender for overall honours as Vettel and Scotland’s Paul di Resta battled over the title.
As had been the case in FBMW, Buemi rose to the role of potential champion in his second year but, with a long gap between victories in the season-opener at Hockenheim and Nogaro in the closing stages, he was forced to play second fiddle to Romain Grosjean. Even a third win in the season finale back at Hockenheim proved insufficient, but a packed season may have had something to do with the miss, as Buemi contested a mammoth 44 races, spread across several categories.
It may have harmed his title bid, but the experience proved valuable to the youngster as he raced in both the more powerful A1GP and GP2 before the year was out. Given the chance to step up to the F1 feeder series mid-season, Buemi performed solidly with ART Grand Prix, convincing Red Bull to continue to back him into a full 2008 campaign.
Moving Trust Team Arden, he claimed victory at Sentul in the inaugural GP2 Asia Series, but again had to settle for second overall behind Grosjean, before struggling in the main summer series.
Two sprint race victories, courtesy of GP2’s reverse grid format, came at Magny-Cours and the Hungaroring, but three other podiums were interspersed with problems, including failing to make it around the warm-up lap on a couple of occasions. It was on these grounds that many doubted the wisdom of Red Bull elevating its best-placed protégé into F1 but, having served as nominated reserve for both the brand’s teams throughout the year, Buemi was duly confirmed as Sebastian Vettel’s replacement at Scuderia Toro Rosso before the year was over.
With STR benefitting from its links with Red Bull Technology, and Vettel having taken the previous year’s car to victory in Monza among regular points finishes, an element of expectation lay in front of Buemi in 2009, but the STR4, when it was finally introduced in Monaco, was never developed at the same rate as the front-running RB5, leaving the Swiss youngster to pick up scraps as and when he could.
Points on debut, with the old car, in Melbourne quieted a few doubters, while eighth place two races later in China ensured that he reached mid-season ahead of much-vaunted team-mate Sebastien Bourdais. When the Frenchman was dismissed, and replaced with untried rookie Jaime Alguersuari, during the summer break, STR had the least experienced pairing on the grid, and it showed as results proved hard to come by, despite Buemi occasionally threatening the top ten in qualifying. Two further points finishes - seventh in Brazil and eighth in Abu Dhabi - provided encouragement and all but secured Buemi's place in the squad for 2010.
The announcement was slow in coming, but the Swiss driver was back for a second season, although he would have to deal with Toro Rosso's first self-designed chassis since it emerged from the guise of Minardi. The heavily Red Bull-influenced design showned well in testing, but it remains to be seen how it, and its young driver, would fare in 2010.
With enough in hand to keep it clear of the three newcomer teams, Toro Rosso was always destined to finish the year ninth in the constructors' race, but Buemi showed, on occasion, that he could transcend its mediocrity. He only scored on four occasions, and the mistake-led retirements were fewer, but his 14-point haul was skewed by F1's new scoring system. His 16th place overall was only three better than team-mate Alguersuari, but the Spaniard appeared to have the upper hand in the final few rounds.
Neither driver was confirmed in a hurry for 2011, although an unchanged line-up always appeared likely. The start of the year was tough for both, however, although Buemi scored twice in the opening five rounds. He then managed another five top ten appearances in the remaining 14 races, but his 15-point haul, while good enough to keep STR in the hunt for sixth in the team standings until the final round, wasn't enough to appease Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko, who ordered that both Buemi and Alguersuari be dropped at the end of the year.
While his team-mate was cast adrift ahead of 2012, Buemi was thrown a lifeline by Red Bull, which returned him to the test/reserve role that he last held in 2008, and gives him hope of resurrecting his F1 race career in future. Keen to continue racing one way or another, Buemi also became an integral part of Toyota's return to sportscar racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Swiss driver was subsequently reconfirmed in his back-up role with RBR for 2013, despite harbouring the option of switching to a similar position at Ferrari, and looks set to have take other opportunities to continue competing in other categories for at least another year.