Stepping into Sebastian Vettels vacant Toro Rosso seat means 2009 newcomer Sebastien Buemi has some pretty big shoes to fill. Not only did Vettel help the former Minardi team to sixth in the 2008 championship, he also clinched their first-ever race win. But after his swift rise through the ranks, Toro Rosso are confident the 20 year-old Swiss rookie will prove more than up to the task.
Like most racers, Buemi stretched his legs in karts before making his single-seater debut in the 2004 German Formula BMW series. Almost immediately he impressed with his pace and finished the championship third overall, racking up 10 podiums, two poles and two fastest laps. Perhaps tellingly the champion that year was Vettel.
In 2005 he went one better, finishing the series second (this time behind Williams tester Nico Hulkenberg), and boosted his tally to seven wins, 16 podiums, seven pole positions and 12 fastest laps. He also enjoyed his first taste of Formula Three, competing in the Valencia leg of the Spanish series. Although he failed to finish, Buemi was clearly ready for a step up.
And in 2006, having been signed by Red Bull to their young driver programme, Buemi began his F3 career in the uber-competitive Euroseries. Not only was Vettel one of the competitors, but several other familiar names, including Kazuki Nakajima, Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Kamui Kobayashi, were all vying for victories.
Comparatively speaking, his sole win (and 12th place in the title standings) was far from a standout performance. But unlike many of his rivals, Buemi had combined that drive with two Formula Renault rides, from which he took a further three wins, a spell racing for the Swiss A1 GP team, and appearances at both the F3 Masters at Zandvoort, where he finished third, and the Macau Grand Prix, where he took fourth.
Of course, being a Red Bull-backed young driver helped, but Buemis work ethic was pretty impressive. And he was equally busy in 2007, not only improving to second in the F3 Euro series following three wins and 13 podiums, but also making the big break into GP2, after replacing an injured Michael Ammermuller mid-season.
While he failed to glean a podium from his five-round foray into GP2, he did score six points and three fastest laps. More importantly, Red Bull were impressed enough to offer him his first opportunity to drive a Formula One car at a test session in Jerez. Two further spells behind the wheel of the RB3 followed and Buemi was subsequently appointed the teams official reserve driver for 2008.
He would still get to keep his race skills fresh, however, with drives for Arden International in GP2 and GP2 Asia. Finishing the two series sixth and second respectively, his season was not without its high spots. Most memorable were his commanding performance from the front of the grid at the Hungaroring and his victory at Magny-Cours, but his overall consistency and composure impressed too.
It was no doubt these qualities that eventually secured him the Toro Rosso seat. Going head-to-head with experienced stalwarts Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato in several tests over the 08-09 winter break would have challenged many an older driver, never mind a 20 year-old. But Buemi kept his head and consistently topped the timesheets.
He was equally cool on his F1 race debut, scoring two points on his first outing in Australia. There were the inevitable rookie errors, but Buemi quickly garnered a reputution as a reliable, if perhaps not lightning-quick, driver. He certainly had the edge on far more experienced team mate Sebastien Bourdais, who was dropped mid-season, and ultimately secured 75 percent of Toro Rosso's '09 points tally.