|Date of Birth||31st October 1988|
|Team||Toro Rosso (2009-11)|
|Best Result||7th (AUS 2009, BRA 2009)|
The Red Bull Junior Team is dedicated to the unearthing and recruiting of young motorsport talent and gearing them for a drive in Red Bull’s multiple championship-winning Formula One team. To reach this level though, these drivers (upon delivering satisfactory results in junior formulae, of course) must impress in Red Bull’s satellite Toro Rosso team. This is where Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen all came through to reach the ‘main’ Red Bull team, and where other drivers have fallen by the wayside, cast out of the sport they worked so hard to reach: Scott Speed, Sébastien Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari, Jean-Éric Vergne and, of course, Sébastien Buemi, former WEC and defending Formula E champion heading into the young category’s third season.
Before Formula One
Sébastien Olivier Buemi was born in the tranquil Swiss town of Aigle in the canton of Vaud in 1988. Racing proved to be something of a family pastime; his grandfather Georges Gachnang was a keen sports car racer in the 1960s and his cousin Natacha Gachnang is a racing driver with experience in Formula BMW, F3 and the short-lived F2 series that ran from 2009-12. Sébastien’s own journey began in Christmas 1993 when his father bought him his first kart, much to the displeasure of Georges. Being a member of a generation before safety was a byword in the sport’s evolution, Georges lost many acquaintances during his career, including his close friend Jo Bonnier at Le Mans in 1972. Despite this early hesitation though, Georges became one of Sébastien’s biggest supporters, and was a regular sight wherever he was racing.
Buemi’s first year of competitive kart racing brought instant success, winning the Swiss Minis Championship at the age of nine, the first of four national titles won by him between 1998 and 2002. He also won the European Championship in 2002 and the Italian title in 2003. In 2004, now aged fifteen, Buemi made the step up to single seaters, his first destination: German Formula BMW, where his cousin Natacha was entering her second season.
Driving for Lars Kaufmann Racing, Buemi performed admirably, taking pole positions at the Lausitzring and Norisring and finishing on the podium on eight occasions. He was never first across the line, a difficult feat in itself, as the similarly named Sebastian Vettel was hogging all the glory by winning all but two of the twenty races, a streak of dominance that even his 2011 and 2013 F1 title campaigns cannot match. But Vettel already had a season in the category under his belt, while Buemi was only a rookie, the highest placed in the championship with a fine third place after a season-long battle for this honour with Dutch New Zealander Chris van der Drift. However, it was the latter who would take home the separate rookie championship by just one point after an exciting duel in the final round at Hockenheim. Nevertheless, Buemi had caught the good eye of Dr. Helmut Marko and he signed a five-year contract with Red Bull, whose livery would be appearing on his car from 2005.
Buemi had also been given his first taste of Formula One machinery in 2004; in July, sponsor TAG Heuer had organised a test run for him in an old Arrows A20 at the Circuit du Luc, one-time home of the AGS F1 team, who now ran the ‘TAG Heuer Formula 1 Driving School with AGS’. The experience only served to fuel the Swiss teenager’s hunger for F1 glory, who commented: “the sensations are extraordinary. More than ever after this experience, I am determined to conquer the Formula BMW Championship in order to gradually climb the rungs that I hope will one day lead to Formula 1.”
Season two of Formula BMW ADAC would prove to be a touch more interesting to the onlooker, as a fierce battle for the title unfolded between our intrepid Swiss hero and another familiar name from our contemporary Formula One: rookie driver Nico Hülkenberg. Buemi was now driving for Mücke Motorsport, who gave Vettel the drive that took him to title dominance. The head-to-head stats would be close between Nico and Sébastien: nine poles for Nico vs. seven for Seb, eight wins vs. seven, and six other podiums vs. nine. The title race predictably went down to the wire at Hockenheim in October and, like all good title showdowns, it had its share of controversy. After a late braking move made by the Swiss at the end of a safety car period in the Saturday race he was given a 30-second time penalty; Hülkenberg got the same penalty for overtaking Buemi. An appeal was launched, and the stewards decided there was no unsportsmanlike conduct in Buemi’s driving and revoked his penalty, which gave him the win and the series title with an unassailable points lead of 290 to Hülkenberg’s 265. Hülkenberg won the Sunday race, undeterred by this setback, with Buemi coming home third. The saga did not end here though, as another appeal was launched regarding Buemi’s driving in the first race and this time the results were more serious, with Seb now being given a 60-second penalty, which demoted him to sixteenth place and gave Hülkenberg the title instead.
But Buemi would have one final chance to one-up Hülkenberg before the year was out, and that was at the first Formula BMW World Final, held on the Bahrain International Circuit on the 16th December. It was an event with a massive 35-driver entry list consisting of the frontrunners from the German, British, American and Asian Formula BMW series. Now it was Hülkenberg’s turn to feel the wrath of the stewards, and once again it involved a safety car: The German was first on the road, but he was given a ten-second penalty after failing to maintain his slow pace in the time between the withdrawal of the safety car and the waving of the green flag; he was thus demoted to third. Buemi took second, while Marco Holzer was awarded the win and the BMW Sauber F1 test drive that came with it.
Buemi was still not a champion in single seaters, but this mattered little to his career progression, as he moved up to the F3 Euro Series with Mücke for the 2006 season. He had some experience with chassis supplier Dallara’s F305 from a one-off appearance in a Spanish F3 round in 2005, so it was not entirely a step into the unknown. His teammate, Jonathan Summerton, was a fellow rookie fresh out of Formula BMW who had scored a single podium at Spa; this all suggested 2006 might be a strong début season for Buemi. However, results here were more mixed than they were in Formula BMW, with the Swiss, whether through his fault or others’, getting involved in a number of incidents, including a tangle with Kamui Kobayashi in the first Lausitzring race that ended with his Dallara in a precarious upside-down position, two more during the Norisring weekend (one with Charlie Kimball in qualifying and the other with fellow Red Bull junior Sebastian Vettel in race two) and a first corner collision with Romain Grosjean in the first Le Mans race.
Watch: Buemi and Kobayashi tangle at the Lausitzring.
The season did have its bright spots though; at the non-championship Masters of Formula 3 event at Zandvoort, Buemi was part of an exciting battle for pole position – ultimately ending up third – before making an excellent start in the race, overtaking pole sitter Giedo van der Garde and slotting into second behind Paul di Resta. Giedo was not one to give up though, and Buemi had to fend off the local hero for lap after lap. This order remained until lap nine, when the Dutchman finally got past at Tarzan and promptly chased down di Resta, though this time a pass would not be made. Buemi ended the race where he started – in third – but was only four seconds off the leading pair. He would walk away from his first Euro Series season having attained more fastest race laps than anyone else and a win in the second Oschersleben race, achieved after having a much better getaway from second on the grid than pole sitter Guillaume Moreau, and after Vettel had spun off attempting to pressure Buemi for the lead. He ended the year twelfth in the standings, one point behind teammate Summerton, who won the final race at Hockenheim from reverse grid pole. Despite a rather middling introduction to Formula Three, Buemi was picked up by Trevor Carlin to join Vettel, Oliver Jarvis and Maro Engel in their assault on that most prestigious of F3 motor races, the Macau Grand Prix.
The Guia Circuit in Macau is one that, as the saying goes, needs no introduction; this would surely be the biggest single event of young Sébastien Buemi’s career thus far. Both qualifying sessions for Macau were held in the rain, and the state of chaos that it naturally heralded resulted in quite a few broken bits of cars and frustrated drivers. Among the overzealous or unlucky were Adrian Sutil, Charlie Kimball, newly crowned F3 Euro Series champion Paul di Resta, Mike Conway and even pole sitter Kamui Kobayashi, either ending up in the barriers lining the circuit, or running over debris left by those who ended up in the barriers lining the circuit. Buemi seemed unable to take proper advantage of this and ended up eighteenth on the grid for the qualifying race. This time he would be able to benefit from retirements and other misfortunes further up the order – including a crash by teammate Vettel on the penultimate lap – to end up twelfth on the grid for the main event, where once again chaos was the word of the day. On the opening lap, di Resta slid into front-row starters Kobayashi and Marko Asmer at Lisboa, allowing Conway (who had started seventh) to take the lead. Another collision between di Resta and Rodolfo Avila brought out the safety car. Later, on lap nine, Kobayashi collided with Romain Grosjean, and Kohei Hirate, another frontrunner, ended up in the wall on the penultimate lap. With all this, Buemi was able to claim fourth place, seven seconds off race winner Conway.
Buemi’s 2006 season also consisted of a part-time Formula Renault schedule wherever his F3 commitments allowed, which he used as an opportunity to learn circuits that he would also be racing on in F3 that year, such as the Nürburgring and Zandvoort. He took three wins: two in Northern European Cup races at the Nürburgring and Salzburgring, and one in the Eurocup at Donington Park. His racing activities would not be suspended for the winter of 2006-07, for he had earned a spot on the Swiss A1 Grand Prix team, sharing his seat with fellow Red Bull protégé Neel Jani; Buemi would have the honour of leading the team in the opening two rounds of the 2006-07 season at Zandvoort and Brno.
He qualified well at Zandvoort, setting the fifth fastest time, but scrutineering found that the car had run with only one anti-roll bar canister instead of the required two. He was judged to have gained no performance advantage, but, in the interest of upholding the importance of conforming to the technical regulations, he was demoted to eleventh on the grid, which became tenth in the sprint race, just half a second off home driver Jeroen Bleekemolen. He would start ninth for the feature race and finish eighth after having to serve a drive-through penalty for pitting before the designated pit stop window. Not an ideal weekend, but a nevertheless respectable A1GP début.
Brno was a broadly similar story results-wise; Buemi ended the second free practice session in second place behind his old Formula BMW rival Nico Hülkenberg (who was representing Germany in the series), before finishing eighth and tenth in the respective races, briefly leading the feature race before having to pit, and once again finishing right on Bleekemolen’s tail, who himself was trying unsuccessfully to pass China’s Congfu Cheng.
Jani took over for the Beijing round, which was being held only several days before Buemi’s Macau début, and would also be driving the car at the following two rounds in Sepang and Sentul – winning the sprint race from pole in Sepang – before Buemi would return to the wheel for the first round of the New Year at Taupo in New Zealand. He had shown improvement since he had last raced three months earlier in Brno, qualifying and finishing fifth in the sprint race and fourth in the feature, less than a second off a podium spot behind local boy Jonny Reid, and 1.3 seconds off second place finisher Loïc Duval.
Jani was scheduled to take over once again for the next round at Eastern Creek, before a rather painful incident involving a car door slamming on his hand following a Champ Car test at Sebring left him unable to compete. Buemi, who had just flown home to Europe, was asked to return: “I hardly had time to unpack when I received a phone call from our team principal asking if I could return to Eastern Creek. It feels good to know I’m driving again, but it is a big responsibility because I have never seen the track before.” Experience or lack thereof did not seem as great a handicap as he might have anticipated, as he finished an excellent fourth in the sprint race, but he did not make many friends in the feature race, least of all the Irish team, as an optimistic move on Richard Lyons resulted in a damaged suspension for the Ulsterman, ruining his chances of securing the seventh place in which he had been running. Lyons himself had some harsh words on the incident:
“It’s a bit difficult to get a result when someone drives into the back of your car and pushes you off the track. I am not sure what tactic that is, but maybe the guy has to take his brain out to get his helmet to fit. We’d had a good race up until then, again the pit stop was great and we were making up places. Malaysia (Alex Yoong) in front of me was struggling so I could have taken him, but Switzerland put an end to that.”
Ireland team principal Mark Gallagher was no more impressed, but Mark, also head of commercial affairs at Red Bull Racing, did not feel so compelled to ask whether the Swiss driver’s head was too big for his helmet:
“Gary (Anderson), Richard, John O’Hara and the whole team have worked really hard to move things forward over the last two race weekends and today a top 6 finish was on the cards. The race incident isn’t worth agonising over – I doubt Buemi will build a career on that.”
Jani was back from his injury three weeks later for the South African round at Durban, with Marcel Fässler taking over for Mexico City. Buemi was kept busy during this period, filling in for Sebastian Vettel at Carlin in a World Series by Renault test at the Circuit de Catalunya, the German unavailable due to his F1 commitments with the BMW Sauber team in Melbourne. He put in the seventh best time on the second (and his only) day of running. He was also gearing up for his second season in the F3 Euro Series and put in some very quick times in testing, but come April, it was A1GP time again, Buemi receiving the honour of leading Switzerland in the final two rounds of the season at Shanghai and Brands Hatch. His thoughts:
“It’s very exciting to be back behind the wheel, the last time was in Australia where I scored seven points for the team. Since then, I have kept very busy testing for F3 and preparing ahead of the season, setting the fastest times in most of the recent tests. Of course, I have no experience yet of driving on the Shanghai track, but I had a good look at the track and at last year’s data. I will arrive early to get over the jet-lag and be able to see the track, so I hope it will go well. I hope to keep the good level and good results of the team at the penultimate race for the race in China.”
Switzerland team principal Max Welti also expressed his optimism for the upcoming Shanghai race:
“I am confident that with our experience on this track from last year, a well-prepared car, and Sébastien Buemi back on racing duties with Marcel Fässler our rookie again, we will do a good job on the impressive Chinese track. The championship is very close with our team sixth in the classification with 45 points, five points behind Malaysia and two points ahead of Netherlands and we are more determined than ever to take a step up in the classification this weekend. We are determined to continue moving up the standings with a great result this weekend.”
Buemi finished fourth in the sprint race after a fine overtaking move on his 2006 F3 teammate Jonathan Summerton in the penultimate corner. He followed this up with a ninth in the feature race, within touching distance of France’s Jean-Karl Vernay. Once again, he did rather well when taking his lack of experience into consideration.
The following week, Buemi was back in Europe for the beginning of the 2007 edition of the F3 Euro Series. He was reunited with Peter Mücke’s outfit, and had a new teammate in series rookie Edoardo Piscopo. This time, Buemi showed what difference a year could make by leading from lights to flag in the opening race at Hockenheim, followed by a third in the reverse grid race at the same venue, these results giving him the championship lead. Thus, Sébastien went into his next race, the A1GP season finale at Brands Hatch a week later, in good spirits:
“I have just taken two podiums this weekend in the F3 championship in Germany. I am top of my form and already know part of the Brands Hatch circuit as I’ve raced on a shorter version before. I only have another four corners to learn in real terms. The race this weekend will be good training for me next time I’m here in three months. After Shanghai, my objective is a podium to end the season and climb back up the championship standings.”
Despite Buemi’s confidence going into the weekend, it would turn out to be one to forget; an attempt to overtake South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg into Paddock Hill in the sprint race ended with both stranded in the gravel. With the grid for the feature race determined by a system of points accumulated in the sprint, Buemi would be starting a disappointing 20th in what would be his final competitive drive in A1GP. He certainly made the most of it, fighting his way up to twelfth by the chequered flag, only to be disqualified along with Ireland’s Richard Lyons for missing the designated pitstop window.
It would be over a month before Buemi’s next F3 race, but he would find himself back in action sooner than anticipated; Red Bull Junior Michael Ammermüller had injured his wrist in the GP2 curtain-raiser in Bahrain and had been replaced in his ART Grand Prix team by Mikhail Aleshin for the second round of the season at Catalunya. Ammermüller was expected to return for round three in Monaco, but a last-minute check-up revealed that his wrist had not healed enough, and so Seb Buemi was hastily nominated as his replacement. This being an opportunity to race at one of motor racing’s most prestigious venues the Swiss was elated: “Of course I’m sorry for Michael, but I’m still looking forward to the assignment. After all it’s something special to get to race in Monaco.”
