Before Buemi - Switzerlands Formula One greats 30 Jan 2009
When Toro Rossos Sebastien Buemi takes to the track in Melbourne in March, hell be the 25th Swiss driver to participate in a Grand Prix weekend. Given that motorsport was banned in the country for much of the 20th century, Switzerland has proved a surprisingly fertile breeding ground for driving talent over the years. We take a look at who Buemi will be aiming to emulate
Regazzoni was by far the most successful Swiss-born Formula One driver. After memorably taking fourth place on his F1 debut - for Ferrari - at the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix, he scored a maiden win at Monza just four rounds later. His remains one of the all-time best debut seasons and Enzo Ferrari duly rewarded him with a permanent contract for 1971.
But Regazzoni had to wait until 1974 to score a follow-up win. It came at the Nurburgring, during a season in which he recorded a further seven podiums. In fact, going into the championship finale at Watkins Glen, he was just one point shy of leader Emerson Fittipaldi and was within a hairs breadth of the title.
Unfortunately for Switzerland, an ill-handling Ferrari ultimately saw Regazzoni lose out to the Brazilian, but to this day it remains the closest a Swiss driver has come to winning the drivers crown. It also proved to be the best campaign of Regazzonis career. Though he won a further two Grands Prix for the team, he was eventually dropped by Ferrari in 1977.
He found a seat at Ensign, and then Williams, for whom he scored the team's first - and his last - F1 victory at the 1979 British Grand Prix. But at Long Beach the following season he crashed following a suspected brake failure and was left paralysed from the waist down. While it ended his Formula One career, he did go on to race a variety of other machinery using hand controls, as well as finding a new calling as an F1 commentator. His untimely death came, ironically, in a road accident in 2006.
Apart from Regazzoni, former motorcycle racer Siffert - or Seppi as he was affectionately known - remains the only other Swiss driver to have won a Grand Prix. He made his Formula One debut as a private entrant, driving a Lotus-Climax, in 1962. After two years spent honing his craft, he joined the Rob Walker team. It was a relationship that would last six years and culminate in a win at the 1968 British Grand Prix.
Siffert continued to combine Formula One with a highly successful sportscar career for Porsche. In 1971 he took a second F1 victory in Austria driving for BRM, but it would prove to be his last. Whilst competing in a non-championship race at Brands Hatch later that season, he crashed and died in the flames that engulfed his wrecked car. He was just 35, but the estimated 50,000 countrymen who attended his funeral served as proof of the iconic status he had already attained in his homeland.
Celebrated for his performances in the wet, Marc Surers best F1 finish from an eight-season career was a remarkable fourth place - he started the race 18th - for Ensign at the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix. Despite enduring serious leg injuries in two heavy accidents, he fought back to match that result with Brabham in 1985 at Monza, but he never quite made the podium and 13th was his best finish in the drivers championship. His racing career ended the following year with a rallying crash that claimed the life of his co-driver. Since then Surer has continued his long-term association with BMW, enjoying roles in management, driver instruction and TV commentating.
The best of the rest
Another driver of unfulfilled promise was Rudolf Rudi Fischer, who clinched two podiums in privately-entered Ferraris in the early 1950s, before retiring at the age of 40 after an eight-race career.
Beyond Fischer, only two other men have scored world championship points for Switzerland. Emmanuel Toulo de Graffenried, who appeared in the first-ever world championship round at Silverstone in 1950, racked up nine with the best result of his 22-race career a fourth place at Spa in 1953. And Silvio Moser managed three from his 12 starts, courtesy of a fifth place in the 1968 Dutch Grand Prix and a sixth at Watkins Glen the following year.
The most recent Swiss driver to race in Formula One was Jean-Denis Deletraz. Now well established in the FIA GT series, Delatraz finished (in 15th place) just one of his three Grands Prix for Larrousse and Pacific back in 1994/95. Since then the nearest Switzerland has come to claiming an F1 star has been Neel Janis Friday practice outings for Toro Rosso in 2006, though given his subsequent strong showings in Champ Cars and A1GP, he could yet be a name to watch.
So back to Buemi and - for the time being at least - it looks like the prospects of his emulating his F1 countrymen are not as daunting as those faced by rookies from certain other nations. A Swiss driver has never won the world championship, and with that in mind, Buemi can happily set his career ambitions as high as he wants.