Buemi: another GP2 prodigy fit for F1?

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Sebastian Buemi steps up from GP2 to F1 with Toro Rosso in 2009

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.

Scott Speed

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.

Verdict: Miss

Nico Rosberg

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.

Verdict: Hit

Heikki Kovalainen

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.

Verdict: Hit

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton won the 2006 GP2 championship

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).

Verdict: Hit

Kazuki Nakajima

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.

Verdict: Maybe

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.

Verdict: Maybe

Timo Glock

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.

Verdict: Hit

Sebastien Buemi

Sebastien Buemi improved steadily throughout 2008 in GP2

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:

Sebastien Buemi's GP2 results, 2007-2008 (click to enlarge)

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

Latest GP2 articles on Maximum Motorsport

Images (C) Getty, GP2 Media Service / Glenn Dunbar, GP2 Media Service / Glenn Dunbar

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Buemi: another GP2 prodigy fit for F1?”

  1. I wouldn’t say Kovalainen is a hit. Give any average/good driver a seat in a McLaren and he will score the same results.
    He’s just like Nick Heidfeld, who won the F3000 championship, a very good driver, but is not a winner, and never will be. If he’s not in a top car, he becomes irrelevant and cannot impress you with anything.

  2. Well, one thing is for sure at this level the blink of an eyelash can seperate last to 6th and then if your stomach groans too, well you just lost the top 5. One small error with anything and your done. This is competition at it’s highest level, that is why some drivers move n to other forms of racing. It can be very discouraging indeed to put your heart and soul into something only to come up so short people laugh at your effort. F1 is not for the timid at heart. Success elsewhere just means you need higher competition. That can be found in F1 every day.

  3. come on i’d hardly call heiki a hit. he’s a maybe, he’s never done anything special in a car, he’s been gifted a seat at mclaren and is not really doing anything special with the car.

    he was gifted the win when hamilton blew a tyre and massa his engine, he was no where near the top 2 to even contend the position.

  4. Lewis was also champion in all the feeder series as well as GP2 (as you know): F3 and Formula Renault, as well as all the karting championships he entered. But that’s the old “black tax” – he’s always had to be 10 times better than the others to get the same treatment.

  5. not sure on bumei, i dont think a gp2 driver should just ‘graduate’ to a f1 race seat every year when there’s good f1 drivers stuck in test roles because they cant get a race seat / are stuck under contract.

    Nelson Piquet Jnr is horrible, even in testing this year he’s almost binned it a couple of times. the amount of times he almost crashed or did crash that car is amazing. last we took bets on who would crash first, Nelson or David. (DC was the hot favorite)

  6. It also depends how the guy is treated by the team. If they let him race in a style he is used to, and be allowed to push himself and the car, I think anybody moving up from a feeder series can do well.
    If, on the other hand, he has to play second to the other driver and not out-qualify or beat him in a race, then anybody would soon be disheartened and not bother trying.
    Although I am not sure anything could have been done to help Scott Speed….

  7. Taking nothing away from Buemi, one can’t help but wonder how different and very likely more exciting F1 would be if the best drivers made it into the sport, rather than the best sponsored drivers. Fantasy F1 some might say…

  8. I would hardly rate Kovalainen and Rosberg a hit. The jury is out on both of them in my opinion, especially the former. This will be a make or break season for him.

  9. The competition tends to be pretty fierce in GP2 and I think you have to be something pretty special to stand out as F1-worthy. Buemi never did this. I’ll grant you his performance in GP2 shows an upward trend, but the same should be true of any driver making his debut in a new formula and finding his feet.

    Why Buemi was picked over guys like Davidson or Liuzzi is beyond me. I guess everybody is just looking for the next Lewis.

  10. He’s rushing into F1, he is only 20 years old he has plenty of time to prepare for F1. I mean you should grab your chance because it may not come again, but I don’t think he is going to impress. Red Bull don’t exactly have a great record with their young drivers programme, and Toro Rosso are quite harsh with their drivers (except Vettel who managed to succeed). Glock nearly ruined his chances by rushing to F1 in 2004, Massa is constantly underrated becuase of the image he received from his debut season. Buemi hasn’t really impressed in GP2, so I don’t know how he will survive in F1. Of course I may be wrong but we shall se in a years time.

    The lack of testing really limits the preparation for young drivers. I think the year out that Alonso and Massa took to test really helped them.

    1. Thing is, with in-season testing banned this year today’s drivers wouldn’t get the same benefit if they did what Alonso or Massa did.

  11. I wanted Senna to get a seat this year, but on reflection its probably better that he prepares more by competing in GP2 again. I’d rather see him succeed than Buemi.

    1. I think Bruno’s decided its either F1 with Honda or nothing this year; he decided not to commit to another season of GP2 and has been replaced at the iSport team.

      I suppose he figures he’s done enough now and will be snapped up for 2010 if Honda don’t make it this year. With that name, he’s probably right.

