With big boots to fill, Sebastien Buemi has been named to succeed Sebastian Vettel as race driver for Formula One outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso, owned by Red Bull drinks magnate Dietrich Mateschitz.
Vettel, who last season became the youngest driver to win an F1 race, the Italian Grand Prix at the formidable Monza circuit, ascends to senior team Red Bull Racing in the wake of David Coulthard's retirement. Vettel will partner Mark Webber, currently recovering from the wrong end of a bicycle-car crash suffered during his charity endurance race in Tasmania last November.
Buemi, 20, of Aigle, Switzerland, emerged at the top after progression through Red Bull's Junior Driver program. He raced the F1 support series, GP2, last season and served as Red Bull Racing's reserve driver. He delivered an impressive audition for the job by consistently topping time charts in Red Bull and Toro Rosso cars through close-season testing to end 2008. Buemi's teammate will be named later. Sebastien Bourdais drove STR's second car in 2008 and has been pressed to keep the seat.
"We are delighted to welcome Sebastien, who was already part of the Red Bull family, to our team," STR team principal Franz Tost said. "Our engineers have been impressed with his speed in the car and his ability to learn and progress during the testing he has carried out for us last year. That, along with some impressive performances in GP2, was enough to convince us to give him the drive. His appointment also fulfills the aims of the Red Bull Junior Driver program and meets Dietrich Mateschitz's intention to use Scuderia Toro Rosso as a showcase for young drivers the company has supported in the lower formulae."
Buemi's first appearance in his new role is testing in Portugal at the new Portimao Circuit later this month. He stands to be the sport's youngest driver this season.
"I am naturally very happy to be driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso this year," Buemi said. "Being a Formula One driver has always been my target, since I first started racing. This year, I will do all I can to bring home the best possible results and to show Red Bull that the confidence it has shown in me is justified. I want to thank Red Bull for this opportunity and for all the help they have given me in my career, dating back to 2005."
Despite being from a country that banned racing for more than 50 years in the aftermath of the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans tragedy that killed more than 80 spectators, a country that last held its grand prix in Dijon, France, Buemi follows two dozen Swiss drivers into F1. Most notable among them were Clay Regazzoni and Jo "Seppi" Siffert. Regazzoni competed from 1970 to 1980, winning five times, including in Italy at the wheel of a Ferrari. He died in a road accident in late 2006.
Before Regazzoni reached pre-eminence, Siffert, whose career began in motorcycles in the late 1950s, according to Wikipedia, defined Swiss racing success. Siffert campaigned in F1 with an eponymous private team from 1962. Later, with Rob Walker Racing, he won two non-championship grands prix, in 1964 and 1965, both times narrowly beating the top driver of the day, world champion Jim Clark. Siffert's victory in the 1968 British Grand Prix in a Lotus 49B for Walker was considered F1's final victory by a true privateer entrant. Tremendously successful in sports cars -- earning a stellar reputation in Porsche 917s -- Siffert won the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix then died at a non-championship event at Brands Hatch, England, where he had taken his famous victory in 1968. Siffert became another in a string of martyrs to improving racing safety. According to Wikipedia, 50,000 people attended his funeral.
Switzerland lifted its racing ban in June 2007.
Elsewhere, England's Donington Park has been granted permission to make $150 million worth of improvements to bring the circuit to "world-class venue" status as demanded by F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, who engineered a switch for the British GP from longtime home Silverstone. Donington Park plays host to the race for at least 10 years starting in 2010.