Sebastien Buemi will become the eighth GP2 driver to enter Formula 1 when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso in the Australian Grand Prix next month.
His form in GP2 doesn’t seem as strong as the likes of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton or Timo Glock’s were. He is the only driver to graduate from the GP2 class of 2008 – the first year the GP2 champion hasn’t found a seat with an F1 team. Let’s see how Buemi compares to the other GP2 drivers who reached F1.
F1 debut: 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix
GP2 form: 23 starts in 2005, best finish second
Speed is the latest American hopeful to have tackled F1. He was dropped by Toro Rosso halfway through 2007.
Perhaps they saw more potential in him than his unexciting GP2 form pointed to, or perhaps the opportunity to put the first American in F1 in 13 years blinded them to his shortcomings. Plenty of cautionary lessons for USF1 here.
F1 debut: 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix
GP2 form: 2005 champion, five wins
The first GP2 champion walked straight into a plum F1 drive with Williams, and set fastest lap on his debut at Bahrain.
He’s still with the team, and Frank Williams rates him highly. Outside the team opinions are mixed over whether he’s just not in the same class as the Fernando Alonsos and Kimi Raikkonens, or that his raw talent that is dulled by uncompetitive machinery. I’m more inclined to believe the latter.
F1 debut: 2007 Australian Grand Prix
GP2 form: ranked second in 2005, five wins
Kovalainen’s failure to win the 2005 GP2 championship was more down to misfortune and his team failing to spot a technical trick exploited by Rosberg’s ART outfit, than problems with the Finn’s driving.
Renault chose to keep him on the sidelines for a year before treating him to the wayward R27 on his debut, where a race-rusty Kovalainen failed to impress. He got on with the job over the course of the season however, beating the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella, but Renault showed him the door anyway. That led to a race seat at McLaren – and a maiden win at Hungary last year.
F1 debut: 2007 Australian Grand Prix
GP2 form: 2006 champion, five wins
Hamilton’s McLaren connections helped him into a GP2 drive with top team ART. Even so his 2006 GP2 title was impressive as he beat the likes of team mate Alexandre Premat and Nelson Piquet Jnr, both of which had a year’s experience in the category.
By winning the F1 title last year, Hamilton became the first world champion to have also won a title in the ‘feeder series’ – whether GP2 or its predecessors F3000 (1985-2004) and F2 (pre-1985).
F1 debut: 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix
GP2 form: 21 starts in 2007, best finish second
Nakajima, along with Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jnr, is another GP2 graduate to have a father with an F1 history. He was the top rookie in 2007, but I felt another season in the category would have been better for his career than his hasty F1 debut at the end of that year’s F1 season, where he infamously mowed down his mechanics during one pit stop.
He is backed by Toyota, whose test driver Kamui Kobayashi is leading GP2 Asia at present.
Nelson Piquet Jnr
F1 debut: 2008 Australian Grand Prix
GP2 form: 43 starts and five wins 2005-6, ranked second in 2006
Like Kovalainen, Piquet was a GP2 championship runner-up, spent a year testing before graduating to F1 with Renault, and got his new career off to a shaky start. Unlike Kovalainen, Piquet’s patchy form continued throughout his maiden season.
Yet despite that (or should that be ‘because of it’?) he kept his drive with the team.
F1 debut: 2004 Canadian Grand Prix
GP2 form: 2007 champion, seven wins 2006-7
Glock is an oddity in this list in that he made his F1 debut before entering GP2. After a handful of start for Jordan in 2004, including a points finish in his maiden race at Montreal, he found himself back in the lower echelons of racing.
He gained a mid-season promotion to top team iSport in 2006 and started winning, then wrapped up the title in 2007. Glock then made a solid F1 debut with Toyota in 2008. Despite a couple of big crashes in Melbourne and Hockenheim, Glock also marked himself out with an excellent second at the Hungaroring and an attention-grabbing (and successful) tactical gamble in the final race.
F1 debut: 2009 Australian Grand Prix
GP2 form: 30 starts 2007-8, two wins
The consensus was that GP2 failed to produce an obvious star of the future in its fourth season. Romain Grosjean dominated the inaugural GP2 Asia championship last winter, but struggled to reproduce that form in the main series, and lost two wins due to infringements. Bruno Senna blew hot and cold with excellent wet wins at Monte-Carlo and Silverstone, and baffling mistakes when the conditions were less challenging.
Giorgio Pantano, another former Jordan driver, won the title having racked up over 100 starts at F3000/GP2 level. While clinching the championship at Monza he collected a penalty for crossing the pit lane exit line, which emphasised the popular view that experience alone did not make him a suitable F1 candidate.
Sebastien Buemi had made several GP2 starts for ART in 2007, and drove for Arden full-time in 2008. He ended the year sixth with 50 points and two wins. Decent, but nothing to get excited about, right? Maybe, but a glance at his form over his 30 GP2 starts shows a clear upward trend:
His well-judged win in mixed conditions at Magny-Cours was especially impressive. Given how young he is, he strikes me as another driver who, like Nakajima, might be better served by another season in GP2 than a hasty arrival in the sport’s upper echelons. He has at least logged many testing miles for Toro Rosso in 2009, though nothing like as much as rookie drivers used to get.
That said, Buemi wasn’t instantly quick in GP2 the way some of the best drivers to graduate from GP2 to F1 were – like Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. But Buemi’s GP2 debut came in the middle of a season where he was already racing in Formula Three, and he only did a partial season replacing other drivers with injuries or conflicting races.
Verdict: Watch this space…
One driver who is marking himself out for being instantly quick is Nico Hulkenberg. He has only appeared at two GP2 Asia weekends but has set pole position at both of them, won his third race and was the class of the field in Qatar last weekend.
Going in the wrong direction
Pantano and Glock are not the only drivers to find themselves joining in the support races despite having made F1 debuts.
Former Minardi driver Gianmaria Bruni drove for Trident in GP2 in 2006, winning at Imola, but now races sports cars. Sakon Yamamoto is team mate to Williams test driver Nico Hulkenberg at ART in GP2 Asia at present, and was fortunate to escape a shocking accident last weekend.
Former Jaguar and Williams driver Antonio Pizzonia made an ill-starred switch to GP2 in 2007. He was dropped after five races with Fisichella Motorsport and replaced by Adam Carroll.
Will Buemi sink or swim in F1 this year? Did he need another year in GP2? Have your say in the comments.
Read more about Sebastien Buemi: Sebastien Buemi biography
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Images (C) Getty, GP2 Media Service / Glenn Dunbar, GP2 Media Service / Glenn Dunbar