Those Formula 1 drivers who are rejected by teams, or those drivers who just feel that their journey with the sport is over, these drivers continue their racing career in the World Endurance Championship, and it’s starting to become a trend in the world of motorsport. Last weekend marked the start of the season with the six hour race at Silverstone. For 2014, there are fourteen ex-Formula 1 racing drivers across the different classes. apart from the duo of Sam Bird and James Calado, who have taken part in Formula 1 testing. It’s very interesting to see so many drivers, who were in the pinnacle of motorsport, stepping over to endurance racing. If you look at Toyota, who celebrated a 1-2 finish at Silverstone, they have five ex-Formula 1 drivers in their line up! The highlight of the weekend, however, was the presence of Mark Webber, and many fans across Britain came just to see him and get an autograph.
Let’s take a look at each of the drivers and their stories.
It isn’t his first taste of endurance racing. He already raced with Mercedes in 1998 and 1999 in Le Mans. Those two years weren’t very successful, especially 1999. In 1998, Webber’s Mercedes, which was also driven by Bernd Schneider and Klaus Ludwig didn't manage to make it to the chequered flag. The following year Webber was in the same car, this time with co-drivers Jean-Marc Gounon and Marcell Tiemann. The Mercedes cars had an aerodynamic fault, and Webber was thrown into the air spectacularly in both practice and the warm-up before the race. In the other Mercedes, Peter Dumbreck also took off into the air but during the race. This looked even worse as the car flew over the barriers and missed some trees near the track. He was lucky as he hit the ground, rather than those trees, and luckily, nobody was hurt in those crashes.
During 1998 season, Mark also took part in the FIA GT championship, which also incorporated 500km and 1000km races in their calendar. He drove alongside Bernd Schneider, who was the reigning champion, and together they won five out of ten races, with the others also being won by Mercedes. The Australian ended his career with sportscars after his flips in Le Mans, and that’s when he decided to contact Eddie Jordan. This got the Australian a drive for Eurobet Arrows in Formula 3000 for the 2000 season. He also got the chance to drive the Arrows Formula One car, during a two-day test in December 1999. He was also signed as a test driver for the team (for the 2000 season). In September 2000, he completed a 3-day test with Benetton, where he outpaced all of the drivers at the testing. In 2001, Webber secured funding for another season in F3000 and was also the test driver for Benetton.
In 2002, the Australian got his chance with Minardi, He signed a contract for 3 races, which was then extended until the end of the season. He then moved to Jaguar for 2003 and stayed there for two years. He then moved to Williams for the 2005 season, where he finished 10th in the drivers’ standings. 2006 was a bad season for Webber who scored 11 DNF’s and just 7 points. He then made a move to Red Bull Racing, where he stayed for the rest of his Formula One career. He came very close to taking the title in 2010, and was then overshadowed by team mate Sebastian Vettel.
In June 2013, he announced his departure from F1 to race for Porsche in the World Endurance Championship. He races in the number 20 car, alongside Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. Porsche’s new 919 hybrid car made a solid debut finishing in 3rd place, while the number 14 Porsche retired from the race
The Other notables of the class:
As already mentioned, Toyota employs five ex-Formula 1 drivers. One of them is Alexander Wurz. Like Webber, he has already taken part in endurance racing back in the 1996 season. He took part in the Le Mans 24 hours race with Joest Racing and won the race, becoming the youngest driver to ever win the Le Mans 24 hours. The following year, he moved into Formula 1 with Benetton. He had to fill in for fellow Austrian Gerhard Berger who was unable to race due to an illness. Berger returned for the German GP, so Wurz had to return to the test driver’s role, however he did impress with a podium in his third race. This got him a full time racing driver role for the 1998 season. He left Benetton after 2000 and became McLaren’s test driver. He got his chance at the 2005 San Marino GP, replacing the injured Montoya for that race. He proved himself, finishing fourth and eventually being promoted to third after disqualification of the BAR Hondas.
In 2007, Wurz returned to full time racing with Williams. After a decent season, scoring points and podiums, the Austrian decided to retire from racing and became test driver for Honda and Brawn GP for 2008 and 2009.
During 2008, he also joined Peugeot for the Le Mans 24 hours and the 1000km of Spa. He stayed with Peugeot until 2011, and continued endurance racing with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship. Interestingly, he now drives alongside Kazuki Nakajima, who replaced him at Williams.
Kazuki was in Formula 3 back in 2006. He then became the test driver for Williams and competed in the GP2 series with DAMS racing. His stint in Formula 1 didn't last long. He was given the racing driver’s role in 2007 after the retirement of Wurz. He stayed as a racing driver until the end of 2009. He then missed racing in the 2010 season and returned in 2011 in the Japanese Super GT series and Formula Nippon. He continued in this series in 2012 as well as joining Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, where he continues his racing career.