  12. I’m not too sure on Buemi, even the guys who have won the series have been struggling at times, let alone someone who hasnt won it. I think he should at least have a year testing, a la Hulkenberg. Hmm Hulkenberg, now theres a guy who should make that step up fairly soon!

    As for those who have graduated, I think some of the comments about Kovalainen are a little harsh. His season this year was average, but he was teammate to ‘the one who can do no wrong’. It cant have been easy – he coped much better than Alonso did with the team dynamic. He does need to step it up a gear this year though, but I wouldn’t write him off. Rosberg either, that Williams really hasnt been that great since he has had it – and he has pulled some rather decent results out of it – Singapore this year in particular was a great drive.

    Just a note about Heidfeld being ‘a very good driver, but is not a winner, and never will be’ – I personally think he has a good a shot at the title as Kubica this year if BMW close that gap up – I’m fairly confident a win will come his way at the very least.

    KAB – that comment about Alonso and Massa – spot on – look where that has got them. Although with the new rules testing doesnt have quite such a prominent role throughout the seaosn now.

  13. What was the “technical trick” that ART exploited to help Rosberg overhaul Kovalainen in GP2?

    I watched that whole season without ever knowing of it – to my lay eye, it just looked like Rosberg did a better job and overcame an early deficit. I’d love to know the details.

  14. Judging by his race craft in Qatar, last week, where he conserved his tyres before launching a devasting set of laps to take the lead and win(all without his pit radio). I reckon Hulkenburg will be the next big thing to graduate from GP2. In fact he’s probably good enough for F1 now. I reckon he’ll replace Nakajima if he young Kazuki underwhelms this year. Furthermore Buemi could do well this year with an Adrian Newey designed car and Ferrari engine. Gone are the days when young drivers went from backmarkers to world championsip cars?

  15. “Adrian Newey designed car and Ferrari engine.”
    – OMG I just realized how lethal a combination that is.
    How can this not be successful?

  16. I wouldn’t rate Kovalinen as a “hit”. He was impressive in the later stages of his Renault stint, but he was mostly disappointing last year.

  17. “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).”

    That’s pretty shocking, when you think about it.

    1. I guess a lot of the top drivers in F1 today were fast-forwarded through the junior ranks. Raikkonen was plucked from Formula Renault, Alonso did one season of F3000… Hamilton was quite unusual in that respect.

  18. Like Clare I think heideld bears watching. He was one of the most successfull if not the most successfull at getting ahead in races last year with opportunism and maybe a bit of treachery his forte. More successfull moving forward than Raikkonen, Massa, Kubica and even Hamilton in any case where they got shunted back. It might just be all about whether he can improve qualifying.

  19. I am far from convinced that Buemi is anything special. I know Red Bull are desperate to prove their young driver program is producing drivers but with the exception of Vettel it is not. In factthe Red Bull program proves that the silver spoon treatment that supposedly made Lewis Hamilton is no gurantee of anything.

    I cannot see why a team would want to get Adrian Newey to design a car and then not sign the best drivers available. Senna is better than Buemi and despite being older has a fraction of his experience and therefore more room to improve. Paul di Resta is the stand out driver who doesn’t have an F1 seat but I guess Red Bull don’t want to give him a couple of years experience just for McLaren to take him away.

    Hulkenberg is a far better driver than Buemi and is ready for F1.

    I also agree with Clare that Heidfeld has as much chance of winning the championship as Kubica. The difference is that I think they both have no chance whatever of winning a championship. Bear in mind BMW have not won a race when the top guys were on the track yet. They did a great job in Canada but Lewis and Kimi were parked at the end of the pits. You cannot seriously talk about drivers or their team winning a championship until they have at least won a straight race with the big boys. They may have been impressive last season but they are not under the pressure that Ferrari and McLaren are. Lets see how they react to real pressure before making forecasts like that.

  20. StrFerrari4Ever
    19th February 2009, 13:32

    Interesting article Keith I have to agree with the others Buemi hasnt really showed enough to deserve a seat this year in GP2 he barely stood out from the crowd Pete made a good point Anthony Davidson was a quick guy And Tonio Liuzzi i mean in 2005 when he was at red bull Liuzzi used to trouble D.C i just wish Toro Rosso snipped one of them instead of Buemi and I have to say if Hulkenberg comes to F1 next season then its going to be absolutely brilliant all the young drivers fighting to prove they are the best this could be the start of something special mark my words oh yeah keith do you think ferrari’s KERS will come good i read on F1.com that they are pleased with it

  21. I’ll take Scott Speed over Nelson Piquet Jr. That old Toro Rosso was a waste of track time. You can’t compare that to the newer Renault. Especially since Alonso won races in it. Luizzi never did anything special in the Toro Rosso either. I’m not saying Speed is great but I don’t see how you can rank him under Piquet Jr.

  22. Well, looks like Buemi just might be better than y’all give him credit for. 7th place finish and points aside, Buemi drove a very mature rookie race in Australia – unlike a certain Robert Kubica, for example. Buemi may not be the next Vettel but he looks to be better than anybody else that’s ever sat in a Red Bull/Toro Rosso car.

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