Sebastien Buemi: proof that there is more than just Formula 1.

Columns: Interview
After bidding farewell to Formula 1, the Swiss driver's career has taken that mental leap that allows one not to be blinded by the top Formula alone, looking at the entire global motorsport landscape. Sunday's fourth Le Mans victory seems to prove him right...

Sebastien Buemi is an emblematic case of top-level Motorsport in recent years: an early debut in Formula 1 thanks to a well-known supply chain brand, which just as quickly first benched him then dismissed him, associating him, at least for the Formula 1 public, with the image of a driver "not fit to drive a Red Bull," leaving room for other youngsters in the program (one wonders which ones, but that's another story). The driver, of Sicilian origins, was able to create an escape route for himself early on by starting to compete in the World Endurance Championship back when he was still the third driver for Toro Rosso, and his only hope of driving a Formula 1 was in the simulator. Then came Formula E where he managed to win a world championship (and it is not to be taken for granted that an ex-Formula 1 driver can immediately go fast in electric single-seaters) and then consecrated himself in endurance racing where also thanks to Toyota's evolution he became a staple or key player of the Japanese team.

Let's take a small step back by going back to his beginnings in karts:
«I was 5 years old, and they put me in a kart. Everything immediately seemed familiar to me, and my father noticed. That's when a long journey began, going through Italy and continental championships. It's funny to see that from karting on, until Formula One, the names of the opponents that accompanied my career were more or less always the same. In karting, I remember it was always fire and brimstone with Niko Hulkenberg, and we ended up meeting almost everywhere. I have fond memories of my time as a kart driver, especially thinking back to my successes in the Italian and European championships (European 100 ICA Junior Champion on CRG in 2002, ed.)»

How much did karting contribute to your formation as a driver?
«I learned the fundamentals of this sport. Karting may look different from the single-seater world, but in the end, I think it shares so many aspects. You learn to live as a professional, to fight and manage a race, to work on the chassis trying to improve it, and to finish all races thinking from the perspective of the championship. These are situations and issues that accompany a driver throughout his career, wherever he will find himself racing.»

When you switched to single-seaters you were very young, having just turned 16. Was it a difficult impact?
«I found many things similar to karting, but the car was different. The single-seater is heavier, and I remember at first when I turned the steering wheel it felt like nothing was happening. I was used to the immediate reaction of the kart, and instead, the single-seater was slower in reaction. You have to adapt quickly; there are drivers who were very strong in karting who never adapted to driving in the car. Then there were also drivers who were running every day in karting, and that is not possible in single-seaters. Those who need a long time to adapt are screwed.»

How did it go in Formula BMW?
«I was already a Red Bull Junior Team driver. I had won the championship, then they gave it back to Hulkenberg after quite a while, changing the outcome of a sporting measure. Amen to that, but I was a little disappointed.»

Then you moved up to Formula 3.
«I also did a few races in Formula Renault 2.0, but then I switched to Formula 3. I loved that single-seater because it was kart-like and had a lot of traction. It wasn't crucial to brake a meter deeper but to maintain speed in the corners. In the European championship, I took second place behind Romain Grosjean staying in the title race until the last race.»

In GP2 the feeling of an unfinished experience remained. Is that correct?
«The debut was good, but in 2008 we may not have had a title car. However, I achieved ten podium finishes and two victories. In the end, my goal was to convince the top management of Red Bull that I deserved a chance in Formula One, and I succeeded.»

Your Formula One debut came on the heels of the fantastic debut of another Red Bull nursery driver, namely Sebastian Vettel. How did it go in your case?
«The beginning of 2009 was very good. I had Sebastien Bourdais as my teammate, and I was always faster. I finished seventh in the first race, and two GPs later, in China, I was still in the points zone. Then race after race it became more difficult because at Toro Rosso we did not have the double bottom, an essential element that season to be able to aspire to good results. We were the last team to have it, but when it arrived we were back in the points zone. In Brazil, I qualified sixth in Q3 and finished the GP in the seventh position.»

People looked to 2010 as the championship in which there would be your consecration...
«Yeah, and instead it was a very difficult season. In the first races I was involved in a lot of accidents without being at fault, and above all, it was the first season where Toro Rosso had to make do on the technical front without relying on Red Bull's support anymore. There were also unfortunate circumstances, like in Abu Dhabi: I was sixth, a great result for us, and the hydraulics broke.»

So you found yourself without a steering wheel.
«That’s right. Red Bull wanted me to stay in the 'family' in the role of tester, though. But in addition to Formula One testing, I wanted to continue racing, and the opportunity came to tie me to Toyota in the LMP1 program. Since this is a huge manufacturer I had no doubts; I’m a professional driver and I’m happy to be able to make a living practicing the sport I love.»

What advice do you feel like giving to a kid who is taking his or her first steps in the sport?
«He or she needs to understand how much they are willing to give of themselves. This world is very beautiful, but there is fierce competition and you cannot afford not to be at your best all the time. Concentration, performance, dedication, physical preparation, everything has to be taken care of as much as possible. If you want to hope to someday get where you dream of being, you have to give everything. These are not empty words, but what I have understood in the course of my experience.»

Have you ever considered helping any young people?
«At the moment I don't have time; I do so many things that materially I couldn't. But someday…who knows, why not? Right now, however, I have to work for myself, but in the future maybe. Who knows, maybe if I have a child and follow him, but without being an invasive dad. There are so many already.»

Created by: cggiuliano - 14/06/22

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