Sebastien Buemi

Sébastien Buemi, 2010

Formula 1 can be a strange sport sometimes. Maybe it’s because it’s the top echelon of motorsport that it becomes so insular that it scarcely bothers to examine the potential of new drivers until they arrive in the sport, and not on their achievements before.

Switzerland’s Sébastien Buemi is a case in point. The career of a racing driver can assume iceberg-like qualities in the modern era – with much of it being invisible below the surface – and it took the Red Bull drinks giant to discover and mentor this young man who hails from a country where motorsport is banned.

Second place in the Formula BMW championship in his maiden season was a good sign, followed up by the runner-up spot in the Formula 3 Euroseries championship the following year. Dovetailing this with duties in the A1GP series for Team Switzerland, he ran in tandem in the GP2 championship when the chance opportunity to join the series with the top-shelf ART team came about.

Grasping the opportunity with both hands, he took two wins the following year and by then was already testing with Red Bull’s F1 team, all by the age of nineteen!

He made his F1 debut at Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2009, and few outside of the Red Bull group expected much of him, partnered as he was alongside the four-time ChampCar Sebastien Buemi, 2010 Monaco GPchampion Sébastien Bourdais.

By season’s end, he’d achieved near universal respect in the paddock, thrashed Bourdais into being fired mid-season and was a regular top-ten qualifier by the end of the season.

In 2010, STR faced the challenge of having to design and build its own independent chassis rather than relying on Red Bull for assistance, and the team’s lack of resources saw him struggle at times. But he retained his cool, stuck it out and took his chances, which again brings us back to the iceberg.

While to the outsider, one might assume a critical approach with Sébastien based on his 2010 results, underneath the exterior lies a man with a huge drive to succeed and a talent that could go places.

Sébastien and Scuderia Toro Rosso kindly granted this exclusive interview with Richard’s F1, and we extend our thanks to his team for their support and assistance in making the interview possible.

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  SÉBASTIEN’S BIO & CAREER SUMMARY
Born: 31 October 1988, Aigle, Vaud (SUI)
FORMULA 1 CAREER SUMMARY
2007 Red Bull Racing Renault RB3, test driver
2008 Red Bull Racing Renault RB4, test and reserve driver
2009 Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR4, 17 entries, 6 points, 16th overall
2010 Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR5, 19 entries, 8 points, 16th overall
Overall 36 entries, 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 podiums, 14 points
   
  OTHER CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
2004 Formula BMW ADAC, Lars Kaufmann Motorsport, 20 races, 0 wins, 10 podiums, 188 points, 3rd overall
2005 Formula BMW ADAC, Berlin-Brandenburg EV, 20 races, 7 wins, 16 podiums, 282 points, 2nd overall
  Spanish Formula 3, Racing Engineering, 1 race, 0 points, not classified
2006 Formula 3 Euroseries, ASL Mücke Motorsport, 20 races, 1 win, 3 podiums, 31 points, 12th overall
  Masters of Formula 3, ASL Mücke Motorsport, 3rd overall 
  Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, Motopark Academy, 8 races, 2 wins, 6 podiums, 172 points, 7th overall
  Eurocup Formula Renault, Motopark Academy, 6 races, 1 win, 33 points, 11th overall
2006-7 A1GP, Team Switzerland, 12 races, 0 wins, 1 fastest lap, 50 points, 8th overall
2007 Formula 3 Euroseries, ASL Mücke Motorsport, 20 races, 3 wins, 13 podiums, 95 points, 2nd overall
  GP2 Series, ART Grand Prix, 11 races, 0 wins, 6 points, 21st overall
  Macau F3 Grand Prix, Räikkönen Robertson Racing, 11th overall
2008 GP2 Asia Series, Team Arden, 10 races, 1 win, 5 podiums, 37 points, 2nd overall
  GP2 Series, Team Arden, 19 races, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 50 points, 6th overall

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Growing up in a country where most forms of motorsport are banned, how did you become involved in the sport? Was it always your ambition to become a Formula 1 driver?

My grandfather raced cars, he even competed at Le Mans and there were always cars and motorbikes around when I was growing up. Then, in 1993, my father bought me a go-kart for Christmas which I drove in the car park of my family’s business. That’s how it started, but at the time I was not really thinking of a career in Formula 1.

Growing up, did you have any idols in motorsport?

No, not really, but I remember watching the Grands Prix on TV with my family.

When did your association with the Red Bull drinks company begin and how did the opportunity come about?

It began at the start of 2004 when I had just started Formula BMW and in my first race I finished second behind Sebastian Vettel. They approached me to be part of their Young Driver Programme.

Sebastien Buemi, 2006 Formula 3 Euroseries Sebastien Buemi, 2006 A1GP
The younger years: Buemi was a prodigious talent in the junior formulae and quickly snapped up by Red Bull for their Driver Development program. Success in Formula 3 Euroseries and A1GP were steps in the ladder to F1.

You progressed through the junior formulae and were given your GP2 debut in 2007 at – of all the difficult places – Monaco with ART Grand Prix team (pictured below), and impressed on your first appearance, which in turn saw you retained by the outfit for the GP2 Asia Series and a full season in 2008. What was the competition like among a host of aspiring drivers?

Buemi made headlines with his GP2 debut at Monaco in 2007 GP2 is really competitive because by the time you get to this series, even if you are still very young, you have all done similar things to get there, karting, Formula BMW, F3 and so on. Everyone in GP2 is really thinking of only one thing and that is to make it into F1 and so it is very close. Also the format is fantastic but tough with two races per weekend.

Your first GP2 win came about with a clever tactical decision in France. What was that weekend like and what were your emotions after the win?