Like in A1GP, Buemi was quick to adapt to unfamiliar conditions; despite the car and circuit both being very new to him, he acquitted himself well and was lapping on a pace that compared favourably with that of his teammate Lucas di Grassi in practice, the two sitting at the top of the timesheets in the Friday session, with the Brazilian leading the Swiss by less than a tenth of a second. The order was reversed in qualifying, Buemi outpacing di Grassi by just four hundredths to take fourth on the grid behind Andi Zuber, Giorgio Pantano and pole sitter Pastor Maldonado, who dominated much of the session. At this time the GP2 format for Monaco was atypical for the series, consisting only of a single feature race, as opposed to the double header format used in other rounds and in more recent visits by GP2 to the principality. As such, there would be no reverse grid pole for anyone to worry about, and only one winner’s trophy to take home. Buemi did not achieve a great getaway at the start; he initially passed Zuber for third, the Austrian-born Emirati having stalled his car, but di Grassi immediately came through to take the position from Buemi in the run to Sainte Devote. He would end the opening lap in sixth place, having also been passed by Vitaly Petrov and Luca Filippi. Like Buemi’s Macau experience, the combination of inexperienced youngsters and a street circuit had somewhat disastrous results for some. In brief, among those running into either each other or the barriers were Karun Chandhok, Andy Soucek, defending Macau GP winner Mike Conway, Sakon Yamamoto, Roldán Rodríguez, Nico Lapierre (who had made contact with Buemi at Rascasse), Javier Villa, Jason Tahinci, Borja García and Sergio Jimenez. The result: ‘only’ two safety car periods, almost a dozen shattered egos and even more broken bits of carbon fibre. Buemi ended this chaotic event in seventh place, a result he could be satisfied with, but his post-race comments suggested the contrary, as he rued his own struggles with the clutch of this strange new GP2 machine that he was still getting used to:
“I had a little problem with the clutch, I was too nice with it. My errors cost us time, in particular during the pitstop. Without them we would not have lost places during the start as well, so it is a little frustrating compared to how things went at the start of the weekend.”
ART team principal Frédéric Vasseur, despite his disappointment with the end result (di Grassi ended the race only fifth), was still quite impressed with how well the inexperienced Buemi had coped:
“Sébastien went exceptionally well in his first race in GP2. He worked well and asserted a challenge that can be very difficult to do in Monaco. But we cannot be satisfied with fifth and seventh places at the chequered flag when we were fastest in free practice. It is very regrettable that there was this shift in performance.”
Watch: Buemi gets a bit hands-on in his attempt to pass Lapierre.
With Ammermüller set to return to the ART cockpit for the Magny-Cours round at the end of June, Buemi’s focus was firmly on maintaining his F3 championship lead as the Euro Series moved on to Brands Hatch. He went quickest in practice, but would end up only eighth on the grid for race one. Making up places in the race would be difficult, the shorter Indy circuit layout that was being used not lending itself well to passing opportunities, and Buemi spent the race right on the coattails of Tim Sandtler and Yelmer Buurman. Seventh would be the final result, the win and championship lead going to Romain Grosjean, but seventh place also meant a front row start for the reverse grid race. On pole position for race two was series rookie Edoardo Mortara and it was he who led Buemi off the line at the start; he began to create a gap to the Swiss, but this was soon undone by the arrival of a safety car. He would still lead after the safety car pulled off the circuit, but Buemi remained close behind and the gap between the two was less than a second when Mortara was first across the line. With second place and with Grosjean eliminated in an accident at the start, Buemi was able to reclaim the championship lead.
Next stop (after a test appearance at Paul Ricard for the Arden GP2 team) was the Norisring, where this time Buemi would be on pole, with title rival Grosjean in second. A botched overtaking move by the latter into turn one forced both drivers wide, which handed the lead and second place to Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hülkenberg respectively. The Hulk ended his race with a spin, having been forced onto the dirt by an opportunistic move on the part of his teammate, Grosjean. It then started to rain, and Grosjean – still on slicks – lost control of his car on the now wet track, hitting Kobayashi, his other teammate. Luckily for Romain, it was the Japanese driver who came out worse, and the Frenchman now led from Buemi. The safety car was brought out, but this became a red flag following a collision between Buurman and Renger van der Zande. The race was soon restarted, and Grosjean won from Buemi, though one can only imagine how Grosjean’s ASM team were feeling that day. Hülkenberg stole the show by winning from eighteenth on the grid in race two, Buemi finishing second. Grosjean – ever the incident-prone driver in his younger days – was forced to retire after crashing out in the early stages, which allowed Buemi to extend his points lead to six.
One week later was the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. The F3 Euro Series formed part of the support programme for this race, so of course Buemi would be present. Front row starters Kobayashi and Grosjean had another incident in race one when the Japanese driver made a mistake at the 180-degree left hander on the last lap. Grosjean – seeing the opportunity to take the lead – lunged down the inside, but made contact and both were pitched into a spin. Kobayashi was able to quickly recover and take his first F3 victory, but Grosjean struggled to get going again and only just managed to hold onto second place by three tenths from Buemi. Race two brought Buemi’s podium streak to an end, finishing only nineteenth after a collision with Tom Dillmann. He would be back on the podium two weeks later at Mugello, but Grosjean dominated the first race from pole, which put the Frenchman clearly in front of Buemi in the championship. Buemi had to settle for fifth in the second race after making contact with James Jakes; Grosjean finished second, further extending his championship lead.
The next Euro Series round would be a fortnight later at Zandvoort, but before that Buemi would unexpectedly find himself back in GP2 with ART, as Ammermüller’s wrist was in pain again following an incident at Silverstone, and was expecting to miss the Nürburgring and Hungaroring races at least. The Nürburgring weekend saw Buemi qualify a modest eleventh for the feature race, and he made a very early exit upon colliding with Luca Filippi at the first corner after getting on the brakes too late. The sprint race went better in that he would see the chequered flag and set the fastest lap, but he had to serve a drive-through penalty for jumping the start and ended the race in 20th place; last but one, in other words, Andi Zuber receiving the wooden spoon. Buemi later admitted that the changing conditions over the race weekend made it difficult for him to find his pace.
Buemi’s intense season of racing in A1GP and F3, and substituting for others in, again, A1GP, Formula Renault testing and GP2, was about to become even busier, as he now had to fill in for Ammermüller in the capacity of test driver for Red Bull Racing at Jerez two days later. With the exception of two straight-line tests for the team earlier in the year, this would be Buemi’s first outing in a Formula 1 car since his demonstration run in the Arrows in 2004. He logged a best time of 1:22.565 and completed 78 laps of the 4.4km Spanish autodrome, meaning he had completed more than 300 kilometres of running in an F1 car, thus making him eligible for an FIA superlicence; Seb was now one step closer to achieving his dream of racing in Formula 1. Like his previous Arrows experience, he’d had fun:
“The power out of the turns feels good but the most impressive elements of the package are the way the car goes through the quick corners, which is so much better than anything else I’ve experienced. I also enjoyed the speed with which the car can change direction and the power of the brakes.”
Mark Webber took over for the second day of running, with Buemi back behind the wheel for the final day, setting a 1:20.318, the fifth fastest time. Overall, he had left a good impression on the team, in the words of chief engineer Ian Morgan: “Sébastien did a good job, making no mistakes, achieving good lap times and providing useful feedback.”
Then, finally, Buemi would be able to pick up his F3 campaign again at Zandvoort at the end of July, only a few days after the Jerez test and a week after his GP2 return. He qualified second for race one behind Grosjean, but a fast starting Kobayashi had the momentum going into Tarzan. He was perhaps too aggressive, as they made contact and the Sushi Chef’s Son from Amagasaki was shown a warning flag for his behaviour. The race soon settled down somewhat into another Grosjean-Kobayashi battle, with Romain coming out on top this time; Buemi had to settle for another third, the points gap growing to ten. A wet-dry reverse grid race saw Hülkenberg victorious from Buemi, who had had a poor start and stayed out a lap longer than might have been ideal when the rain began to fall on lap seven. He ended up stuck behind Cyndie Allemann for five laps before finally getting past, but he felt “there was no way I could have overtaken Hülkenberg anyway as he already was too far away.”
Buemi would be back in action again a week later for the Hungaroring GP2 round, which meant missing the Masters of F3 race being held at Zolder. He qualified a lowly fifteenth after running into issues with traffic on his first lap, making a mistake on his second and then being unable to set a competitive time at all due to the session being under yellow flag conditions. He then suffered a radiator problem which resulted in his stalling the car on the grid. This forced the field to go around for another formation lap, while the Swiss had to take to the pit lane in what would effectively be a start from the very back. He would move up to his original grid position of fifteenth and set the fastest lap, but because he had started from the pit lane, the point awarded went to the setter of the next fastest time, Karun Chandhok. The sprint race didn’t go much better, finishing seventeenth and last, but again setting the fastest lap and this time keeping the single point that came with it.
Despite a disappointing GP2 weekend in Hungary, Buemi could now rest for the summer break, having raced every single week between the 23rd June and the 5th August. A few days before the Formula Renault 3.5 season was due to resume at Spa on the eighteenth, it was announced that, with Sebastian Vettel having replaced Scott Speed at the Toro Rosso team in F1, Michael Ammermüller would be taking his fellow German’s place at Carlin in FR3.5. This allowed Buemi to keep his ART GP2 drive for the foreseeable future, and he would be returning to action on the 25th for the Istanbul round. He qualified tenth for the feature but had to stop the car with an issue on lap 28; he would go on to finish thirteenth in the sprint race.
Several days later, the A1GP circus was getting ready for the 2007-08 season, and Sébastien was back in action in testing at Silverstone alongside Neel Jani and Tom Dillmann; he set the third fastest time behind Germany’s Christian Vietoris and Great Britain’s Robbie Kerr. Despite this impressive showing, Buemi would not be partaking in the latest edition of the World Cup of Motorsport, and with all the racing activities in which he had been engaging throughout 2007, one wonders if it was merely a case of him wanting to rest for the winter.
The F3 season resumed with the Nürburgring round at the start of September; Hülkenberg was on pole, his first of the season, and went on to dominate the race. Surprisingly, it was Buemi’s hitherto uncompetitive teammate Edoardo Piscopo who started alongside the German and would be running second for much of the race. However, he was forced to ease off to save tyres, allowing third-placed Buemi to catch up, eventually getting waved past on lap 23 of the 29-lap race. In the end, Buemi did indeed finish second, his nemesis Grosjean in fifth. The two title rivals were second and third – Grosjean ahead of Buemi – in race two.
The following week’s racing: GP2. The venue: Monza. Sébastien Buemi qualified eleventh, but a race packed with incidents was in store, Buemi himself caught up in one of them when he collided with Kohei Hirate at Variante della Roggia and later on took to the gravel on the outside of the second Lesmo curve. He then lost further time during his pit stop on account of a missing wheel nut, re-joining in 18th. In the end though, he would finish seventh of just fourteen finishers; not counting fastest laps, Buemi had achieved his second points finish in the series. Starting from second in the sprint race, he was down to third before the Rettifilo after a lightning start from Bruno Senna, and lost another place to Giorgio Pantano the following lap, although he regained his position after Pantano spun in an attempt to pass race leader Ricardo Risatti. Buemi would lose further ground over the next few laps to championship leader Timo Glock, Luca Filippi and his own teammate, di Grassi. Soon, Pantano was back on Buemi’s tail, but Sébastien was able to keep the charging ex-F1 driver at bay for six laps, before Pantano slammed into the back of him at della Roggia, bringing an early end to Buemi’s day. Pantano carried on and finished sixth with a broken front wing, but was later disqualified for ignoring a black and orange flag. Frédéric Vasseur was none too pleased:
“(Buemi’s) race pace was very good and he was focused, but two drivers destroyed his good performances in both races. After several years spent in F3000, GP2 and F1 it is quite surprising that Pantano still makes beginners [sic] mistakes!”
A two-week break followed, after which Buemi headed to the mighty Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes for the penultimate round of the GP2 season; he would qualify only fifteenth for the feature race, unhappy with a setup that gave him a great deal of oversteer. As ever, he tried to make the most of the situation, running as high as seventh, but finishing tenth after being a bit late in shutting the door on Karun Chandhok at La Source. Once again his sprint race was cut short, this time after his engine felt unwell and deposited oil on the circuit; Buemi was forced to retire and this also had the side effect of causing Marcos Martínez to spin on the gripless black stuff, and we don’t mean the tarmac.
More F1 testing followed and once again it would be at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. Buemi was in action for Red Bull on the second day, impressively setting the third fastest time before getting side-lined by transmission problems. Then it was on to his next race, also in Spain, but it would not be Jerez this time, it would be the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona. For our Swiss protagonist, race one ended with a crash on the wet track on lap seventeen; Grosjean initially finished third, but was relegated to sixteenth after his mechanics were found to be working on his car for too long on the starting grid. His ASM team later appealed the decision and he was promoted to eighth, giving him a point. Thus, very little ground was made by either driver in the championship. Race two saw a nine-car pileup after Buemi’s teammate Piscopo stalled on the pole position; Buemi ended this race scoring only one point in sixth, with Grosjean finishing outside the points and then getting disqualified for an infringement. There were now only two pairs of races left in the season, the gap between Buemi and Grosjean at five points, just as it was going into the Catalunya weekend.
The penultimate weekend of the 2007 F3 Euro Series season at Nogaro clashed with the GP2 finale at Valencia. As Buemi was still fighting for the F3 title that series would be taking precedence, and so ART brought back Mikhail Aleshin to take his place for Valencia. Race one at Nogaro would be a close ASM 1-2-3 with Grosjean leading his teammates Kobayashi and then Hülkenberg in an enthralling battle; Buemi could do no better than fourth. Race two showed he was not ready to give up, going from fifth to second on the opening lap, before race leader Mortara was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for jumping the start. Buemi was now controlling the race, but soon find himself under attack by Kobayashi; he kept the Japanese driver behind though, and would take what would only be his second victory of the season, having not won since the very first race back in April!
It would be two weeks before what was sure to be an exciting finale to the Euro Series season, but in the intervening period Sébastien was invited by ART to drive for them in the first post-season GP2 test at Jerez, setting the third quickest time on the first day behind Andy Soucek and Mike Conway, the latter also testing for ART. He also sampled a Trident on day two, but wound up only eighteenth.
The 13th October 2007, the first race of the final weekend of the season, held right where it all started on the Hockenheimring. On pole position: Romain Grosjean, his fourth race one pole of the year, the championship points gap: eight, the value of a race one second place; Buemi would have a difficult time overcoming that from his grid position of fifth. Grosjean ended up second in the race behind Nico Hülkenberg, but with Buemi not improving on fifth it was enough for the Frenchman to secure the title. Sébastien had lost out on another single seater championship, but his great rival of the 2007 season seemed honoured to have had him as an adversary, saying of their battle:
“It was one of the most intense of my career. (Buemi) is an excellent driver and a true competitor. He never gives up. We never really had the chance to fight on the track, but we were always close in the drivers’ classification. It makes winning this title all the more significant.”
With the pressure off, Buemi went on to win his final Euro Series race, moving up to second after a good start, before battling and passing Mortara to take an unchallenged lead, this after losing his right-hand mirror.
At the end of the month, Buemi tried his hand at becoming better acquainted with Dallara’s GP2/05 chassis in another test at the Paul Ricard circuit. He was in action for the first two of the four days over which the test was running; it was another impressive showing: fifth for DAMS on the first day, third for Arden on the second.