Stephane Sarrazin also drivers the same car. His path to F1 was very short, and his time behind an F1 car was also very short. He participated in just one race, the 1999 Brazilian GP, as a replacement for the injured Luca Badoer at Minardi. He crashed heavily during the race because of a wing failure, which ended his Formula One racing career. He was also the test driver for Prost during that season. He then moved back to International Formula 3000 and got his first taste of endurance racing in 2001, when he raced for Oreca. Since then, he took part in every Le Mans 24 hours race except for 2004, as in that particular year, he decided to start rallying and started to take part in WRC events in 2004, ’05 and ’06. He also took part in IRC and ERC events, and now races for Toyota in WEC since 2012.
All the three drivers above, Kazuki, Alexander and Stephane started the 2014 season well with a second place finish behind the other Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Lapierre.
Sebastien Buemi was taken on board by the Red Bull development programme. He became the test driver for Red Bull Racing in 2008, and replaced Sebastian Vettel at Toro Rosso in 2009. He carried on racing with the team until the end of 2011. Toro Rosso dropped both of their drivers and Buemi became test driver for Red Bull again. He began his career with endurance racing in 2012 with Toyota and co-drives there today with Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Lapierre.
Davidson’s career in F1 began at the end of 2000, when he was announced as the test driver for BAR for the 2001 season. His first drive in F1 came the following year with Minardi, who failed to qualify for 3 races and was subsequently suspended by his team. He made the cut in two races, showing competitiveness, but he spun out on both these occasions. His next chance came in the 2005 season, in Malaysia but his engine failed after just two laps. In 2007, it was announced that Davidson would become a full time racing driver with Super Aguri. He continued with the team in 2008, however the team withdrew from the championship mid-season. Anthony signed a contract with Honda to become test driver for the rest of 2008 and remained with Brawn GP. He first raced in endurance racing at the 2009 24 hours of Le Mans with Aston Martin in the LMP1 class. He took part in Le Mans and other endurance races each year and joined Toyota for the WEC in 2013. Together with Buemi and Lapierre, Davidson started the current season fantastically with a win at Silverstone.
The last ex-Formula 1 driver competing in the LMP1-H category is Lucas Di Grassi, who races for Audi. He first became a Formula One test driver for Renault in 2005. He then tested for Honda in 2008 and was a test driver for Renault again in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He then signed a contract with Virgin Racing, now known as Marussia. He raced for the 2010 season, and was replaced with Jerome D’Ambrosio for 2011. Di Grassi became the official Pirelli test driver in 2011 and started competing in endurance racing near the end of 2012. He joined Audi for the 5th round of the WEC. In 2013, he took part in few races with Audi and became a full time driver for the 2014 season.
The LMP1-L category:
Here, We have two other ex-Formula One drivers: Christijan Albers and Nick Heidfeld.
Christijan moved from DTM into Formula One, firstly as a test driver for Midland in 2005. He then became a racing driver for the same team in the following year. He stayed in the team for 2007, after Spyker brought Midland. He was dismissed by the team in July, because of a drop in sponsorship money. He decided to make a return to DTM for the 2008 season, and then made his debut in endurance racing with Audi in the American Le Mans Series in 2008. He stepped up to the Le Mans Series the following year and remained there for 2010. This year is Christijan’s first season in the WEC, racing with Lotus.
Nick Heidfeld began his career in Formula 1 in 2000 with Prost. He had a very unsuccessful season with many retirements and several collisions with his teammate. He then moved to Sauber for three years. Sauber then replaced the German with Giancarlo Fisichella, and Nick swapped seats with the Italian, racing for Jordan in 2004. He then moved to Williams, driving alongside Mark Webber during the 2005 season. In 2006, he returned to Sauber, which was then owned by BMW. This time he stayed for four years, achieving some high results including several podiums. Heidfeld was left without a seat for 2010, so he signed a contract with Mercedes, becoming their test driver. Near the end of the year, he became a test driver for Pirelli, just like Di Grassi did the year after. He also replaced De La Rosa at Sauber from September until the end of the season and replaced the injured Kubica at Lotus in 2011. He then moved onto Endurance racing in the WEC with Rebellion, where he races today.
In LMP2, we have another two ex-Formula One drivers. Drivers which you may be less familiar with. Stefan Johansson has spent a long time in Endurance racing, and his Formula One time was all the way back in the 80’s! He first raced in F1 in 1980, with Shadow Racing. He failed to qualify for any races after his first GP and missed out on F1 until 1983. He joined Spirit, but was replaced the following year and missed out on the first 9 GP’s of the season. For round 10, he joined Tyrell to replace Martin Brundle who was injured at the time. For the last few races of the season, he joined Toleman, alongside Ayrton Senna. He had a bit of trouble for 1985, when his contract with Toleman failed. He returned to Tyrell for the start of the season, but was quickly signed by Ferrari. He stayed with the team for 1986 and impressed with some podiums. Gerhard Berger replaced the Swede at Ferrari, so he made a move to McLaren. In 1988, Ayrton Senna replaced Stefan, so he moved to Ligier. The car was very uncompetitive so he made a move to Onyx for 1989. He managed to score a podium, but the car didn’t manage to qualify for the races. The following two years, Johansson drove for AGS and Footwork, without any success. The Swede then made a decision to race in the CART championship in 1992 and continued to do so until 1996. Stefan first raced in Le Mans back in 1983, before his F1 career developed. He repeated this in 1984 and didn’t make a further appearance until 1990. He raced in a Porsche for 1983-84 and then moved to a Mazda in 1990-91. He switched to a Toyota in 1992 and then took another break from endurance racing. He returned in 1997, racing various cars each year until 2002, when he took another break. He then raced again in 2003 and 2006-08. He returned again in 2012. Missing out in 2013, he came back again this year. Aged 57, he’s doing great as a racing driver, and it seems like he can’t get enough of the sport!
