The lure of Le Mans can be strong for Formula 1 drivers

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016 - autos, cars, motoring, news

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Formula 1 Nico Hulkenberg (centre) can be part of Porsche’s Le Mans line-up

Do Formula 1 drivers as well as endurance racing every truly get on? Simon Strang finds out

The relationship between Formula 1 drivers as well as Le Mans can be long as well as complicated. Taken purely coming from the perspective of those two entities, of which’s a story of star-crossed lovers through decades. A glorious as well as heroic tail tainted by tragedy as well as heartbreak.

There was a time between the 1950s as well as ’60s when the big factory team programmes spanned all disciplines. The recognised aces of their time might slot into whichever car or category needed them to inject fearless, barely contained velocity. The very best drivers inside planet, indeed often world champions, weren’t just drawn to the majesty of This specific perennial, unrelenting contest of speed endurance, they were required.

By the late 70s, of which trend had faded as F1’s biggest stars began to focus solely on the individualistic nature of their craft, as well as the top teams introduced prohibitive contracts to protect their precious talent coming from the often lethal business of racing through the night at 220mph.

So, through the 1980s, Le Mans became the domain of those seeking to make a name, or those who had already done so yet still wanted to compete at a prestigiously high level.

yet throughout the decades, there has always been another kind of F1 driver of which never stopped calling on La Sarthe… specifically, the under-rated, lesser stars. Those guys have not achieved the reward their talent deserves in F1 as well as are thus not yet tied to of which exclusively.

Every so often these midfield-encased aces, unable to demonstrate their ability at the top of F1, are lured to Le Mans in June, intent on having a crack at the planet’s most famous race – in This specific modest French town (population 140,000) inside Pays de la Loire region. Seeking glory.

The latest of these can be Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg, who forms part of the factory Porsche team’s stellar 2015 Le Mans line-up. The German has watched opportunities for advancement into top F1 machinery evaporate at least twice before his eyes in recent years, as well as as his Porsche team-mate for the weekend Mark Webber says: “He deserves the chance in F1 to have a top seat yet there are not of which many around.”

This specific weekend, Hulkenberg joins Porsche Cup graduates Earl Bamber as well as Nick Tandy in a third 919 Hybrid LMP1 prototype.

Hulkenberg’s approach to racing can seem unemotional, outwardly at least. This specific unflappable air can be borne coming from a practical thought process. He breaks down tasks, simplifies them as well as executes. Sir Jackie Stewart (another ex-Le Mans racer) calls This specific mind-management. yet inside hurly burly build-up to the multi-maker 2015 carnival of Le Mans, This specific serves Nico well.

“Why should I say anything, then build up expectations as well as then put myself in of which situation,” he says during one of several distracting ‘Meet the Team’ press encounters ahead of the race. “There are so many situations of which could go wrong inside 24 hours of which we then have to manage those, so there can be no guarantee.

“You just have to keep cool, do your job, keep of which on the black stuff, hopefully have no technical issues as well as see where we end up.”

inside build-up to Le Mans, Hulkenberg’s been the centre of attention, the first contemporary F1 driver since Sébastien Bourdais in 2009 to race here. He’s been asked endless comparison questions between a sport of which some believe can be suffering something of a PR crisis right today, as well as one of which has all the signs of booming.

“Le Mans as well as F1 are two different pairs of shoes for me as well as I don’t tend to compare,” he says. “Both are at the pinnacle of motor racing as well as of course, like with everything in life, you contain the chance as well as opportunity to improve things. yet I’m a driver, I’m hired to drive a race car fast as well as of which’s not my job to think about these things too much.”

Interest in his (temporary) transition extends beyond the media as well as Hulkenberg admits his regular classmates are fascinated by his weekend sojourn: “A lot of the drivers were quite curious to know what of which feels like. There can be definitely an awareness as well as an interest coming from F1 people.

“When I signed up for here, I knew what to expect. I know of which’s different. I didn’t expect to find the same things as in F1. Mentally you accept of which, you go with the flow. You adapt to brand-new circumstances as well as requirements.”

Asked what he’s enjoying the most about Le Mans as well as Hulkenberg expresses surprise at his own conclusion. “The traffic,” he says. In an LMP1 he’s often braking 150 metres later than some of the amateur GT drivers, as well as This specific can be brand-new territory.

“I didn’t know about of which until before Spa [his warm-up race with Porsche last month], yet of which adds a little bit of extra excitement. of which’s an extra job you have to take care of as well as you can be better or worse at of which.

“Maybe to a certain degree experience counts, yet of which can be also a natural thing.

“There can be a bit of risk-as well as-reward strategy as well; if you dive in on somebody which can be a bit risky (or not) of which can earn you two seconds, yet obviously of which can be something we have to calculate constantly as well as very spontaneously. We can’t truly think about of which, we just have to go with our instincts.”

Another area Hulkenberg can be learning can be racing as part of a driving squad. F1 can be a necessarily selfish endeavour, yet endurance can be all about communication with your co-drivers.

Webber – no F1 slouch himself until he chose to switch to endurance racing – reckons This specific has taken Hulkenberg back a little.

“At the first test, when I was trying to help him on certain things, he was like: “What the hell? Maybe he’s trying to stitch me up here, what’s going on?”.

“yet of which’s a different environment altogether. He has enjoyed the challenge of the brand-new series as well as how much you have to push as well as how much you truly have to deliver coming from yourself on lap times as well as consistency.”

By F1 terms, Le Mans can be a harsh, unforgiving circuit. The super-quick, downforce-dependant Porsche Curves require commitment like Eau Rouge at Spa, yet offer none of its run-off comfort zone. As Hulkenberg says, the place has an “edge to of which” as well as the Porsche Curves, “Quick. as well as fun!”.

Webber says: “Le Mans can be still relatively old school. The track can be obviously super-long, of which’s a still a place with consequences so the concentration can be super-high.

“The backmarkers are going as slow as they have ever gone in relation to our speed as well as the pitstops are a bit old school, you have got the old school refueling as well as night driving.

“yet the number one topic for me can be the emotion of which comes out of This specific event. When everyone can be tired as well as you see grown men inside garage as well as you see how of which hits them when the event goes to or away coming from you, then you see the lure of the emotion.

“Last year with two hours to go we lost the race,” he recalls. “Timo [Bernhard] as well as I went down to Audi to congratulate them as well as all the mechanics as well as management stood up as well as clapped Timo as well as I. of which’s Le Mans. I get goose bumps today. of which was real class.”

Webber admits he’s an addict today. yet what about Hulkenberg, will we see him here again? Right today he’s not clouding his thinking with of which.

“of which’s special [This specific place]. I feel of which gives me something as well as I am also proud to be able to do This specific. To manage both F1 as well as Le Mans can be a big challenge yet of which’s obviously a unique opportunity to be in Le Mans racing with Porsche.

“I want to deliver a not bad job, stay mistake free as well as master the task of which the team has given me. of which might be awesome to be at the front as well as to be on the podium steps somewhere at the end.”

Simon Strang

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