I still remember that race in Magny Cours, because I basically started from the back of the grid in wet conditions and managed to work my way past everyone to take the victory. Sometimes you have a day when you get in the cockpit and everything falls into place. That was one of those days.

Sebastien Buemi, 2007 Red Bull F1 Test Your first F1 outing came in September 2007 with a test for Red Bull (pictured), where you finished third-fastest on the day, which led to your being confirmed as the team’s reserve driver for the 2008 F1 season. What were your first impressions of the RB3?

Finally sitting in a Formula 1 car was a fantastic feeling, very exciting. But my main concern was to make sure I didn’t do any mistakes. I had never driven anything quite so quick or light, but the most impressive thing about an F1 car has to be the brakes and how quickly it stops. The other impressive feature is just how much work the driver has to do from the cockpit, with so many different controls to deal with.

You made your F1 debut with Toro Rosso at the start of the 2009 season. Were you offered any advice on your debut weekend?

Sebastien Buemi & Sebastien Bourdais, 2009 Australian GP
Buemi was not expected to fare well against Toro Rosso team-mate Sébastien Bourdais, but landed up thumping the multiple ChampCar champion in his debut F1 season. [Image via AUTOSPORT]

Not really, except to bring the car home in one piece! Of course, I was given plenty of advice by my engineers and at Scuderia Toro Rosso they already had good experience of dealing with new drivers.

You were partnered alongside the multiple ChampCar champion Sébastien Bourdais (pictured together), and earned considerable credit by outqualifying him on debut and finishing in the points. What were your thoughts on your debut?

To be honest, at my first Grand Prix weekend, I was too busy and had too much to do to even think about my team-mate. It was great to finish in the points on my debut as that is quite an exclusive club, but the feeling soon passes as you are only interested in doing better every race. I was very excited to be in my first F1 race and I don’t think I slept very well on the Saturday night! But once it was time to get in the car for the start, it all felt much calmer.

Consistently out-qualifying and out-racing Bourdais was probably not part of his game plan, but it certainly boosted your stock within the team and the paddock and it led to his leaving the team mid-season. Why do you think he struggled so much in Formula 1?

My performance had nothing to do with Bourdais leaving in the middle of the season and because he had a difficult time, the fact that I was quicker than him did not do much in terms of boosting my standing within the team. I don’t know why he struggled. He had been racing in the USA for many seasons where the cars are very different and he just seemed to find it hard to adapt to Formula 1.

The team brought in Jaime Alguersuari at Hungary and he became the youngest ever driver to start a Grand Prix and has been your team-mate ever since. What were your initial impressions of Jaime and what is your relationship like with him now?

I knew Jaime had been very quick in all the lower formulae, but when he came to Scuderia Toro Rosso, he had so little experience. He was a bit lost at first and found it quite difficult. But the team looked after him well and he gradually developed. At first though, it meant I could not rely on him to help with the development of the car. We get on well now after almost two years together and occasionally spend time together when we are not racing. He’s a nice guy.

Having now just completed the 2010 season where you collected eight championship points, what are your thoughts on the season just finished?

It was a very tough season, the toughest. What many people did not realise is that we were in a similar position in many ways to the three new teams. Like them, this was the first year we raced a car that we had designed and built entirely ourselves, because the new rules meant we could no longer use the same chassis provided by Red Bull Technology. This required a lot of work, taking on more staff and learning to use our new wind tunnel. So a tough time and finishing last of the ‘established’ teams in the championship was the logical conclusion. We intend to do better in 2011.

Sebastien Buemi, 2010 Monaco GP
The first points finish in 2010 came at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Buemi was promoted to 10th after Michael Schumacher was penalised post-race. Buemi would describe 2010 as the toughest year in his motorsport career.
[Image via The Cahier Archive]
 

Toro Rosso became its own chassis designer/constructor in 2010. What has the STR5 been like to drive?

Buemi’s frightening accident at the Chinese GP

Put simply: not quick enough!

You had quite a scary practice accident in China where the front wheels parted company after the front suspension shattered. What happened?

In this situation you don’t have much time to think. Looking at the TV I see that I was still trying to steer the car even though I had no front wheels!

STR initially rejected the notion of implementing the ‘F-duct’ and later decided to pursue its design. Despite testing it on several Grand Prix weekends, it was never raced. Why was this, and how much of an effect did it have on the team’s competitiveness?

We did not have the manpower to develop it at first. We tried it when we could but it was not working properly. It was a big handicap in terms of top speed and meant we had to run less wing than our rivals to keep our speed up.

The 2011 season sees the reintroduction of KERS and the adjustable rear wing – both have the aims of improving overtaking. Do you believe these will improve racing next year, and what more need to be done to improve Formula 1?

I don’t know what the effect will be. We saw before that KERS did help overtaking at the start, but it was mainly good to defend against being overtaken. The best way to improve the show by creating more passing chances is to reduce downforce on the cars.

Your stated aim has been to be in a position to graduate to the senior Red Bull squad if Mark Webber decides to retire at the end of 2011. What are your aims for the 2011 season with STR and what do you believe you need to do to prove you deserve the seat at Red Bull Racing?

Our aims are always the same, to do better, to be more competitive and to try and win races. But you cannot do any of that without the right equipment. So there is no point in picking a target for 2011 until we see what the STR6 will be like. A seat with Red Bull Racing? That would be nice as they are a championship winning team and it would involve my results proving I am their best option.

What would be your best memories in your motorsport career to-date?

My next race.

What is your favourite racing circuit?

Spa, Suzuka, and Monaco are all fantastic circuits.

[Original images via AUTOSPORT, GP Update, LAT, Sutton Images & The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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