There was just one more race to round off a very busy 2007 season for Sébastien Buemi: The Macau Grand Prix. This time the team he would be representing was Räikkönen-Robertson Racing; his three teammates would be Stephen Jelley, Bruno Senna and Jonathan Kennard. He was provisionally fourth on the grid for the qualifying race, before being given a five-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags during the ever-chaotic qualifying session. A number of people stalled on the grid and Buemi, who the previous year was able to finish well thanks to the misfortunes of others, was himself caught up in an incident with the slow-starting Edoardo Mortara at Lisboa, ending both of their races. And so, Sébastien would be starting well down the order in 27th place for the Grand Prix. This went far better, as he scythed his way through the field to finish eleventh of 24 finishers. Not bad.
Buemi’s 2007 season was finished, and on the 13th December, he was confirmed to be racing for Arden International in a full GP2 campaign in 2008. This campaign would consist not only of the main European-based GP2 Series, but also the separate new GP2 Asia Series that would make up the pre-season. It was a deal that likely surprised very few observers, as Arden’s founder and managing director was Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing. The Red Bull Junior Team certainly has its benefits! A further show of confidence from Red Bull came a month later when Sébastien was confirmed as their official test and reserve driver for the 2008 F1 season. Around the same time Arden confirmed a sponsorship deal with Trust International and also announced Buemi’s teammate for the Asia series: A1 Team Pakistan driver Adam Khan; their other driver for the European campaign remained a TBA for the moment.
Pre-season testing for the GP2 Asia Series soon kicked off at the Dubai Autodrome, with the first race occurring on the 25th January at the same circuit. Regularly topping the timesheets was Romain Grosjean, Buemi’s F3 nemesis having earned himself a drive at ART. Was a repeat of their epic 2007 battle on the cards? Judging from the first race weekend of the season, the answer was a short ‘no’. Grosjean completely dominated, winning both feature and sprint, while Buemi could fare no better than seventh in the feature before being disqualified for a technical infringement, and got punted out by Marcello Puglisi in the sprint.
Three weeks later and it was on to Sentul in Indonesia for round two. This would turn out to be a controversial event mired by sub-standard marshalling and a crumbling track surface. A collision between Christian Bakkerud and Harald Schlegelmilch brought out the safety car, and it would be nearly ten laps before their vehicles were removed from the gravel trap. Buemi, who had qualified ninth, was able to take advantage of this, similar incidents and drive-through penalties to climb up the order. On lap 26, race leader Vitaly Petrov spun off on the broken tarmac, leaving Luca Filippi at the front, with Buemi second. Not content to play the supporting role, Buemi eroded this advantage and was four seconds away ten laps later. He continued to outpace Filippi until he had set the fastest lap and they began the final lap with 0.6 seconds separating them. Filippi held on by just a tenth to win, but so absorbed were they in their battle that neither of them seemed to take note of the chequered flag and carried on at racing speeds for another lap, almost colliding! However, it was soon found that Filippi had been using tyres allocated to his teammate, Hiroki Yoshimoto, and was disqualified from the race, thus giving Buemi his first GP2 win. The sprint race was slightly less eventful from Buemi’s perspective except for the fact that the chequered flag was not shown at the end, cars once again being forced to complete another tour, although this time they could at least blame somebody else. Buemi ended this rather aberrant race in seventh after a good battle with sixth-placed Ho-Pin Tung. It would be the last time GP2 cars raced on the Sentul International Circuit.
It was another month before the next race. In the meantime, Buemi had the chance to get behind the wheel of Dallara’s new GP2/08 car and set some promising lap times; the car was due to be introduced for the European season, the Asia series persisting with the old GP2/05. The 22nd March was the date for the resumption of the GP2 Asia action, and this time it was in support of the F1 Malaysian Grand Prix. Buemi, as Red Bull’s third driver, would be attending not only as an Arden GP2 driver, but also as a member of the Red Bull team. It would be his first time doing so, as he was forced to sit out the season opener in Australia with a throat bug. After a disappointing opening two weekends, Buemi’s teammate Khan had been replaced by Yelmer Buurman, who had already been signed by Arden for the European season. The feature race started well – and bizarrely – as Buemi took advantage of front row starters Grosjean and Chandhok stalling to take third behind Bruno Senna and Adrián Vallés. Then the heavens opened and, this being Malaysia, it would be coming down in stair rods; five cars couldn’t handle the new lake that was beginning to form where there once was a race track. With all Hell beginning to break loose, it was considered a wise decision to suspend the race. Vallés led from Buemi at the restart and the two would soon be fighting for the lead. This lasted to the pit stop phase and shortly beyond, when the Spaniard made an error on cold tyres and crashed into Buemi, taking both out; Vitaly Petrov picked up the pieces and won. The sprint race ended with another tangle between Buemi and Vallés.
With three of the five GP2 Asia rounds completed, it was back to the Middle East for the final two weekends in Bahrain and Dubai, each separated by a week. In Bahrain, Buemi qualified a modest eighth, but managed to hustle his way up to second behind Grosjean, who at this point was within touching distance of the title. He repeated this result in the remaining races, coming close to winning in the Dubai feature after a fierce struggle with Grosjean and his own teammate, Buurman. He was also a strong contender for victory in the sprint before a left front tyre issue put paid to his chances of passing eventual winner Marco Bonanomi and he found himself having to hold off Jérôme d’Ambrosio. At the end of it all, Sébastien was able to claim the runner-up spot in the championship, 24 points adrift of his former F3 rival, Romain Grosjean.
The main GP2 championship began at Catalunya only two weeks after the conclusion of the Asian series. Buemi’s season started out with a bang. Yes, he had a bang with the wall at turn eight in qualifying after getting caught out by a slower car, forcing him to take to the grass, after which the car escaped his control. Now being forced to start from the back of the grid, Buemi had to fight his way to some points, which he did, to his credit: seventh place and two points to be exact, which ensured a front row start for the sprint race to further make up for his qualifying troubles. He was controversially pushed onto the grass by aggressive rival Kamui Kobayashi, but no lawn-mowing would be the cause of an accident this time and Buemi held on. Grosjean also fought with them before having to serve a drive-through penalty for blocking Kobayashi. Buemi eventually ended the race second, right behind Kobayashi.
Watch: Buemi gets a bit ambitious in Barcelona qualifying, bringing out the red flag.
Round two was at Istanbul. There was the usual chaos at the start when Buemi was pitched into a spin by his good friend from the Sepang Asia race, Adrián Vallés. Another recovery drive was in order, with an exciting four-way battle for position thrown in between Buemi, d’Ambrosio, Adam Carroll and Pastor Maldonado. D’Ambrosio and Maldonado had to retire with technical issues, but Buemi and Carroll would find themselves with more company thanks to a safety car bunching up the field in the latter stages. This company came in the form of Javier Villa, who aggressively fought to defend sixth place from Buemi in particular. This battle ended with Villa losing two places after running wide, Buemi taking the three points while Villa reclaimed seventh after a dramatic move on Carroll on the final lap. Buemi made a great start in the sprint to line up right behind race leader Vitaly Petrov. He was lucky to be so high as eight cars tangled behind, the natural response to which was a safety car. The usual safety car procedure was followed and racing resumed once it re-entered the pits. One bizarre problem with this race was the issue of dogs wandering onto the circuit; Bruno Senna struck one, seriously damaging his suspension; the less said of the damage his canine victim sustained the better. Then another dog found its way onto the track and it was decided that the safety car would be called back out again, lest there be any more fatalities. Grosjean (who at this point was leading from Petrov and Buemi) stormed off into the distance at the restart, leaving the two podium contenders to scrap it out for best of the rest; that title going to Petrov by just four tenths.
Next up for Buemi was a frustrating test appearance in Red Bull’s RB4 at Paul Ricard, where his scheduled long run simulation was interrupted by rain showers. Then it was on to Monaco for the next GP2 meeting. Unlike the previous year, Monaco adopted the more conventional two-race affair seen in other GP2 events, as opposed to the single race that the series ran in 2007. The feature race ended in embarrassment for our friend Sébastien. Mirabeau is one of those corners where it takes a little bravery to try a pass, and some experience to judge when it’s possible to do so. Buemi most certainly possessed the former, but not so much the latter. An attempt to go up the inside of Giorgio Pantano where realistically there was no space to do so ended with the Italian facing the wrong way, the Swiss losing his rear wing and the rest of the field staging an LA traffic jam. The sprint race would be another game of damage limitation, ending in an eleventh place.
Watch: The traffic in Monaco is often bad, but not usually to this extent…
For Buemi, the next month would consist of no racing activity, only testing. The GP2 teams went to Paul Ricard, where he was rather impolitely crashed into by Karun Chandhok. Following this was a test day for Red Bull at Catalunya, which was more fruitful than his previous run for them before Monaco. Buemi also fulfilled his usual reserve driver duties (oftentimes the F1 equivalent of Waiting for Godot in this era of safety) in the Canadian Grand Prix. But then it was GP2 time again on the 21st June – the Magny-Cours round. The poor feature race streak continued with a retirement in race one, leading to a 21st place start for the sprint. Arden took quite a gamble for the second race by putting both of their cars on slick tyres; it had been raining and the track was still wet at the start. They were able to survive the initially difficult conditions and Buurmen took the lead with Buemi in tow once the circuit was beginning to dry and the competitors on wet-weather rubber were forced to pit. The Dutchman started to build a gap to his teammate, but this situation was soon reversed and Buemi passed him at Adelaide hairpin six laps from the chequered flag. At last he could celebrate his first GP2 win (Sentul Asia Series round notwithstanding), which he called the best of his career up to that point in the post-race press conference. Onto Silverstone, the halfway point of the season, and Buemi managed to reverse his poor feature race streak with a well-earned fourth place after a thrilling battle with Grosjean, Zuber, Senna and Chandhok. Unfortunately, the sprint race really did appear to be a reversal of fortunes from previous races, as he spun off on his installation lap.
Going into the Hockenheim weekend, it was announced that Buurman – who had not scored a single point apart from the Magny-Cours podium – would be replaced by Luca Filippi at Arden. Filippi, with his impressive GP2 record including one win and multiple podiums, could, on paper, have presented a greater challenge to the eighteen-year-old Swiss driver in the other car. In a word (or two): He didn’t. For their first race together Buemi qualified fourth, Filippi 1.7 seconds back in thirteenth. Sébastien became embroiled in a struggle for third place with Lucas di Grassi, Senna and Villa, which lasted until Buemi left the track in a late rain shower, his gamble to stay on slicks clearly not paying off this time. His now-regular sprint race recovery drive resulted in eighth, also inheriting the fastest lap of the race after Kobayashi was penalised for a collision with Diego Nunes.
Before Hungary, Buemi would be testing for Red Bull at Jerez, where he first drove for them twelve months earlier. He set the fifth fastest time on his single day of running and it was here that he first declared his ambitions of driving for Toro Rosso in 2009, then-current STR driver Sebastian Vettel having just been announced as part of Red Bull’s line-up for that season. Buemi told ITV: “For me my main objective is to try and finish well in the GP2 season this year, but then the objective is really to be in Toro Rosso next season.” The Hungaroring would be the site of Buemi’s best weekend of the year: He finished seventh in the feature race after a hard-fought battle with Mike Conway, which was followed by a peerless drive in the sprint race where he pressured fellow front row man Andy Soucek into making a mistake on lap twelve, going on to win by eight seconds from the same man. He must have really wanted that Toro Rosso drive!
The relative lack of bad luck continued in Valencia – Buemi finishing sixth on Hermann Tilke’s popular new street circuit – and then ended at the same venue, when a gearbox problem prevented him from getting off the grid on the warm-up lap for the sprint race. In the penultimate round at Spa, Buemi was slapped with a five-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags in qualifying, meaning he would be starting twelfth. A topsy-turvy race of changeable weather and safety cars allowed him to rise to fifth by the end. An equally unpredictable sprint race saw Buemi rise to second behind Soucek on the opening lap before getting held up on lap five by Marko Asmer, who was exiting the pits. Petrov and eventual winner Maldonado took advantage of this to get past poor Sébastien. He almost got overtaken by Grosjean too after a slow safety car restart, but the Frenchman took a bit too much kerb when he tried the move and fell behind again. Buemi spent the rest of the race hounding Petrov, but had to settle for fourth in the end.
There was now but one final round in the 2008 GP2 season, and, despite nothing being confirmed yet, it looked very likely to be Sébastien Buemi’s last in the series, with him being a top candidate for the vacant Toro Rosso F1 seat. The round in question was Monza, and he put in his best qualifying performance of the season, earning third spot on the grid behind championship leader Pantano and former ART teammate di Grassi. The feature race started in heavy rain behind the safety car; Buemi lost ground to Maldonado, but would regain his third place thanks to a drive-through penalty for Pantano, who crossed the white line at the pit exit. The Italian was not too bothered, as he was on course to winning the championship regardless. The final sprint race of the year saw Buemi in a battle for sixth between himself, d’Ambrosio and Senna, but he had to settle for seventh, just outside the points. His final 2008 GP2 finishing position: sixth in the championship, 50 points. Not bad, considering this was the best performance for an Arden driver since the inaugural GP2 season in 2005.
In late September, it was time for Buemi to show what he was made of in an “audition” test for Toro Rosso at Jerez. Another Toro Rosso hopeful was orphaned Super Aguri driver Takuma Sato, who, with his F1 experience, could have made a useful figure of comparison for a younger driver in Red Bull’s ‘B-team’. Buemi and Sato would each be driving on different days, which ended up making direct comparisons difficult, as it was dry for Buemi’s day and wet for much of Sato’s. Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost was impressed with the Swiss at least:
“Sébastien did an excellent job. We prepared him for a busy day of testing and he did what we expected from him. He completed great lap times and worked hard and devoted with our team. He worked well with the engineers and gave us good feedback.”
It was announced that the final decision on Toro Rosso’s 2009 line-up would not be made at least until the end of the F1 season, of which four races still remained. Just before the Japanese Grand Prix, it was announced that Buemi would be making his Formula One début that weekend – as the medical car driver! He was given the position after the regular driver, Dr. Jacques Tropenat, had taken ill; Buemi would be driving the Mercedes C63 AMG Estate in the final three races of the F1 season. Once all of that was out of the way it was back to testing again in preparation for 2009. Sato was back, as was Buemi and regular Toro Rosso driver Sébastien Bourdais. The former two went fastest on the first day of testing in Barcelona (Sato in front), while they also tried out Bridgestone’s new-for-2009 slick tyres. Buemi was in the top four on both of the remaining two days, and was thoroughly satisfied with the result, commenting: “I’m really happy with how testing went overall, the team did a good job and I think I did too, which could be important for my future!”
Testing at Jerez again in December, Buemi was regularly at the very top of the timesheets, proving he really wanted that Toro Rosso drive. A brief switch to the Red Bull a week later saw similar results, before continuing that run at Toro Rosso again. And so did 2008 end.
Buemi’s confirmation at Scuderia Toro Rosso actually came by mistake, as recently departed co-owner Gerhard Berger accidentally dropped his name in an interview with Swiss magazine Blick; the official confirmation came four days later: Sébastien Buemi would become the first Swiss driver to race in Formula One since the infamous Jean-Denis Délétraz did so for Pacific Racing in 1995. At Toro Rosso, Sebastian Vettel would be a tough act to follow after famously winning the 2008 Italian Grand Prix for them, but Buemi was quick to play down expectations:
“Coming in just after Vettel gives a bit more pressure, but he has improved the team, so my feeling is hat [sic] I’m grateful to him for doing that. Of course I will do my best to live up to the standards that he set. The rules have changed a lot so it will be very different anyway. We have to wait for the season start to see where we are. I don’t think too much about what Vettel did or what I should do. Certainly there will be comparisons all year long but I can live with that.”
