BAHRAIN-based motor racing star Sebastien Buemi could be driving in a Formula One Grand Prix as early as this season, it has emerged. Buemi's uncle, Humbert, who works in the kingdom and is part of his management team, told the GDN exclusively that based on recent discussions around the F1 paddock, a race seat may open up with Toro Rosso for the remainder of this season, and Buemi could be the one who takes it.
The 19-year-old Swiss, who resides in a family home in Budaiya, is currently a test and reserve driver for Toro Rosso's sister team Red Bull Racing, but has yet to start a Grand Prix. He is also one of the top candidates to join Toro Rosso next season, but the chance of racing this year has now arisen and Buemi would be pleased to make the most of it.
"The possibility of Sebastien being in F1 this year is very real, but it depends on a lot of factors that are out of our control," explained Humbert, who is the brother of Buemi's father Antoine.
According to Humbert, the situation would play out if Red Bull veteran David Coulthard is asked to give up his race seat to Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel for the remainder of the season. Coulthard has announced he will retire at the end of the current campaign, and Vettel has already been revealed as his replacement. But Red Bull may want Vettel to man their RB4 car in at least one of the four remaining Grands Prix on the 2008 World Championship, in order to give the young German some immediate experience alongside teammate Mark Webber which could prove valuable for next year.
Vettel's move would leave a seat vacant in Toro Rosso, which Buemi could step into as he is greatly admired by top officials from both teams. "Of the new generation, Sebastien is the only one who can say he is really ready (for F1)," Red Bull motor racing adviser Dr Helmut Marko has said.
Added Humbert: "The scenario has been of great talk around the paddock in recent weeks, but word after the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday was that Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz told Coulthard he wants him to finish the season. We are currently not sure about this, so there is still the possibility for Sebastien racing this year."
Meanwhile, Humbert added that Buemi's F1 future relies more heavily on tests scheduled to take place in Jerez, Spain, tomorrow and Friday. Toro Rosso have scheduled and confirmed the sessions, which will be used to evaluate Buemi's capabilities in an F1 car compared to those of rival candidates Bruno Senna of Brazil, Takuma Sato of Japan, and Anthony Davidson of Britain.
Senna, like Buemi, is one of the top drivers in GP2, which is F1's feeder sport, while Sato and Davidson have both raced in F1 Grands Prix in past seasons.
"I'm pretty sure that Sebastien will impress," said Humbert, who said that his test tomorrow will be in Toro Rosso's STR3 car, and then on Friday in an RB4.
"He's tested in Jerez before and he is extremely quick there. I believe that in the past, he was even faster than Coulthard and Webber at the circuit, so definitely the potential is there.
"It's just a question of when he will get the chance to race in F1. In terms of talent, Sebastien is probably the best out of all the aspiring F1 drivers, but other factors can come into play, like the sponsors you can bring into a team. If we get even one major sponsor, his chances would increase dramatically. Unfortunately, Sebastien is lacking that right now.
"As a test driver for Red Bull, Sebastien has a great relationship with the entire team, including all the engineers and mechanics. This is very important, as they rely heavily on him for shake-downs, which is when they test spare parts, tyres, the aerodynamics, etc. They say that he gives very good feedback to them, which is very helpful.
"I am convinced that Sebastien can do well in Jerez, and hopefully race in F1 soon."
Buemi flies to Spain today for the tests.
Humbert said that there is currently no set date for when Toro Rosso will reveal their selection for next year's line-up, although they are expecting one between mid-October and the beginning of November, likely after the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.