This year, Stefan will share the car with Shinji Nakano. You may not have heard the name, but Nakano raced in Formula One in 1997-98. He raced with Prost and Minardi. He was also a test driver for Jordan in 1999. From 2000 to 2002, Nakano raced in the Champ Car series. He also took part in the 2003 Indianapolis 500 race and started in his first endurance race at Le Mans 24 hours in 2006, which he repeated in 2008. He then started in the Le Mans race in 2010 and has participated each year since then.
Bruno Senna also races in the WEC, in the LMGTE Pro class. Majority of the Formula 1 Fans waited for the moment Bruno would hit the track in an F1 car, especially that Ayrton always said that Bruno was better than himself. Bruno signed a contract with HRT to race for the 2010 season. He completed no pre-season testing, which meant he would make his racing debut in front of the cameras. After an very bad season with the poor HRT car, Bruno moved out of the team, and became test driver for Lotus. He got a chance to race when he replaced Nick Heidfeld in the second half of the season. He managed some impressive results, and moved to Williams for a full time drive in a more competitive team. He managed a good season with many points, but also some unlucky races. The team decided to replace him with Valtteri Bottas, retaining Pastor Maldonado due to sponsorship. From the F1 cockpit, Senna jumped into an Aston Martin winning the first race in 2013 at Silverstone. He remains in the same team for 2014, although this wasn’t his first appearance in Le Mans. He joined Oreca in the LMP1 car in 2009.
In the same class there is also Gianmaria Bruni, racing for AF Corse in a Ferrari. His story with F1 began in 2003, when he tested for Minardi. He struggled to find enough sponsorship to compete in 2004, but managed to do it. The car was very uncompetitive, and he finished the season unsuccessfully. He then downgraded to the GP2 series in 2005 and 2006. His first appearance at Le Mans was in 2008, in a Ferrari F430 GT2. He races in the WEC since 2012, and won the LMGTE Pro championship in both 2012 and 2013.
The last ex-Formula One racing driver in the WEC is Pedro Lamy, in the LMGTE Am class. Pedro first raced in F1 back in 1993, when he replaced Zanardi at Lotus for the last four races. He was then signed on by the team for the full 1994 season, but suffered a major crash after four rounds. He broke both his legs and wrists, which meant he had to sit out for a year. Lamy then joined Minardi in the second half of the 1995 season. He stayed with the team for the following year, but a lack in resources in the team meant that Lamy ended his career in F1. He then started racing in the GT Championship in 1997, and the next year he was at Mercedes in Le Mans. He took part in more endurance racing in 2001 and continued to race in Le Mans each year. Now he races for Aston Martin, since last year.
From the above brief of the drivers, a small point of fact is that, almost all of them had similar paths. A further look into the Careers of each drivers will reveal that many of them had unsuccessful stints at the pinnacle of Motorsport. Often, these drivers crossed each other’s paths and now race against each other again, after many years, although at a different league. It’s very interesting to look at their careers, and analyse them, realising that they were often similar. More Often or not, these drivers were related to the same F1 teams, or they raced at Le Mans before.
So what is it that attracts Le Mans to these drivers? Maybe it’s simply a different challenge, maybe it’s a chance to show what they’re still worth it. Maybe they just enjoy it. They can have many more reasons to move to Le Mans. It could even be the political side of the sport. In Formula 1, the politics are enormous, and according to some, they ruin the sport. The WEC is completely different. The level of politics is considerably lower.
Mark Webber probably decided that there was no point in continuing with Red Bull. He knew the taste of Le Mans, and he probably just wanted a new challenge, with a completely new car, with a team which has a great history and now returns to the sport.
There are some drivers who don’t like the idea of racing in Le Mans. For example Robert Kubica. It seems like LMP cars would be perfect for his rehabilitation. More space in the cockpit with similar attributes to an F1 car must surely be the perfect package, but the pole says he doesn’t like the idea of sharing a car. He wouldn’t want somebody else to crash his car, and end his race like that.
Surely we could see more of the current F1 drivers in Le Mans at some point in the future. Maybe some of the current champions, like Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Kimi Raikkonen could move to endurance when they retire from F1?
Written By: Jakub Kot
Mosaic Images are taken from the various teams page and also from Zimbio.
Slideshow Images are from Miroslaw Kot