Testing resumed again at Portimão, Buemi consistently going quickest again. On the 6th February, his teammate was finally confirmed: Bourdais would be staying. Four days later the next test of the year kicked off at Jerez, and this time there was a mixture of old and new machinery. Buemi went quickest again on the first two days in the previous year’s Toro Rosso STR3, the new car yet to be unveiled.
Fast forward to early March, and all of the F1 teams with the exception of Brawn and Toro Rosso had shown off their new and different-looking 2009 cars. This situation changed on the 9th March, when the covers came off the new STR4 in time for the final pre-season test at Barcelona. Bourdais would be the first one to try out the new kit, before Buemi took over on day three. He was now near the bottom of the timesheets, but the concern was mileage before raw pace, given that this was the first time the STR4 had broken cover. The fourth and final day brought similar results and then that was it until round one in Melbourne. As it turned out, he would be the only rookie in the field, the driver market having remained relatively stable. His hopes and expectations for his début?
“I don’t have any expectations. I want to finish the race, that’s my focus – saying that scoring points wouldn’t be fantastic would be a lie, but it is not my main objective. I want to learn a lot about the car, and in the past Melbourne has been a race with many accidents and casualties, so to finish the race would be a good start.”
Due to the STR4’s lack of mileage, Buemi likened his first practice outing to an “off-season test”, and the team struggled to find a setup that suited the Albert Park street circuit. Qualifying proved that Toro Rosso’s 2008 zenith was behind them, both drivers getting knocked out in Q1. Buemi – who had missed out on a spot in Q2 by just half a tenth – could be content with beating teammate Bourdais though. He also beat both Force Indias and the Renault of Nelson Piquet, Jr., and would be moved up to thirteenth on the grid after the Toyotas were thrown out of qualifying for running illegal rear wings, and after Lewis Hamilton was penalised for changing his gearbox. His own words on Melbourne’s “accidents and casualties” would ring true, with seven cars exiting the race, five of them due to accidents. The last of these, involving Vettel and Robert Kubica, brought out the safety car, which led the field to the chequered flag, only the second time in F1 history this has happened. Buemi was eighth of these, meaning a point was scored on his début. This tally was doubled after Hamilton’s disqualification following the infamous ‘Liegate’ controversy. With seventh place, Sébastien Buemi had become the first Swiss driver to score points in Formula One since Marc Surer at the 1985 Italian Grand Prix.
Malaysia was next on the agenda, and a disappointing qualifying where he went off at turn eleven saw F1’s only rookie start last. His ill fortune continued in the race, losing his front wing, which necessitated a pit stop on lap three. This race is an infamous one in recent F1 history, with Southeast Asia living up to its reputation for trying to drown its inhabitants from the skies; what started as a grim shower on lap nineteen had turned into a biblical deluge on lap 31, and the drivers were having trouble keeping their cars on the track, outboard motors unfortunately not allowed under F1 regulations. Buemi was one of the victims of the storm and promptly spun out of eleventh place. As a small consolation he would still be classified sixteenth, as the race was red-flagged a couple of laps later due to the severity of the weather and the darkening of the skies.
The Chinese Grand Prix saw a great performance by Buemi to reach Q3 and tenth place. He then made a great start to dispatch Hamilton and Räikkönen. He was up to fifth by lap fifteen, some of his competitors having pitted. An incident involving Kubica and Jarno Trulli brought out the safety car. An embarrassing incident then occurred when Buemi ran into the back of Vettel; the Swiss damaged another front wing after making contact with the Red Bull. He was due to pit anyway, and spent a portion of the post-safety car stretch of the race in eighth and holding off Fernando Alonso. The former double world champion eventually got past, only to spin and let Buemi back in front. Eighth would be Buemi’s final position, another point in the bag.
A more anonymous Bahrain Grand Prix followed, where Buemi again out-qualified his French teammate despite a mistake in the final sector, but finished seventeenth after getting debris from a first corner incident stuck in his front wing. The European season then kicked off in Spain, a race where teams traditionally brought their first car upgrades. Buemi achieved his aim of qualifying within the top fifteen despite running into problems with traffic in Q2, but a rather big incident at the start of the race would mean an early exit for him. It began when Alonso pushed Nico Rosberg onto the run-off at the first corner. Trulli was forced to take avoiding action and ended up in the gravel and spinning; he was then ploughed into by Adrian Sutil. This caused Buemi to brake hard and Bourdais, unable to react in time, slammed into the back of him; both Toro Rossos were out.
Monaco was next, and Buemi qualified strongly again in eleventh, though once again he was compromised, this time by a mistake at the final corner. He lost out to Piquet at the start and, in an attempt to repass the Brazilian at Sainte Devote on lap eleven, recreated his own teammate’s move from Spain. Piquet made an interesting remark: “I’m very angry because Monaco’s a long race and that’s why these young drivers need to be careful with what they’re doing.” This coming from a driver only three years Buemi’s senior and who had only been in F1 for one year himself. Nevertheless, Buemi took full responsibility and apologised for his error; the Toro Rosso team even emailed an apology to Renault.
Turkey would be a struggle, with the Toro Rosso unable to get the Bridgestones (the options in particular) working to optimum temperatures. Eighteenth would be Buemi’s starting place, twentieth Bourdais’. He finished fifteenth, and little else can be said. He found a silver lining in this, saying “for me, after the last two races, it was a good experience to finish the Grand Prix today and get more mileage”.
And so it was on to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and the struggles continued. Buemi could not find a setup that suited him well in practice, but expressed hopes that it would all go better than Turkey on race day. It didn’t. He qualified last and therefore got beaten by his teammate for the first time on a Saturday. Another anonymous race followed, finishing eighteenth and last.
Halfway through the season, the German Grand Prix at the famous Nürburgring followed. Seventeenth was Buemi’s starting position, returning to his Bourdais-beating routine despite getting hampered by traffic. He expressed his hopes of rain mixing things up for the race, but the weather gods were not listening and it remained dry throughout. He finished right in front of Trulli in sixteenth.
Over the summer break it was announced that Sébastien Bourdais had parted ways with Scuderia Toro Rosso. His replacement would be the latest driver fresh off the Red Bull conveyor belt: Nineteen-year-old Formula Renault 3.5 driver Jaime Alguersuari, who was set to become the youngest driver in F1 history at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Very fresh, indeed… Come the Hungaroring weekend Buemi qualified eleventh, which became tenth after accounting for Felipe Massa’s serious accident; new boy Alguersuari was at the very back. While qualifying went swimmingly, the main event of the weekend would not be smooth sailing. Buemi spun on lap 39, losing positions to Fisichella and ‘the new kid’. He made a pit stop on that lap and spun again later on, eventually finishing the race in sixteenth and last. Buemi had been beaten by his much less experienced teammate, although he could perhaps take some comfort in the fact that it was down to driver error rather than a total lack of pace. Still, the young Spaniard was rather close to Buemi in that regard.
Following on from Hungary was the summer break, followed by F1’s second trip to Spain in 2009, at Valencia. Buemi arrived at the circuit with an unintentional new look after a communications breakdown between himself and a Faenza hairdresser saw him with shorter hair than he would have liked. Practice was a rather painful experience for him, the scorching track temperatures making for an uncomfortably warm cockpit. In fact, Buemi burned his right foot, so hostile were the conditions. He would be able to qualify though, and he outpaced his new teammate by a full second and got into Q2, earning fifteenth on the grid. However, it did not take long for his race to be ruined. Early on in proceedings, he got caught up in a melée involving himself, Timo Glock, Luca Badoer (Massa’s injury replacement) and Romain Grosjean, who was now joining his arch-nemesis from F3 in the big leagues at Renault; Badoer was spun in the wrong direction and Buemi rear-ended Glock. Some unhappy drivers were forced to pit, Buemi included. He spent much of the rest of the race running at the back before his left front brake disc had had enough and wanted everybody to know, so it exploded, forcing the young Swiss fellow using it to spin out of the race at turn twelve. How rude.
The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps brought with it sixteenth on the grid, and this time Alguersuari was closer, in seventeenth. Thanks to a multi-car incident at Les Combes, (which also happened to involve his teammate) Buemi was up to twelfth by the conclusion of the first tour of the 7km Ardennes circuit; he ran as high as sixth before finishing twelfth. He later voiced his suspicions of having picked up debris from the lap one incident, which he believed slowed him down in the early stages.
Monza would host the final European race of the season, and the place of Toro Rosso’s famous 2008 win brought contrasting fortunes in 2009, with both drivers finding themselves locking out the final two rows of the grid, although in Buemi’s case his lap was compromised when Hamilton, who was on a warm-up lap, failed to allow the twenty-year-old past at the Rettifilo, forcing him to miss the chicane. Another afternoon of anonymity followed this, which ended bizarrely for Sébastien. A crash on Hamilton’s part brought out the safety car on the final lap; it failed to pick up race leader Rubens Barrichello, and the Brazilian won at full racing speed. Buemi showed his inexperience again by following the safety car into the pit lane when it withdrew, causing him to lose a lap in the process. Luckily, this didn’t affect his position of thirteenth.
There were now four races left and all of them flyaways. First stop was Singapore for F1’s second ever night race. The Toro Rossos struggled in practice, but they turned that around in qualifying with fourteenth and seventeenth on the grid, Buemi once again ahead of Alguersuari. Buemi moved up to twelfth at the start and everything was running smoothly until a refuelling problem at his second pit stop cost him time. This was followed by a gearbox issue later on, his car coincidentally being rolled into the garage at the same time as Alguersuari, who suffered a brake failure.
Japan was next and, after two years of Fuji hosting the Grand Prix, Suzuka was the venue. Practice was largely disrupted by rain, with the two Toro Rossos being the only ones to complete a time in the first hour of FP2. Buemi then went quickest in the final practice session before he was toppled by Trulli. Qualifying was quite eventful for the Swiss driver, crashing out at Degner in Q1 only to get going again to return to the pits and repair the damage so he could set another time. He was given a reprimand and a five-place grid penalty for his actions. He followed this up with another crash in Q2 after setting a time that was good enough for him to partake in the final part of qualifying. There would be no time for reparation on this occasion, so he had to make do with tenth plus a grid drop. In the end, he lost only three places due to a number of other drivers getting penalised for ignoring yellow flags in Q3. The good pace shown in qualifying would not be built upon in the race, as Buemi slipped to the back at the start and had to retire on lap twelve with a failing clutch.
The penultimate round of the season was at the Interlagos circuit in Brazil, and Buemi had some surprises in store, going second in FP2, followed by an excellent qualifying performance to go sixth on the grid, having also gone quickest in the first two parts of qualifying. He lost position to Rosberg and Kubica at the start, but also gained thanks to one incident involving Sutil and Trulli, and another involving Webber and Räikkönen. He ran as high as third during the race and finished a very respectable seventh, his first points since China.
This strong late-season run continued in the first ever Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the new Yas Marina circuit. Buemi ran well inside the top ten in practice and planted the car tenth on the grid on his 21st birthday. The race was notable for a battle with Kubica; they touched and the Polish Renault driver spun. In Kubica’s own words:
“We nearly touched when braking into the chicane. He first moved to the left and blocked the inside of the left hander. When I moved to the right he pushed me over the high inside kerb of the right hander section of the chicane and I spun. He did not leave any space at all.”
Sébastien had a differing view, simply saying his “fight with Robert was quite fair, as I think I left him enough space.” He ended the 2009 season with another eighth place, giving him sixteenth in the championship. It was all in all a good début season; he had out-qualified his teammates in every race bar one. There were no giant-killing performances of the calibre Vettel achieved in 2008, but then it could be argued that the STR4 was simply not as competitive as its predecessor. Red Bull seemed to agree that Buemi performed sufficiently well, and gave him a contract extension for 2010 a week after Abu Dhabi. It would be a long time before his teammate was confirmed though and rumours began to run wild, with Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld and even Ralf Schumacher named as candidates by the media, but on the 22nd January Alguersuari was also given an extension.
Over the winter, Buemi began an intense fitness program to remain in shape for the new season, and moved house from Bahrain – where he had relocated to avoid National Service in Switzerland – to the popular F1 drivers’ home of Monaco, which would shorten the distances between races considerably (the European ones, at least), not to mention the distance between himself and his family in Switzerland and the Toro Rosso team base in Italy.
Testing for F1’s Diamond Jubilee year kicked off in February and this time Toro Rosso had their new car ready in time. The STR5 was the first designed by Toro Rosso themselves, their previous offerings having been designed by Red Bull Technology, a third party outfit set up so that Red Bull and Toro Rosso could run almost identical chassis. The loophole that allowed this to happen was closed, however, and the two Red Bull-owned teams had to come up with their own solutions. The first day of testing at Valencia did not go well, Buemi getting side-lined by a gearbox issue. Apart from this, the pre-season went rather smoothly, going second quickest on the second day of the Jerez test on the 11th February. By the time the pre-season was over Buemi was his usual optimistic self as round one in Bahrain approached, saying on the final day of testing in Barcelona “Overall, I think we are in good shape and now I’m looking forward to the first race to see where we stand compared to everyone else.” In an interview with F1 Racing, he made one aim for the season clear: “I want to prove to Red Bull that I should drive for Red Bull Racing in 2011. I want to drive for the big team.”
Bahrain proved that Toro Rosso were not much more competitive than they were in 2009. Buemi’s running was limited by technical problems in practice; he got into Q2 and out-qualified his teammate by nearly a full second on the circuit’s ‘endurance’ layout. His start was not great and he dropped behind Alguersuari, where he would remain for much of the race until he was side-lined by an electrical problem in the latter stages.
Traditional season opener Australia was round two, and it would not go any better than Bahrain. Buemi ran well in practice and qualified twelfth, only to find himself taken out by Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber on the opening lap. With Toro Rosso having not scored any points in 2010 it was on to Malaysia for round three, where a topsy-turvy qualifying of changeable conditions allowed both drivers to slip into Q2. Buemi qualified thirteenth, but felt he could have done better after a mistimed switch to intermediate tyres; he had still out-qualified Alguersuari again. Unfortunately, he made contact with Kobayashi on the opening lap, damaging his front wing. He soon complained of heavy understeer, but it wasn’t until he made his second pit stop that the team decided that changing it was the best strategy; he finished eleventh.
A most unusual incident occurred in first practice for the Chinese Grand Prix. Having spent much of the session in the pits owing to a brake problem, Buemi eventually emerged for some much needed running. Under braking for the hairpin both of his front wheels flew off – one nearly hitting a cameraman – and he slid into the Armco. It was soon discovered that a right-front upright failure precipitated the accident and luckily no one was hurt. The rest of the weekend was less eventful, but still produced some talking points. Alguersuari out-qualified Buemi for the first time, the two lining up twelfth and thirteenth. Buemi had another early exit on the opening lap after being collected by an out-of-control Tonio Liuzzi, who had a brake problem. This string of bad luck prompted Buemi to ask Toro Rosso for a new chassis in the hopes of ending the curse that the existing one had brought!
Watch: Buemi’s front wheels go their separate ways.
