Swiss racing driver Sébastien Buemi has signed a contract with the Toro Rosso Formula One team, catapulting him into motor racing's most prestigious competition.
At age 20, Buemi will be taking on the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastien Vettel on circuits around the world. He told swissinfo he was ready for the challenge.
After serving as the Red Bull team's test driver in 2008 and finishing sixth in the second-tier GP2 championship this season, Buemi's results in winter testing convinced Toro Rosso he was ready to step up. The team has had its best-ever season, with Vettel driving the car in its maiden win at the Italian Grand Prix this year.
swissinfo: How do you feel to be joining a successful team?
Sébastien Buemi: It's a fantastic feeling. I'm looking forward to a great season, but we have to stay realistic since next season promises to be a really tough championship with new rules.
The car will be really different. We hope Red Bull Technology can put together a really good car and that we can maximise its potential. I have a good relationship with the team too and I hope that will continue.
swissinfo: What tipped the scales in your favour?
S.B.: I am a driver from the Red Bull junior team and the Toro Rosso team was set up so the junior drivers could get their first experience in Formula One. I think the results I got for the junior team were good and consistent as was the recent testing I carried out. Toro Rosso has been looking at all that data very carefully.
swissinfo: You were consistently the fastest or among the fastest in testing over the past weeks. How do you explain that you managed to be quicker than more experienced drivers?
S.B.: You have to keep in mind that its is very difficult to analyse the results from winter testing. So teams were testing cars with the specifications for 2009 that for example do not allow you to apply too much aerodynamic downforce, which means you will be slower.
But others were still driving with the 2008 specifications like us, so we were quite fast and consistent. What we don't know is how much speed we will lose next season with the new rules.
swissinfo: Some of those rules were introduced by the international automobile federation to help cut down on spiralling costs and reduce the impact of technology on racing. Is this an advantage for younger drivers such as yourself?
S.B.: Going back to slick tyres, for example, is a good thing for me. The GP2 category I have been racing in has been using slicks for over two years. But the cost-cutting measures mean that there will be less testing and that for new drivers there will be fewer opportunities to gain track experience and more pressure on the Friday before a Grand Prix.
It will definitely be a bit harder for the young drivers to get up to speed, but in the end conditions will be the same for everyone. If you are focused on your job and smart enough, you will be fast enough on the race weekend.
swissinfo: Car races are banned in Switzerland. Did that make it harder for you to reach Formula One?
S.B.: In the beginning when I was competing in cart races it was quite difficult since there was a lack of support. But I moved abroad fairly early on to go racing in high quality championships.
I also got support straight away from Red Bull after I moved into Formula BMW, and they have helped me throughout my career. That support wasn't related to my nationality since my sponsor was only interested in how fast I could drive.
swissinfo: Do have any dreams now you have reached Formula One?
S.B.: When you take part in a race, especially Formula One, you want to win, to fight for the top spot. But if you can't win there with your current team, you have to consider moving on.
At the moment, only two teams are capable of winning the championship, Ferrari and McLaren. So driving for one of those two teams and fighting for the championship could be my dream. I have to show though that I deserve my place in Formula One and repay my team for the faith they have put in me.
swissinfo-interview: Scott Capper
Sébastien Buemi was born on October 31, 1988 in Aigle, canton Vaud.
After graduating from karting, he spent 2004 and 2005 in German Formula BMW, finishing third and second in the championship respectively. He was also runner up in the 2005 FBMW World Final.
Buemi joined the Formula Three Euroseries in 2006, finishing 12th in the championship. He remained in the series for 2007, and finished second overall.
He competed in the GP2 Series in 2007 and 2008, winning two races this year and finishing sixth in the final standings.
Swiss Formula One drivers
Andrea Chiesa — three Grand Prix (1992)
Emmanuel de Graffenried — 22 (1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956)
Jean-Denis Deletraz — three (1994, 1995)
Rudi Fischer — seven (1951, 1952)
Gregor Foitek — seven (1990)
Franco Forini — two (1987)
Peter Hirt — five (1951, 1952, 1953)
Loris Kessel — three (1976)
Michael May — two (1961)
Silvio Moser — 12 (1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971)
Clay Regazzoni — 132 (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980)
Albert Scherrer — one (1953)
Heinz Schiller — one (1962)
Rudolf Schoeller — one (1952)
Jo Siffert — 96 (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971)
Marc Surer — 82 (1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986)
Jo Vonlanthen — one (1975)
Heini Walter — one (1962)