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Formula One rookie gears up for success

Field of dreams: Sébastien Buemi is ready to prove himself in Formula One

(Keystone)

When the lights go green in Melbourne on Sunday, 20-year-old Sébastien Buemi could become the first Swiss to win a Formula One Grand Prix in 30 years.

Buemi has come a long way since whizzing round go-karting circuits and now finds himself on the same starting grid – at glamourous locations around the world – as Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.

"I'm looking forward to a great season, but we have to stay realistic since it promises to be a really tough championship with new rules," Buemi, who is raving for the Toro Rosso team, told swissinfo in December.

Stung by the economic recession and forced to cut costs, Formula One heads into the new season with a wide-open field and no clear title favourite.

The economic downturn prompted Honda's pullout and the exit of major sponsors such as ING, RBS and Credit Suisse, but a raft of cost-cutting and regulation changes have apparently put Formula One on sound footing.

Would these give an advantage to younger drivers such as Buemi?

"Going back to slick tyres, for example, is a good thing for me. 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," he said.

"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."

Learning on the track

Buemi finished 15th and last in the first two open practice sessions in Melbourne on Friday.

"It wasn't too bad, we tried different settings and the car improved lap after lap," the rookie driver said afterwards. "Given that the car has hardly been tested, the sessions taught us a lot about how it handles and what needs to be improved."

Fortunately, he says the upgrade from the lower-tier GP2 series to Formula One has not been too hard apart from the much higher speed of the more powerful Toro Rosso car.

Buemi's lap times fell from one minute 41 seconds to one minute 28 as he become accustomed to the track - one he had only previously seen in computer simulations. But he was still two seconds off the pace.

The Swiss driver said he was not too concerned though, as he considered these drives first and foremost as tests.

Changes

Driver line-ups for 2009 remain unchanged except for Buemi taking Sebastian Vettel's seat at Toro Rosso after the German driver replaced the retired David Coulthard at sister team Red Bull.

Toro Rosso's other driver is 30-year-old Frenchman Sébastien Bourdais, who picked up four points with seventh-place finishes in Australia and Belgium last year.

The 17-race calendar will also feature some changes, most notably the absence of the French and Canadian races and the season finale being held at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 1.

The night race at Singapore returns for a second year and drivers will be looking forward to the classic street race at Monaco in May.

Expectations

"In 2008 our performance exceeded our expectations. It's going to be tough to live up to that this year," Toro Rosso's boss Franz Tost said.

The team had its maiden victory last season through Sebastian Vettel and finished sixth in the constructors' championship.

"In 2008 we lined up two F1 novice drivers but Bourdais now has 18 GPs under his belt and this year's rookie, Buemi, has already done well in winter testing," Tost said.

In February Buemi set the pace at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain for the second straight testing session.

"Even though we're still in the 2008 car, I've learned a lot in terms of how we operate over a race weekend, as we simulated a qualifying session and the race," Buemi said at the time. "It was good preparation and now all we need is our new car."

The car, called the STR4, soon arrived. It is a joint venture between Red Bull Technology and Toro Rosso and is fitted with a Ferrari V8 engine.

Ambition

Buemi will become the first Swiss to take part in a Formula One race car since 1995, when Jean-Denis Délétraz drove for Pacific at the European Grand Prix.

He won't however be the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix – of those still racing, Alonso, Vettel and Jenson Button were all younger.

He would however be the youngest to win a race – the record is currently held by Vettel, who won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix aged 21 years and 73 days.

If he won in his debut race, he would join Nino Farina (1950), Johnnie Parsons (1950) and Giancarlo Baghetti (1961).

Until now, only two Swiss have won an official Grand Prix: Clay Regazzoni won five and Jo Siffert two. Regazzoni's win at the 1979 British Grand Prix was the most recent.

Buemi clearly has the ambition to go far. "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 with your current team, you have to consider moving on," he said.

"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

Sébastien Buemi

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.

end of infobox

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)

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