Fortunes would not improve in Spain. Buemi did return to his usual routine of beating his teammate, although they were close with just a hundredth of a second separating them in qualifying. Yet another first lap incident would mar Sébastien’s race after a coming-together with Pedro de la Rosa demoted the two of them to the back of the field. He spent the rest of the race ahead of only the drivers representing the new Lotus, HRT and Virgin teams that had entered the sport at the start of the year. Buemi eventually recorded another DNF due to a hydraulic issue.
Thirteenth would be Buemi’s qualifying position in Monaco. He was unhappy not to have made Q3, having run in the top ten in that morning’s free practice. He was finally able to run a trouble-free race in front of his teammate for a change, and he finished eleventh, which became tenth after Michael Schumacher was penalised for overtaking Alonso under safety car conditions; thus did Sébastien achieve his first point of the year.
Buemi was upbeat going into the Turkish Grand Prix despite injuring his right elbow after jumping over a railing; he qualified fourteenth, once again ruing the fact that the STR5 was not quite able to reach Q3. The start went relatively well and he passed de la Rosa into turn two, only to then run wide and allow Nico Hülkenberg through. A re-passing attempt did not go well and Buemi ended up with a puncture, ruining another race. Sixteenth would be his final position.
Following Friday practice in Canada, young Sébastien was not his usual upbeat self, commenting that Toro Rosso “don’t seem very competitive at the moment.” Helmut Marko also expressed his disappointment in Buemi’s performance in the year thus far; with Alguersuari having closed the gap, he remarked it was “time for [Buemi] to prove his talent. If he does, this will ensure his place next year at Toro Rosso.” With Mark Webber having earned a contract extension with Red Bull, another year at Toro Rosso was all Buemi could hope for now. There was added pressure in the form of Red Bull reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo, who had previously been mooted for a 2011 drive in Red Bull’s ‘second team’. Qualifying produced the standard midfield result of fifteenth, but the race went a great deal better than early pace might have suggested. Alguersuari once again out-dragged him at the start, but this situation changed rather quickly and Buemi was back in front. On lap fourteen he moved into the lead of the race (other drivers had pitted), a “nice feeling” in his own words, becoming the youngest driver ever to do so, before pitting himself at the end of the lap. A virtually trouble-free afternoon where he briefly fought with Schumacher’s Mercedes and ran with a broken exhaust was rewarded with an eighth place and four points, moving him ahead of Alguersuari in the standings. Suddenly Marko was less doubtful about his Swiss protégé, commenting “That is the Buemi we want to see. Aggressive, controlled and super-fast, even with a broken exhaust.”
Back to Europe for the continent’s eponymous Grand Prix on the Valencia Street Circuit, Buemi only just missed out on Q3 by mere hundredths and he was once again left feeling he could have been in the top ten shootout, claiming to have lost two tenths after being held up by a slowing Barrichello. He started eleventh in the race, which became tenth after Vitaly Petrov struggled with excessive wheelspin. Sébastien ran well within the points positions virtually all race, although there was a brief scare when he almost ran into Hülkenberg in the pit lane. He finished the race eighth on the road, but was then penalised along with several other drivers for speeding under safety car conditions; this demoted him to ninth. He was naturally disappointed at this, reckoning that he “could have finished sixth, but I made two mistakes which have cost us four points”, referring to the Hülkenberg incident and a lock-up which allowed the late-charging Kobayashi past in the dying moments.
The European season continued with the British Grand Prix. The Toro Rossos – led as usual by Buemi – were only sixteenth and seventeenth on the grid. It was another frustrating race for the Swiss driver; he ended up stuck behind Liuzzi after his sole pit stop and finished twelfth. Days later, Toro Rosso officially announced that both Buemi and Alguersuari would be retained for 2011, this coming not long after Renault had expressed interest in Sébastien. Perhaps some other time…
Hockenheim next and Buemi was an impressive seventh quickest in a wet FP1, but FP2 saw both him and his teammate slip back towards the rear, Buemi reasoning that the team needed to find a better dry weather setup. Qualifying saw Alguersuari as the man in front for only the second time, Buemi for whatever reason unable to take full advantage of rapidly improving track conditions in Q2. The race saw yet another early retirement for Buemi. He got a good start, but Alguersuari was late on the brakes into the hairpin and slammed into the back of his teammate. Alguersuari lost his front wing, Buemi his rear. Both had to pit for repairs, but Buemi had to come in again on lap two with his damage apparently being terminal.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was the first race of the year where Alguersuari was competing at a track he had previously experienced in an F1 car, so both Toro Rosso drivers were on what could be considered more or less equal footing. Practice showed Alguersuari ahead, but come Saturday it was advantage Buemi again, qualifying two places in front of his teammate in fifteenth, Liuzzi splitting them. In the race, Buemi was squeezed out in the first corner by Schumacher, causing him to lose several places. A safety car period brought him back behind the seven-times world champion, but he would make up no further ground and finish twelfth.
Spa brought an end to the summer break. Gearbox issues in first practice limited Buemi’s running, though with rain plaguing the session it was felt that he was not missing out on a great deal. A wet-dry qualifying saw Buemi earn an initial starting position of fifteenth, before he was given a three-place grid penalty for blocking Rosberg; he would only lose one place in the end due to penalties for other drivers as well. He was also out-qualified by the improving Alguersuari again. The now almost obligatory first lap incident occurred at the always tricky La Source, where contact with another driver resulted in damage to his diffuser, causing the car to become “undriveable” in his own words. He ended a tough race thirteenth, which became twelfth after Alguersuari was penalised for cutting the Bus Stop chicane; the Spaniard was tenth on the road.
The European season came to its traditional conclusion at Monza. Buemi was content with fourteenth in qualifying, if slightly frustrated to be just three hundredths off Kobayashi directly in front of him. Kobayashi would have to start from the pit lane, however, so Buemi at least gained that place. He was up to tenth quite early on and ran in that position for much of the day, before losing out in pit stops to Barrichello after running into traffic. Thus, Buemi finished a frustrating eleventh, just outside the points.
Singapore was first of the end-of-season flyaways and Toro Rosso brought their interpretation of the infamous F-duct that was all the rage in 2010. A dead bat greeted the Toro Rosso team as they set up in their garage, which they took as a good omen. It didn’t help matters much though, as Buemi’s qualifying was spoiled by traffic and he ended up fourteenth on the grid. First lap contact (yes, really) with Heikki Kovalainen damaged Buemi’s car, which began to suffer from understeer. The front wing was changed and he then spent a good portion of the race behind Petrov. Unable to pass him, a late-race decision to pit for soft tyres to gain a performance advantage did not pay off, and Buemi finished a lowly fourteenth of sixteen finishers.
The 2010 Japanese Grand Prix was infamous for severe weather conditions disrupting track action. Only two drivers – Alguersuari and Glock – set lap times in the almost flooded final practice session and the two Toro Rossos concentrated on practising standing starts on the empty grid. Qualifying was pushed back to the Sunday morning before the race due to the weather, and Buemi found himself held up by a Hispania; he was knocked out of Q1 in eighteenth place. There was another first lap incident, but our friend Sébastien was not involved for a change. A mistake from Petrov took himself and Hülkenberg out, which precipitated a similar incident involving Massa and Liuzzi. The safety car was called and Buemi was fifteenth at the end of the first lap. He found himself battling an early-stopping Rosberg after the safety car pulled in and was subject to a brave overtaking move by the Mercedes driver around the outside at 130R. It looked impressive, but Rosberg then ran wide and Buemi reclaimed the place. He spent the remainder of the race running well in the midfield and was rewarded with tenth, his first points finish since Valencia.
Another brand new race in Formula One followed Suzuka and that was the Korean Grand Prix at the isolated Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, a “nice circuit” according to Buemi. As with Singapore and Suzuka, Alguersuari again out-qualified Buemi, the Swiss driver having compromised himself on his single flying lap in Q2. The race began in torrential conditions under the safety car, before race control opted to suspend running after just three laps. The race was eventually restarted, again behind the safety car, and after fourteen laps of this situation the race got underway properly and Buemi lost track position to Liuzzi. An incident between Rosberg and Webber brought the safety car out yet again and Buemi took the decision to pit for intermediate tyres. After this he got himself involved in some entanglements with other drivers. First, he spun Kovalainen’s Lotus whilst attempting to pass the Finn and a couple of laps later he misjudged his braking into turn three and hit twelfth-placed Glock’s Virgin, taking himself out of the race with quite a bit of damage. The stewards took a dim view of this behaviour and gave him a five-place penalty for the penultimate round in Brazil.
Brazil had another changeable qualifying and again Buemi was out-qualified by his teammate, even before factoring in his grid penalty, a situation he blamed on a switch to intermediates that was perhaps timed too early. He made up for this somewhat with a lightning start in the race where he got past three cars and from nineteenth on the grid he was pleased to achieve a finishing position of thirteenth.
All that was left now of the 2010 Formula One season was the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina. There were more mistakes from Buemi as the pressure from his improving teammate mounted. A spin in practice was followed by a brush with the wall at turn nineteen in Q1 and he was knocked out, Alguersuari going through to Q2. He made another amazing start and passed five cars on the opening lap before the safety car was brought out due to a collision between Schumacher and Liuzzi. Buemi felt he lost out on a good result here to his teammate, saying:
“The team decided to bring in Jaime for a tyre change and keep me out during the Safety Car period. I think my team-mate’s strategy proved to be the better one as there was no tyre degradation, as he was able to pit and catch up with the Safety Car. So I’m a bit disappointed, because I feel that if I had been on a different strategy I could easily have finished in the points.”
Buemi, who finished fifteenth, may have been correct in his assessment of how he might have done, as Alguersuari, who started just one place in front of him and was slower off the line, finished ninth.
In any case, the 2010 season was over and Sébastien Buemi had finished sixteenth in the championship with eight points – three more than his teammate, but Alguersuari had been much closer than he was in 2009 and even matched and beat Buemi at the tail-end of the year. If Buemi wanted to supplant Mark Webber at Red Bull in 2012, he would have to step up his game. It was also confirmed in late November that Daniel Ricciardo would be Toro Rosso’s third driver in 2011 after a promising showing in the Young Driver Test. Ricciardo would be given free practice outings in the Toro Rosso, taking over one of the incumbent driver’s cars on an alternating basis, which would put them under a lot of pressure. Buemi summed up his sophomore year with the following:
“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.”
And so, Buemi prepared himself for his third season at Toro Rosso, which looked to be his hardest yet. Marko had stated that he expected to see Ricciardo in F1 by “no later than 2012”. Buemi changed his physiotherapist, got a new chief mechanic and told Blick in an interview with them “I know I must become better everywhere next season”. Testing began at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia on the 1st February, where Toro Rosso unveiled their new car, the STR6. Alguersuari was first to drive it before handing the keys to Buemi for the second afternoon. He ran for three hours in the new KERS-equipped STR6 before mysteriously stopping twenty minutes from the end of the session; the cause remains unrevealed. The following day he had the car all to himself and completed 73 laps of the 4km circuit. The rest of pre-season testing went generally trouble-free but for a damaged part costing Buemi three hours on day one of the final test in Barcelona. At the end of testing Buemi proclaimed that Toro Rosso were “among the first five teams”. If this was to be the case, then points would not so tall an order as it was the year previous.
Bahrain was scheduled to be the season opener for 2011, but it was cancelled due to the violent protests that had recently erupted there; it was originally postponed until later in the season before being cancelled. Australia would instead return to its traditional place as the curtain raiser for Formula One in 2011. Ricciardo took over Alguersuari’s car in FP1, where he came within a tenth of Buemi’s fastest time. The same result came when Alguersuari stepped in for FP2. Qualifying in particular showed improvement for the team, with Buemi making it into Q3 for the first time since 2009, tenth his final starting position. The race saw something of a breakdown in relations between the Toro Rosso teammates, as Alguersuari touched Buemi’s car, causing minor damage that affected the latter’s handling. This caused Buemi to briefly lose a place to Paul di Resta before repassing the Force India rookie a few laps later. He stayed in the points positions for most of the race before fighting Massa’s Ferrari for ninth place to the end, ultimately losing out to the Brazilian, who was running on fresh Pirelli rubber. Buemi arrived at the chequered flag in tenth place and, similarly to his début race at the track two years earlier, he earned even more points through disqualification, a technical infringement for the Saubers promoting him to eighth. There was trouble in paradise though, as after Nick Heidfeld had exited the race with damage to his car early on he blamed one of the Toro Rossos, but couldn’t tell which one had caused it; Alguersuari was quick to point the finger at his teammate. They were not on speaking terms when they made their flight to Kuala Lumpur for the next round.
In Malaysia, Buemi was able to get back at his teammate by beating him in a shopping trolley race held as a promotional event for Giant, a supermarket chain that was sponsoring Toro Rosso for this weekend. In the race weekend proper it was Buemi’s turn to sacrifice some of his practice time for Ricciardo. When he was back in the car for FP2 he began to struggle to get a fast lap together due to yellow flag conditions. This was followed in qualifying by a peculiar incident which saw his left sidepod come off. Luckily the team were able to repair it as the session was red-flagged and he qualified twelfth on the grid, right in front of Algerusuari. Both drivers made a good start, passing Rosberg and getting close to Kobayashi and Schumacher. Alguersuari had passed Buemi, but the order was reversed on lap eight. Buemi ran in the lower half of the top ten before effectively ruining his race when he accidentally disengaged the pit lane speed limiter when he came in for his first pit stop; for speeding in the pit lane he was given a stop/go penalty. Despite this he was still able to finish in front of his teammate in thirteenth.
Watch: Buemi’s Toro Rosso auditions for The Full Monty, hastily disrobing in Sepang.
Onto China, the Toro Rossos set a blistering pace in qualifying, going seventh and ninth. Alguersuari had out-qualified Buemi for the first time in 2011, but the gap was just half a tenth. Race pace was positively lacking, however, as Buemi completed the first lap in thirteenth place after a poor start and at some point began to feel a suspicious amount of understeer; it was soon discovered that there was damage to his front wing, causing him to make one stop more than he would have liked. After that he fought with the Williams, finishing right behind Barrichello in fourteenth.
After this was what would turn out to be F1’s final visit to Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix. Friday was wet, but Saturday was dry and the Toro Rossos disappointed in qualifying, going even slower than what they had managed in the final practice session. They finished at the bottom of the table in Q2 with Buemi starting sixteenth. In the race he was able to turn this around and pull off some spectacular overtaking moves. He was on course to finish an amazing seventh before losing track position to the Lotus Renaults, who were on fresher tyres, therefore finishing ninth. Following this exceptional performance Toro Rosso technical director Giorgio Ascanelli called Buemi “a driver with a future.”
Buemi was satisfied with a more normal eleventh place in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, saving himself a set of soft tyres by not making a second run in Q2. He made another great start, passing three cars, although two of them – Massa and Jenson Button – would repass him. In a reverse of what happened in Turkey, race pace was what the Toro Rossos seemed to be lacking, and Buemi ended his race only fourteenth behind the Force Indias.
Ever a tough place to keep the car between the lines (or, in this case, the barriers), Monaco saw Buemi clip the barrier at Tabac in Thursday practice. It was another race where qualifying well was an issue, with Buemi only seventeenth, although he at least didn’t suffer the embarrassment of getting out-qualified by both Lotuses as his teammate did! He ran well in the race, despite a scare when di Resta ran into him at the hairpin, netting the Scotsman a drive-through penalty. Buemi spent most of the race just shy of the points in eleventh, before benefitting from an incident between Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado to finish tenth – another point in the bag.
One-lap pace was difficult to find again two weeks later in Canada, Buemi qualifying just fifteenth. What was to follow would be the longest race in F1 history. A significant portion of the famous 2011 Canadian Grand Prix was run under safety car conditions due to the severe weather, which made it difficult for Buemi to make up for his low grid position. It would work out well for him in the end though, an early switch to slick tyres paying off with a tenth place. Alguersuari, who started from the pit lane, finished eighth for his first points of the year and Toro Rosso’s first double-points finish since Australia 2009.
Valencia would bring yet another disappointing qualifying performance for the team as a whole, with Buemi leading the charge from seventeenth on the grid, his Q2 performance being somewhat complicated by a red flag caused by a technical failure bringing Maldonado’s Williams to a halt on the circuit. He ran well early on in proceedings, making up three places on the opening lap, before his pace began to mysteriously drop off and he could not finish any higher than thirteenth; it was later discovered that he had been hindered by a piece of debris that had made itself at home on his car.
Speculation began to run rife over the Toro Rosso drivers’ futures between the European and British Grands Prix, particularly over that of Buemi, as Alguersuari had performed admirably by taking points finishes in Canada and Valencia, arguably his best F1 drives yet. There was some good news, as Red Bull were able to bargain for Ricciardo to take Narain Karthikeyan’s place at HRT, meaning neither of the Toro Rosso boys would be obliged to give up any of their FP1 drives. Rain was forecast for the Silverstone weekend, and poor timing meant the Toro Rossos were both eliminated in Q1; Alguersuari was eighteenth, Buemi nineteenth. The race would be an exciting affair as the two youngsters fought their way up the rankings, disposing of Barrichello and Kovalainen on the opening lap, and adding Petrov to their list of victims not long afterwards. And so the race proceeded in this manner until approximately half-distance, when an opportunistic Paul di Resta made a lunge down the inside of Buemi at Brooklands. The Force India driver struggled to get on the brakes on the wet track, promptly running into the side of the Swiss and damaging the Toro Rosso’s left rear tyre. Buemi tried to limp back to the pits, but was forced to pull off at Chapel after the tyre completely disintegrated. Alguersuari went on to pick up another points finish in tenth, making life more difficult for his teammate, but Marko, who is otherwise tough on his drivers, was quoted saying “Buemi is definitely better than his current results.”
Germany brought further bad luck, with a mistake in FP1 sending Buemi into the gravel, and a misfire due to a fuel pressure problem in FP2 meaning he could get no running in. To make matters worse, he would be stripped of his qualifying time (which would otherwise have put him sixteenth on the grid) after an irregularity was found in the fuel sample given to the FIA. Running a wet-weather setup in what would turn out to be a totally dry race, he ended the first lap in eighteenth after disposing of several backmarkers and also taking advantage of a collision between Heidfeld and di Resta. He had made it up to fifteenth when, in an effort to keep the charging Heidfeld behind him, Buemi forced the Renault driver off the track at the chicane and they made contact, Heidfeld ending up off the track and out of the race, Buemi with a puncture, effectively ruining his chances of progressing any further up the order. He blamed the German, claiming he drove into him, but the stewards were unconvinced and gave Buemi a five-place grid penalty for him to serve in Hungary.
Watch: Buemi and Heidfeld have an on-track altercation at the Nürburgring.
In Hungary Buemi opted to save his super-soft tyres in qualifying and went eighteenth quickest, his penalty dropping him to 23rd alongside Jérôme d’Ambrosio. After a troubling few races, Hungary would perhaps be the best performance of the season for young Sébastien, making up an amazing ten places on a damp track on the opening lap, Alguersuari among the drivers he picked off. He continued to make up positions through brilliant overtaking and strategic decisions on a day where the weather could not make up its mind. Buemi finished eighth in the end, a great way for him to head into the summer break.
The holidays ended with Belgium, where it was announced that Jean-Éric Vergne, another Red Bull Junior earmarked for a Toro Rosso drive in 2012, would be making free practice appearances for the team after the conclusion of the World Series by Renault season in October. With Tost also making comments to the effect that three years would be the maximum any single Toro Rosso driver would get, and with Mark Webber being simultaneously confirmed at Red Bull for 2012, it was clear that time was running out for both Buemi and Alguersuari. With the two drivers locked into Red Bull contracts until the end of 2013, it would be difficult for either of them to even look outside of the Red Bull system for a 2012 drive.
In the meantime, they got down to business at Spa, where they produced exceptional qualifying performances; Buemi just shy of a spot in Q3 in eleventh having made an error, Alguersuari being a show-stealer in sixth. They failed to deliver in the race though, but it was through no fault of their own. Alguersuari was eliminated at La Source by Senna, whilst Buemi had made a great start by moving up to sixth by that point. He was able to hold on to the place and keep up with Alonso and Hamilton in front, only for him to join his teammate on the side-lines after Sergio Pérez drove into the back of him, an incident that severely damaged his rear wing and forced him to pull into the pits and retire the car.
Practice for Monza included among its events a crash for Buemi at Parabolica, one which he put down to his own human error. Given how much track time this cost him, Buemi would be satisfied with sixteenth on the grid. In the race he took a knock from behind in the chaos at the Rettifilo caused by Liuzzi losing control of his HRT. He moved further up into the points and finished tenth after a battle with Senna, but there was some bad news for him: Alguersuari had finished seventh, which put the Spaniard ahead of Buemi in the championship.
Buemi celebrated his 50th Grand Prix in Singapore. We say “celebrated”, but the man himself was actually rather dismissive of the milestone, calling it “just a number”. He lost more practice time after a brush with the wall at turn 21, and qualified a respectable fourteenth, ahead of Alguersuari as he often had been. A race where tyre degradation was found to be high and downforce low ended with Buemi twelfth at the chequered flag.
There was a scare for Buemi in Suzuka as he was called before the stewards for speeding under yellow flags. Fortunately, he was cleared of any potential transgression and he proceeded through the rest of the weekend as normal. The Toro Rossos ran well in practice, but were unable to translate that into qualifying pace, with the two drivers occupying the eighth row, Buemi ahead as usual but losing half a second due to getting too much kerb at the Degner curves. He had another of his increasingly famous lightning starts and was up to eleventh at the end of lap one, but disaster struck after he completed his first pit stop, when an improperly attached wheel came off in the Esses. Buemi was forced to retire the car and Toro Rosso was fined €5,000 for this unsafe procedure.
Vergne joined the team in Korea for the first of his practice drives, with further appearances scheduled for Abu Dhabi and Brazil, skipping the Indian Grand Prix on the new Buddh International Circuit to allow the race drivers as much time as possible to acclimatise themselves to the track. Alguersuari was the unlucky one who had to step aside in Yeongam, Buemi in Abu Dhabi and as an added twist whoever would have the lowest number of points after that point would have to give up their car in Brazil. It is still unknown what would have happened in the event of a tie. It didn’t seem to matter which driver missed their precious FP1 running this time, as laps were limited by rain. Qualifying saw Alguersuari lead the way in eleventh with Buemi thirteenth. The start did not go well for Buemi, as he had a coming-together with Kobayashi at the first corner and lost four places, but he seemed to have little trouble making up that lost time, finishing ninth and right in front of di Resta. Unfortunately, Alguersuari had had another cracking performance, finishing seventh and putting more points between them.
Both Toro Rossos made it into Q3 in the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, with Buemi returning to his traditional Saturday Alguersuari-beating routine in ninth. Both drivers had an unusually bad start, but they quickly turned that around and passed Senna and Sutil in the early laps. Buemi had worked his way back up into the points before the Toro Rosso’s Ferrari engine failed on lap 25; Alguersuari had scored more points in eighth, extending the gap to eleven points. With two races left and the season now beginning to draw to a close the rumours surrounding Toro Rosso began to run rampant once more. With the slim chances of staying at Toro Rosso for 2012 hinging on his performances Buemi proclaimed “In Abu Dhabi and Brazil you will again see a strong fight from me, even though I have much to lose in the battle. But I will never give up.” On his actual chances of remaining at Faenza he only said “I can only hope.”
Buemi out-qualified Alguersuari yet again in Abu Dhabi, slotting into thirteenth on the grid. Three laps after the start and he was in tenth, but once again reliability let him down when a loss of hydraulic fluid forced him to retire from seventh on lap nineteen. And so it was on to Brazil for what could be the decisive race of Sébastien Buemi’s career, though it looked very likely at the time that it would be his swansong. As per the deal, Vergne took over Buemi’s car in FP1, as the Swiss driver was behind Alguersuari in the standings. Buemi then couldn’t drive in FP3 due to another hydraulics issue. He was frustrated to be out-qualified by Alguersuari, but out-dragged him at the start. An average race partly brought on by the fact that the team took a gamble on a wet-weather setup for rain that never arrived ended in an anonymous twelfth. Thus, Buemi ended the season a career-best fifteenth in the championship with fifteen points, but he had been beaten by a teammate for the first time, Alguersuari in fourteenth with 26 points.
And so the 2011 season ended – in frustration, but the statistics from Buemi’s third year were impressive: He had made the most overtakes (112), gained the second most positions in the first sector of the race (29 to Schumacher’s 34), the second most positions on the opening lap (30 to Schumacher’s 40) and equal-most overtakes after lap one (82, shared with Pérez). The question remained though: Where would Buemi be in 2012? There was silence from Toro Rosso for two weeks following the end of the season, and with many of the seats for the coming season already filled it was becoming increasingly clear that both Buemi and Alguersuari were depending on remaining with the Faenza squad. But finally, on the 14th December, a decision was announced: Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari would not be driving for Toro Rosso in 2012, with Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Éric Vergne taking their places. Franz Tost paid tribute to his now-former drivers:
“I must […] thank Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for all their hard work over the past three seasons. They have delivered some excellent performances which have helped the team move forward and develop. We wish them well for the future. However, one has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme. It is therefore part of the team’s culture to change its driver line-up from time to time in order to achieve this goal.”
After Formula One
For the first time in almost a decade, Sébastien Buemi went into a new year without any kind of race contract. On the 5th January, however, he received what could be considered the consolation prize for all of his time at Toro Rosso: the position of reserve driver for both Red Bull and Toro Rosso. He was pleased to still have his foot in the door, so to speak:
“It’s good to remain with Red Bull for another year and have this opportunity with the championship-winning team,” Buemi said. “I would prefer to be driving at the races of course, but working with Red Bull on the development of their car and providing them with feedback throughout the season is the next best thing.”
Unfortunately, with the lack of in-season testing there would be little opportunity for Buemi to get any meaningful running at the wheel of an F1 car, so to keep him busy he would attempt to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps by securing a drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. On the 10th February it was reported that he would indeed be racing on the Circuit de la Sarthe as part of Toyota’s return to Le Mans in a TS030 Hybrid shared with fellow ex-F1 racer Anthony Davidson and Super GT driver Hiroaki Ishiura (the latter was later injured and replaced by Stéphane Sarrazin); a nice fit, one might say, as his grandfather had been a Toyota dealer for over 40 years. He had also been a rumoured candidate for their F1 team for 2010 before their withdrawal from the sport. Toyota would also be entering another car to contest in the rest of the post-Le Mans World Endurance Championship races, driven by Alex Wurz, Nico Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima.
The first long-distance test for the new car was conducted a week later at Paul Ricard, Buemi’s first real taste of what it’s like to drive an endurance racing machine. His impressions:
“It was nice to discover more about the endurance racing environment. I have been in the driving simulator at TMG so I had an idea of what to expect but the reality is always a bit more complex. From a technical point of view the car is very impressive although we still need to make progress in some areas, which is normal at this stage of testing. I did some long stints and learned about new aspects of endurance racing, like driving at night, managing fuel consumption and adapting my driving style. I can see that every detail is important in order to be fast in this discipline.”
To better prepare him for Le Mans, Buemi joined the Boutsen Ginion Racing entry for the opening round of the European Le Mans Series: The 6 Hours of Le Castellet. Joining him in their Oreca 03-Nissan were Bastien Brière and ex-F2 man Jack Clarke. Things did not go well, unfortunately, as a technical problem prevented them from setting a time in qualifying and lasted only 27 laps in the race proper with Brière at the wheel. It turned out to be a waste, Buemi never even getting to drive the car.
And so, it was back to testing, the second long-distance test for Toyota in May at Motorland Aragón going off without a hitch. Another successful test later in the month was followed by preparations for the great race itself. On the 3rd June, both TS030s took to the famous 13.6km circuit, where Buemi easily ran the ten prerequisite laps to allow him to officially take part in his first Le Mans race; he also set the third fastest time of the morning session, which bode well for Toyota’s chances when considering this was their first race. Whether they could actually beat the Audis over the day was another story. Indeed, the front row of the grid was filled by two of the four Audis, but the No. 8 car which Buemi was driving was able to beat the other two and take third thanks to a scintillating lap by Davidson. Sarrazin had the honour of taking the start, handing over to Buemi at the car’s third pit stop. In the first hour of action the two cars were running an impressive third and fourth, dropping to fourth and fifth in the second hour, the No. 8 being the one behind; Buemi lapped very quickly and ran as high as second in the fourth hour of the race. Just before the six-hour mark the other car, driven by Lapierre, took the lead. Moments later though, Davidson, who had just taken over from Buemi, had a massive accident on the Mulsanne Straight whilst lapping one of the GTE cars. This put the Englishman in hospital with a back injury and the No. 8 car out of the race.
After this, there was to be no more racing for Buemi for the remainder of the 2012 season, the best he could do being his appearances for Red Bull on F1 weekends; much like in 2008, only minus the GP2 drive to keep him busy. In October, the usual silly season rumours were in swing, and Buemi was tipped as a possible candidate for a vacancy at Force India alongside Paul di Resta, with further rumours of a potential Lotus drive surfacing in December.
The New Year of 2013 brought with it the confirmation that Buemi would not be racing in F1 after all, as Force India were reported to be more interested in Jules Bianchi and Adrian Sutil. He was re-confirmed as Red Bull’s reserve driver and once again voiced his determination to be in F1 in 2014. In February, Toyota confirmed their entry for the 2013 edition of the WEC, with Buemi this time getting a full season in the No. 8; he was reunited with Davidson and Sarrazin.
The first round of the season was at a track Buemi was familiar with: Silverstone. Practice for the six-hour race was hit by rain, which did nothing to dampen anyone’s spirits and in qualifying Toyota locked out the front row, with the No. 8 car starting second. They lost out to the Audis early on due to difficulties in getting their chosen Michelin tyre compound up to temperature. A more suitable compound of tyre was fitted to the No. 8 when Buemi took over, with Davidson having the honour of bringing it to the chequered flag in third place.
The next round was at Spa, where Toyota would be introducing their new 2013-spec TS030, though only the No. 7 crew would be driving it in the meantime, the No. 8 drivers sticking with the 2012-spec car. They were both fairly close, but the new beat the old by qualifying fourth, the No. 8 crew starting fifth. Buemi was driving the No. 8 at the start and they were strong podium contenders all race before Buemi was forced onto the grass and scraped the barriers while lapping a slower car in the latter stages, causing damage to the Toyota. They finished fourth in the end, Audi locking out the podium.
After Spa was the 90th anniversary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and this time both Toyota crews would be running the 2013-spec car. Le Mans testing went well; fourth and fifth would be Toyota’s qualifying positions, this time with the No. 8 leading the way. Davidson was behind the wheel for the start and fought for third in the early stages, briefly dropping to fifth after making a pit stop. During Buemi’s stint, two of the three leading Audis ran into difficulties, lifting him into second place. For the rest of the race, the focus of the No. 8 crew was keeping up with the leading Audi of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loïc Duval, the damp conditions allowing the Toyota to remain competitive. After 24 hours, the No. 8 car crossed the line in second place, one lap down on the aforementioned Audi, this after a race full of changing weather conditions, incidents (including one early on that tragically took the life of Aston Martin driver Allan Simonsen) and safety cars.
After this, Toyota made the decision to scale back their LMP1 program to a single car, the No. 8, to allow them to better focus on making developments for 2014. The next race was Interlagos and things were going well, with the car going fastest in practice. A close-fought qualifying where they came within two tenths of pole secured a third place starting position. Unfortunately, Sarrazin, who started the race, was sent into the barriers at Curva do Sol early on when he was hit by the lapped No. 32 Lotus. The Frenchman was able to bring the car back to the pits, but the damage was too severe to repair, and Buemi and Davidson ended up not racing at all.
The 6 Hours of Austin on the Circuit of the Americas went better. Buemi got limited running in the rain-hit practice, but Sarrazin was once again involved in an incident in qualifying, compromising the Toyota crew’s chances of challenging the Audis; they started third out of the four LMP1 crews starting the race and speaking of the race, it was a great one for Toyota. Buemi took the start and moved up to second following an early safety car period and entered a close battle with the No. 1 Audi, which then became one less problem to worry about when it pitted with damage. After that, the focus was firmly on the leading No. 2 car. Victory eluded the No. 8 crew once more, but the gap was relatively close at 26.617 seconds.
Fuji saw the No. 7 car and its crew come back for Toyota’s home race. The No. 8 went quickest in opening practice again and also got on the front row alongside the No. 1 Audi. The race was an anti-climactic, even farcical affair. Davidson (starting the race in the No. 8) refuelled on his way to the grid, but missed the pit lane exit window by five seconds, forcing him to start the race from the pit lane, a race which would be entirely held in safety car conditions due to heavy rain. The field toured the circuit for eight laps before the red flag was flown. Two hours later, proceedings got underway again behind the safety car, and once again the race was suspended after eight laps. It was decided that the race would be abandoned, the win going to the No. 7 Toyota after the Audi that had started on pole pitted under the safety car.
The Toyotas ran well as usual in the penultimate round in Shanghai, the two cars taking pole and third; the No. 7 ahead with the No. 1 Audi splitting the two cars. Davidson immediately put pressure on the Audi at the beginning of the race, eventually dispatching it and closing in on Lapierre in the No. 7. The No. 8 got ahead on strategy and was on course to win the first race for its three drivers before a suspension failure in the latter stages put an end to their chances of glory.
All that was left now was Bahrain. Practice went as well as ever, and for once it was indicative of how the grid would look for Toyota, the two cars locking out the front row. Buemi started the race from second and remained in that position behind Lapierre for the first hour, before the latter had a spot of bother disposing of traffic, allowing the No. 8 to take the lead. And so it would remain. The No. 7 eventually dropped out with engine trouble, leaving Buemi to take the chequered flag by over a minute from the No. 1 Audi, his first win in international racing since the 2008 Hungarian GP2 round. Few could think of a better way to end the season, Buemi didn’t seem to:
“I’ve had to wait to win my first endurance race so I am really delighted with today’s victory. It is a reward for the whole team after a hard season. I am so happy with the result; now we can all go home and enjoy the winter a bit then focus on next year. To finish the season with a win was really important to show the car was competitive. We are still quite new to endurance and I think we can be proud of this win and work hard next year to achieve more.”
To round off 2013, Buemi was once again confirmed as Red Bull Racing’s test and reserve driver for the coming F1 season.
2014 would see the introduction of an exciting new racing series for electric single seaters: Formula E. As part of their promotion for the championship, FE CEO Alejandro Agag announced the Formula E Drivers’ Club, effectively a pool of drivers saying they like the idea of an electric racing series and would put themselves forward for a drive. Among the first eight members announced were Marco Andretti, Karun Chandhok, Tonio Liuzzi, Adrien Tambay, Ma Qing Hua, Lucas di Grassi, Takuma Sato and, of course, Sébastien Buemi, but more on this later…
As part of Toyota’s big sweeping changes for the 2014 WEC season, they would be swapping Sarrazin and Lapierre around, so now Buemi’s teammates in the No. 8 car were Lapierre and Davidson. Toyota also introduced a new car, the TS040, which they naturally hoped would beat Audi and the returning Porsche quite often. Buemi was rather upbeat going into his second full season of endurance racing:
“We are quite confident we have a good car but the important thing is to see where we are compared to the others. We have been alone for our tests so far, with no point of comparison. We’ll only find out for sure when the racing starts. When that happens, we will be targeting victories, particularly at Le Mans.”
Practice for round one at Silverstone went well enough to say that Toyota were able to prepare for the race. This was followed up with pole position for the No. 7 car, the No. 8 stranded in fifth after a super capacitor-related problem restricted their running. The race could not have gone better for them though. Buemi drove the car at the start and used his fearless overtaking prowess to quickly move up to third on the opening lap. Forty minutes into the race, it began to rain and Toyota split their strategy, putting the No. 7 car on full wets and the No. 8 on intermediates. As it turned out, intermediates were the better option, and so Buemi went into the lead. The No. 8 stayed in the lead for the remainder of the six hours, or, as it turned out, five hours and 20 minutes, as poor weather caused the race to be red-flagged, giving the No. 8 crew their second victory, the RAC Tourist Trophy and, most crucially, the championship lead.
The No. 8 car was on the front row at Spa behind the No. 14 Porsche. Lapierre took the start and held on to second before handing over to Buemi, who took the lead and started to build an unassailable lead; another win in the bag.
The run of winning form continued in Le Mans testing, but could Buemi win the 24 hours? Qualifying put the two cars first and third on the grid, the No. 7 being the one to take Toyota’s first Le Mans pole since 1999. Lapierre was driving the No. 8 at the start and overtook the Porsche in front of him, a situation that did not last for very long, as he took a trip through the gravel and found himself battling two of the Audis. Then it began to rain, and as Lapierre braked for the first Mulsanne chicane he lost all grip on the wet surface, hit a group of GTE cars and ploughed into the barriers. He was able to limp back to the pits for repairs, which took 50 minutes and, though it was a long race with a long way to go, it was pretty safe to say that this was the end of the No. 8’s chances of winning. Lapierre handed the car over to Buemi, who re-joined eight laps down on the still-leading No. 7 and outside the top thirty; he had climbed back up to the top twenty by the time it was Davidson’s turn at the wheel. Eventually, they were back into the top four, which turned into a podium place under the worst of circumstances, as the No. 7 had to retire from the lead with an electrical problem. Third was the No. 8’s final finishing position, and its drivers extended their championship lead.
Three months separated Le Mans from the next round of the championship at Austin. In the meantime, it was announced that Buemi would be driving for the e.dams Renault team alongside Nico Prost in Formula E’s historic first season. This announcement came just days before the cars saw action for the first time at Donington Park, where Buemi immediately set the pace, eventually recording the quickest time on all but one of the five test days. Then came the first round of the championship in Beijing in September, where Buemi hit the wall at turn six of the brand new street circuit in practice. He qualified ninth, which became eighteenth after a change of gearbox. His overtaking abilities were sadly not of much use on the tight 3.4km circuit and he sustained a damaged rear wing. He came in to switch to his second car and, knowing it would not last the rest of the race, attempted to score some points by setting the fastest lap, but he failed in this endeavour, that accolade going to Takuma Sato.
The WEC season continued at Austin just one week after Beijing. Jet lag was clearly no issue, as Buemi’s efforts helped put the No. 8 Toyota on pole by over a second in damp conditions. Buemi easily led the start, with Wurz in the No. 7 taking second from the Porsches. This turned into disaster at around the one-hour mark, as a heavy rainstorm caught out Lapierre, who had just taken over from Buemi, and he went into the gravel; new driver Mike Conway in the No. 7 had also gone off. The race was soon red-flagged, but the two cars lost a lap before that. What followed was a brilliant recovery drive by the No. 8 crew to get back on the lead lap and take third place. The No. 8 trio still held the championship lead by eleven points from race winners (and Le Mans winners) André Lotterer, Benoït Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler.
For “personal reasons”, Lapierre would be skipping the Fuji round, which then turned into the rest of the season, then he left Toyota altogether. So, the No. 8 now had a crew of just two F1 rejects in Buemi and Davidson. Even one man down, there was no stopping the No. 8 in its chase for the title, with pole and victory in the bag by the time the weekend was out; and even after dropping to third at the start Buemi was able to reclaim an unbreakable lead before the opening lap was finished.
Buemi made his return to China for the Shanghai WEC round. The No. 8 duo had to start second this time around, after setting an identical lap time to the no.14 Porsche that was on pole. It would not be long before the Toyota dominance resumed and, thanks to an early pit stop following a collision between the No. 47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan and the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, the Toyotas were leading 1-2, Wurz in front in the No. 7. Buemi, in the No. 8 at this time, was not satisfied with this, and promptly overtook Wurz for the lead, staying there to take yet another victory. The WEC title was now within reach for both Buemi and Davidson.
Bahrain, the site of Buemi’s first WEC win, was the penultimate round this time, and the No. 8 was second on the grid behind the No. 14 Porsche once more. Disaster struck as the No. 8 was forced to pit for sixteen laps with a broken alternator, throwing away what likely would have been another win. Buemi and Davidson were eventually eleventh after the six hours were up, but it ultimately did not matter where they finished: Sébastien Buemi, after ten years of fighting, was finally a champion in cars, and a world champion at that. For Davidson, also, it was his first motor racing title since 2001.
Before the final WEC round at Interlagos was the second round of the Formula E season in Putrajaya. Buemi’s qualifying time was annulled after it was found that his car was underweight, so he had to start at the back. This wasn’t good enough for the new World Endurance champion, so he punched his way through the field and onto the podium in third place.
Toyota were quick as ever in Interlagos practice and the No. 8 was third behind a Porsche front row lockout, with only traffic to stop Buemi from taking pole. He spent the early stages duelling Marc Lieb in the No. 14 Porsche, while also cutting into the lead of Mark Webber in the No. 20. Eventually, the No. 8 moved to the very front of the field, but the No. 14 fought back and won thanks to a late safety car period eliminating their exciting battle. With second place, Toyota secured the Manufacturers’ Championship. Buemi seemed rather pleased with his season:
“[…] it’s been a great year for us, so obviously to become world champion in Bahrain was something very big for us as individuals and also for the team because Toyota has been trying very hard in the past few years to win races and championships. It was a great moment. We were leading the race in Bahrain until we had alternator issues, so it was a bit strange to win the championship by not finishing in a good position in that race but still it was a great feeling and last week in São Paulo we won the constructors’ championship, so it’s been a really good season for us.”
This was not the end for the winter though, as Buemi still had a Formula E season to worry about. Round three took place in Punta del Este in Uruguay and for once things went rather well: He qualified fourth and was up into second after a couple of safety car interruptions, which turned into the race lead when Nick Heidfeld had to serve a drive-through penalty. A final safety car period following a crash for Matt Brabham set up a tense final two laps, with pole sitter Jean-Éric Vergne taking full advantage of his FanBoost to try and pass Buemi, before the race threw up another twist when the Frenchman, in his first race, ran out of battery, effectively handing Buemi his first Formula E win.
Going into the New Year, Buemi was once again reconfirmed as Red Bull Racing’s test and reserve driver and he headed off to Buenos Aires for the next Formula E round. He seemed determined to win again, going fastest in practice and taking pole position by just two hundredths from ex-Toro Rosso teammate Jaime Alguersuari. He held off the fast-starting Heidfeld, who tried to gain an early advantage by using his FanBoost, and he stayed in front until just after a safety car period thirteen laps from the end; almost as soon as the green flags flew, Buemi hit the wall at turn eight, throwing away a chance of taking the championship lead.
Two months later, it was Miami. Buemi qualified fourteenth after a spin and finished thirteenth after an anonymous race won by teammate Prost, who went into the lead of the championship. Then it was off to the opposite coast of the US for the next round on an abbreviated version of the historic Long Beach street circuit. Buemi took another pole but his fastest time was soon deleted after it was found that he had exceeded the 200kW power limit in qualifying. His next best time was allowed to stand but that was only good enough for tenth. It is rare for a low grid placing to put Buemi at as much of a disadvantage as other drivers might expect, and he made another charge, this time to take fourth place after an epic scrap with Lucas di Grassi.
Before the next ePrix were the first two rounds of the WEC. Buemi’s title defence, now with the No. 1 on his car and with Kazuki Nakajima partnering himself and Davidson after Lapierre’s departure, didn’t start off ideally, with fourth on the grid in Silverstone followed by third in a race where they were no trouble to the Audis or Porsches.
Spa brought further disappointment, with the No. 1 car going one man down after Nakajima suffered a fractured vertebra in a crash in practice. They also found themselves unable to match the German marques in qualifying (save for the No. 9 Audi, which they beat). Then, the No. 1 suffered electrical problems, which cost a total of 20 minutes in repairs and dropped it to fourteen laps off the lead and in fourteenth place. The game of damage limitation saw the No. 1 eventually finish eighth, but this, coupled with Toyota’s Silverstone performance, did not bode well for the Japanese manufacturer’s title defence prospects.
None of this affected Buemi’s motivation for the Monaco Formula E round, which, like Long Beach, was run on a truncated version of the world-famous street course. Both Buemi and Prost were on the pace in practice and it was the former who took pole. He was lucky to start so high, as a massive accident on the first lap involving seven cars took out Alguersuari and Bruno Senna, with the rest of the victims returning to the pits to switch to their second cars. Buemi led the whole race despite pressure from championship leaders di Grassi and Nelson Piquet, Jr. With pole and the win, Buemi was now ten points off the top of the table himself. He had also become the first two-time winner in the series.
Next was the Berlin ePrix, which was held at Tempelhof Airport. Buemi topped practice and qualified third behind title rival di Grassi and shock pole sitter Jarno Trulli. Di Grassi took the lead after a mistake by Trulli and Buemi got right on the Italian veteran’s gearbox initially, only to drop back due to Trulli’s mysterious source of pace. Even more mysterious was di Grassi’s speed, as he started to put daylight between himself and the rest of the field. Buemi eventually got past Trulli with the aid of FanBoost, but by then it was too late to catch di Grassi. During the pit stop phase, he lost second to Jérôme d’Ambrosio after a very quick stop for the Belgian, and so Buemi finished third. However, he was promoted back up to second after it was found that di Grassi’s Abt team had made illegal modifications to his front wing, disqualifying the Brazilian. This had the side effect of putting Buemi second in the championship, just two points off new leader Piquet.
The hastily added Moscow ePrix was held between Le Mans testing (where Nakajima made his return) and the 24-hour race itself. Buemi was fourth on the grid and ran in that place for much of the race behind Vergne and di Grassi, Piquet disappearing into the lead. Buemi’s energy-saving ability was on display here, eking out an extra lap of battery power over his rivals before coming in to switch cars. Unfortunately, his stop was ten seconds too long after e.dams misread the minimum pit stop time as 68 seconds instead of 58. He reemerged in Heidfeld’s path, for which he would get a 29-second penalty, and controversially passed Vergne by cutting the chicane on the final lap, this only after the Andretti driver had made a slow exit from the corner. Buemi finished third on the road, but ninth after penalties, pushing him down to third in the standings and 23 points off Piquet with two races left.
Watch: The last-lap battle between Buemi and Vergne in Moscow.
Before the final double header in London the focus was on winning Le Mans, although if the first two WEC rounds were anything to go by, Toyota’s chances looked slim. Once again, the Audis and Porsches were out of reach in qualifying, and those six German cars immediately pulled away in the race. Toyota were never in contention, but could at least boast good reliability, the only incident affecting them occurring when Davidson made contact with one of the GTE cars, forcing the No. 1 to pit for repairs which took fifteen minutes. Final position for the No. 1 car in Le Mans: Eighth and last of the classified LMP1s.
At the end of June, the Formula E season finale took place at Battersea Park in London, a weekend consisting of two races to decide the championship. Buemi presented his credentials in the best way possible by claiming pole position for race one, with di Grassi and Piquet on the second row. Due to the track’s width, the race was held to a rolling start and Buemi held his lead as Piquet lost position to Vergne, the Frenchman also overtaking di Grassi later on. Buemi had a two-second lead over d’Ambrosio before a crash for Daniel Abt and a failure at the pit entry for Sakon Yamamoto brought out the safety car. This did nothing to Buemi’s advantage and he won in relative comfort, his immediate rivals in fourth and fifth. Now Buemi was just five points off Piquet; a similar performance in race two would be enough for Sébastien to become the inaugural Formula E champion.
The last qualifying session of the season was held in wet weather; the first time Formula E cars would run competitively in such conditions. Buemi was forced to run in worse conditions than some of his competitors and ended up only sixth on the grid, but he was crucially ahead of di Grassi (eleventh) and Piquet (sixteenth). On paper, if the race finished like that, Buemi would be champion. It was to be a very memorable race, as both di Grassi and Piquet fought their way into the points. In the dying moments, Piquet was able to benefit from team orders forcing his teammate Oliver Turvey to let him past, before a late safety car caused by a crash for Fabio Leimer allowed the Brazilian to close up on and pass Salvador Durán for eighth. Buemi was in sixth at this point and trying everything to pass Senna and banged wheels with him on the final lap, but it never came off and Piquet ended up winning the title by just one point. It could very easily have gone the other way, as Buemi was only behind Senna in the first place due to a spin at the pit exit. As a consolation, e.dams Renault had won the Teams’ Championship.
Watch: The 2015 London ePrix highlights.
Pre-season testing for the 2015-16 Formula E season began in August and Buemi was pretty quick with the new Renault powertrain. Would he keep up the momentum in his second season? That question was put on hold while he picked up his WEC campaign again at the Nürburgring, where Toyota continued to be only third best to Audi and Porsche, the No.1 qualifying and finishing fifth.
Austin went better only in terms of finishing position, with the No. 1 finishing fourth and two laps down, with a brief scare for Davidson when he ran into trouble at the pit entry and had to complete a slow lap to avoid running out of fuel. Then it was Toyota’s home race in Fuji, where the No. 1 once again qualified and finished fifth, well off the German marques, but well ahead of the Rebellions and the infamous ByKolles.
The 24th October marked the start of the 2015-16 Formula E season, and Buemi was on pole with teammate Prost joining him on the front row. Buemi won quite easily by eleven second from di Grassi, the largest winning margin yet seen in a Formula E race. He also set the fastest lap, becoming the first Formula E driver to score maximum points in a race.
Watch: The 2015 Beijing ePrix highlights.
One week later Buemi went down to Shanghai for the next WEC round, where, after another fifth place qualifying performance, Nakajima spun the car into the gravel at the final corner, which took a while to dig out; they finished sixth, four laps down on the No. 17 Porsche, which gave that historic marque the World Manufacturers’ Championship.
Putrajaya was once again the second Formula E round and it was another pole for Buemi, showing that perhaps this really would be his year. Problems for second-placed Stéphane Sarrazin meant that Buemi was the only man on the front row. He promptly disappeared into the distance. Another win in the bag… Or not! On lap fifteen, Buemi was slowed by a software problem and was then forced to pit earlier than planned. Suddenly out of contention and forced to drive a little more conservatively to last the distance, Buemi finished twelfth, relinquishing the championship lead to race winner di Grassi by eight points.
With the next Formula E round more than a month away, Buemi could go to Bahrain for the final round of what was a very disappointing and winless WEC title defence. The No. 1’s amazing consistency was on display once again with a fifth consecutive fifth place in qualifying. They were beaten by the No. 2 car in the race, but they could boast being able to beat a Porsche and an Audi on the way to fourth, although this was more another show of the TS040’s excellent reliability than its ability to outpace the Volkswagen Group’s works teams in 2015.
For the next few months, all Buemi had to worry about was his Formula E chances, and surely he knew he had the fastest car of the lot. In Punta del Este he hit the wall in practice, but then that tends to happen to a lot of drivers. Unfortunately, he did not have his mistakes ironed out by qualifying, as he ran wide at turn eight, turning a likely pole into fifth place. Whether it was first or fifth it didn’t matter to the super-quick Renault powertrain, as it helped Buemi pass di Grassi at the start and hunt down Loïc Duval and Sam Bird on lap three. He then started to chip away at race leader d’Ambrosio at the rate of a second per lap until there was no gap left to close on lap eight, and Buemi made short work of him as well; by the time Buemi had made his car change, he had built up a gap of four seconds to the Dragon driver. Then it seemed as if race control wanted to create some drama of their own, as a miscommunication regarding a full course yellow caused Buemi to slow down too early and allow now-second-placed di Grassi to close up. Just a second separated them when the green flag came out, but Buemi still had the pace to extend a gap and won by 3.5 seconds, taking the championship lead back by just one point.
2016 (so far)
Buenos Aires kicked off the 2016 portion of the Formula E season and Buemi dramatically spun in qualifying and consigned himself to last place on the grid. He wrote off his chances of winning, but the race proved that anything could happen for him, quickly moving up to fifteenth by the end of the opening lap and ninth by lap ten. By the time he switched to his second car he was up to fourth and he quickly disposed of Sarrazin to join di Grassi and Bird in the fight for the lead. A brilliant move by the Swiss on di Grassi gave him second place and he spent the final few laps on Bird’s tail, not quite passing him, but coming far closer than he thought he would after qualifying; the gap between them at the end was just seven tenths.
The halfway point of the season was marked by Formula E’s first visit to a permanent circuit at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Just like the series’ visits to previously used temporary circuits like Long Beach and Monaco, this was to be a shortened layout of the famed Mexican track. Another compromised lap saw Buemi qualify only fifth. The first half of the race saw a train of cars that consisted of d’Ambrosio, Prost, di Grassi, Buemi and Abt jockeying for position, but with little change in that order. The second half saw a frustrated Buemi try everything conceivable (within limits) to get past d’Ambrosio, but to no avail. Then he rear-ended him, which achieved nothing and then he cut the first chicane, having to give the place back afterwards. It soon became clear that such unconventional methods would only draw unwanted attention and Buemi continued in the ‘proper’ way, finishing third and just a tenth off the Belgian, which became second after di Grassi was, like Berlin in 2015, found to be in contravention of the rules; this time it was related to the minimum weight. Thus, Buemi extended his championship lead to 22 points over di Grassi.
Watch: Buemi and d’Ambrosio do battle in Mexico.
Long Beach was next and once again a straightforward race eluded Buemi. He was mysteriously off the pace in qualifying, going eighth quickest. He made a great move on Abt in the race, before a not-so-great move was made a few laps later when he tore off Robin Frijns’ rear wing, also damaging his own front wing. He continued in fifth place, but the black and orange flag being waved told him to head into the pits and do something about that nose. Being forced to switch car and lose any chance of finishing, Buemi went for the fastest lap and scored two points in doing so; di Grassi won the race and took the championship lead by just one point.
WEC was the focus again in April, and Toyota brought a brand-spanking new car in the TS050 Hybrid; a much needed change after the disaster that was 2015. The opening round at Silverstone showed unfortunately recorded an Audi front row and a Porsche second row, with the Toyotas well off the pace on row three. Buemi’s No. 5 car was in its own battle with the other Toyota, the No. 6, before a right rear puncture destroyed the car’s rear bodywork in the latter stages.
Before finding out how things would go at Spa, Buemi was concerned with regaining the Formula E championship lead in the Paris round, the home race for the e.dams Renault team. Again, the pace just was not there in qualifying and eighth was Buemi’s starting position. His ability to make up positions shone as usual and he made some great on-track moves on the likes of Oliver Turvey, Sarrazin and Prost, and also pressured Bird into making a mistake. This allowed Buemi to end the race third, with di Grassi extending his championship lead with victory.
Back to the WEC, as Spa was next on the calendar. Toyota set a good pace in practice. The No. 5 car was only fifth on the grid, but the No. 6 showed that there was some hope by qualifying third behind the Porsches. Unfortunately, with this promising pace came unreliability; the No. 5 was leading by a minute when it ran into engine trouble, the same thing happening to the No. 6. The signs of a great car were at least there, something Toyota did not have in 2015.
The Berlin ePrix was held not at Tempelhof, but on a new street circuit on the Karl-Marx-Allee. Buemi finally got a good qualifying together with second behind Vergne, and he went back to controlling the pace and winning, though one wonders what might have been for chief rival di Grassi as the latter’s teammate Abt controversially ignored team orders to let the Brazilian past into second place; di Grassi remained in third while Buemi took his third win to bring the points gap back down to a single point. Another great finale was in store, but, with the cancellation of the Moscow round, it would be well over a month before any kind of resolution could be made.
Mid-June meant one thing in endurance racing terms: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Porsches led the way as usual in qualifying, but it was the Toyotas on the second row. With the track soaked in rain, it was decided to start the race under the safety car, which led the field for nearly an hour. Mike Conway in the No. 6 took the lead from Neel Jani’s Porsche in the run towards the Ford chicanes, with Buemi making it a Toyota 1-2. Eventually, as conditions improved, the Porsches came back into play, with the No. 1 car holding a 20-second lead from the No. 6 Toyota at the four-hour mark, the No. 5 down in fifth after making an unscheduled pit stop. Then disaster struck for the No. 1, as water temperatures reached critical levels and its driver, Brendon Hartley, was forced to pit, which allowed the No. 6 into the lead once more, with the No. 5 in second but not too far ahead of the No. 2 Porsche at half-distance. At 8am, Buemi overtook the No. 6 to take the lead of the race with the No. 2 Porsche still not far behind, but he extended his advantage to 20 seconds when he pulled in to hand over to Davidson at around the 19-hour mark. The battle for the lead continued to rage between the two Toyotas and the Porsche for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon in what was already one of the most exciting battles in recent Le Mans history. As the chequered flag approached, the No. 5’s advantage of one minute and ten seconds at the beginning of the last stint was reduced to 30 seconds by a charging Jani, but, with ten minutes to go, the Porsche had to make another pit stop, and Kazuki Nakajima in the No. 5 looked set to win. Three and a half minutes from the end, Nakajima came around the Ford chicanes to begin his final lap when catastrophe struck: He suffered a sudden loss of power and the car ground to a halt. Unable to get going again, he relinquished victory at the death of the race to the Porsche in what will surely go down as one of the biggest heartbreak moments in the history of Le Mans, if not the history of motorsport. Words alone do not do justice to what Buemi surely must have felt in losing certain victory in one of the world’s greatest races, but here is what he had to say:
“It’s hard to find the words for what has happened today. We were in control of the race and were so close to the win that we all want. This is the biggest race of the year so it’s even tougher to accept. It is so disappointing for the whole team; we did the right preparation and we had the car to win. So we already look to next year when the target will be clear.”
Watch: Heartbreak for the drivers of the Toyota’s #5 car, which stopped on the final lap whilst leading.
No matter the case, Buemi would have to put Le Mans behind him, as he had a Formula E title to worry about. Rain in qualifying for London made it impossible for Buemi to set a competitive time and he went twelfth on the grid with di Grassi also struggling in tenth. They both fought ferociously to maximise their point-scoring opportunities and were virtually nose-to-tail for the entirety of the first race. As they made their way through, Abt was willing to listen to team orders for a change and held up Buemi long enough for race control to intervene, and the Swiss made found a way past. Di Grassi dramatically damaged his front wing trying to pass Vergne, but this had no ill effect on him; his chances of passing were soon neutralised by double-waved yellows after a crash for Turvey. The title contenders finished fourth and fifth – di Grassi ahead – with just three points now separating them for the final race.
Buemi claimed the three points for pole in race two, drawing the two title protagonists level for the decider; di Grassi was third. As the race got underway, the two e.dams cars led into turn one when suddenly di Grassi ran straight into the back of Buemi in the first braking zone at turn three, severely damaging both cars. In an almost surreal turn of events that could only occur under the unique regulations of Formula E, both drivers limped back to the pits to get into their second cars, guaranteeing that neither of them would ultimately finish – they were targeting the fastest lap. They each went for setups that allowed for maximum performance levels without worrying about battery consumption as they so often would, and waiting for a clear track to launch their assaults, effectively turning the race into the most intense qualifying session ever witnessed. Eventually, the superiority of the Renault powertrain over the Audi powering di Grassi showed, with Buemi going half a second quicker than the Brazilian with a 1:24.150. The two points, and the championship, were his. He was happy with the title, but he suddenly had no respect for his former GP2 teammate:
“I was not expecting to celebrate it that way. But I’m more than happy. It was a tough season, and what [di Grassi] did [at Turn 3] I didn’t know what to think. Even after when we were trying to set the fastest lap, he was waiting for me. But in the end the best team and the best driver won.”
He later added:
“I mean, you’re always gonna brake in a different way because the brakes and tyres are cold and we don’t have a formation lap, you just have to take a look at the footage. Honestly, I have zero respect for this guy, so now we’ll see what the race direction says – but I’m very happy with what I’ve done, because I’ve done the right thing. What he said is actually disrespectful because first of all he is lying and second of all he made a huge mistake and he is trying to blame someone else.”
Watch: The 2016 London ePrix highlights.
Assessing Sébastien Buemi’s time in Formula One is difficult due to the teammates he was up against, but even so, he has a favourable record against both Sébastien Bourdais and Jaime Alguersuari. Toro Rosso were in a difficult situation in 2011, with no seat available for either of its drivers at Red Bull and at the same time they had two new youngsters in Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo who were ready for a new challenge in a relatively competitive F1 car. Unfortunately, the decision not to renew Buemi and Alguersuari came too late for them to find a decent drive elsewhere in the sport, and so they had to try and forge new destinies in other categories of motorsport.
At 27, Sébastien heads into the 2016-17 Formula E season as reigning champion and remains an e.dams Renault driver, with the development of a potentially volatile rivalry with Lucas di Grassi remaining a possibility. His WEC commitments also continue, though he has yet to match his Le Mans near-success this season, only managing fifth at the Nürburgring and Austin since then; but with three rounds still to go, anything is possible. Sébastien also maintains a close relationship with the Red Bull F1 team, though his reserve role has since been taken up by GP2 frontrunner Pierre Gasly due to his FE and WEC commitments. He has, however, made appearances in testing and demonstration runs for Red Bull in the five years since he last raced for Toro Rosso, his most recent outing being in July when he tested Pirelli’s prototype tyres for 2017. He has also been rumoured as a potential candidate for Renault F1 in 2017, with Red Bull even going so far as to directly offer him to them, though it is understood as of writing that it is unlikely such a signing will be made.
Off-track, Sébastien still lives in Monaco, and in February 2016 he and his wife Jessica welcomed the arrival of a son whom they named Jules. He loves Italian food and his hobbies include music, tennis, soccer and biking. He also enjoys spending time with his family in Switzerland.
Sources: Autosport, Buemi.ch, F1 Racing, gppdate.net, Motorsport.com, current-e.com