Formula 1 is regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport and as such is a very elite field to compete in. Many racers have their moment in Formula One but retaining a seat year on year is no easy feat – just as Nico Hulkenberg. Therefore, a World-Class racer has to find something else to pass their time and satisfy their need for speed. For some, Formula e is the answer and for others they choose WEC – World Endurance Championship. However, in the case of Sebastian Buemi (and a few others) they do both. Having lit up WEC, last year Fernando Alonso departed the endurance series with all the titles he could muster. For other former F1 drivers WEC is very much an enjoyable event for them to ply their trade. From Giancarlo Fisichella to birthday boy Brendon Hartley a wide array of former Formula 1 talent was on the grid today at the SAIC International Circuit for the 4 Hours of Shanghai.
If crowd reaction was anything to go by, the gap left by Fernando Alonso has been filled by WEC veterans Brendon Hartley and Bruno Senna. Hardly surprising to see a huge crowd drawn to the race track which is situated on the outskirts of Shanghai. Whenever the name ‘Senna’ is associated with an event – it always raises an interest.
The nephew of the legendary much-missed Brazilian did not disappoint those in attendance as having claimed pole position yesterday the Rebellion Racing number 1 vehicle made history today by becoming the first privateer to win an LMP1 event at WEC. This was achieved in dominant fashion due to lapping the 3rd place Toyota and also creating a gap of 1:06.984 between themselves and second place Hartley/Buemi/Nakajima (three ex-F1 drivers) in the number 8 Toyota by the time the chequered flag fell. Pretty impressive stuff from the Swiss team choosing to only run a single car in the LMP1 classification.
Despite only finishing second, this position does put Brendon Hartley on top of the LMP1 drivers table (along with his teammates) on 62 points. Having had a tenure in F1 to forget with Toro Rosso, the Kiwi is now bidding to make his own history by winning the LMP1 title with two different constructors (following the copious amount of success previously achieved in the Porsche 919 Hybrid). If Hartley achieves this feat…maybe Fernando Alonso will return to WEC after all once he finishes with his dalliance across the dunes in the desert.
As well as echoing the past, Nyck de Vries was present at the track and was extremely popular during the Drivers’ Autograph session. Nyck de Vries is currently enjoying the limelight of Formula 2, racing for ART Grand Prix and he is very much an F1 star for the future. Whilst walking around the venue, the popular Dutch racer had a sense of Charles Leclerc about him in the way he conversed with fans and posed for many photographs. If the Racing Team Nederland driver is in attendance once again next year in China – you can expect the queue to be even longer.
While many would argue that WEC is a step down from Formula 1, what was witnessed today would show many racers are happy to be away from the modern day processional F1 circus and the crowd also loved it.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.
The autograph session: A less restricted session allowed time for drivers to speak to their fans and still sign hundreds of autographs.
The sound: Whether the smooth running purr of the Ferrari 488 GTE EVO in the amateur series or the ear splitting Porsche 911 RSR in the LMGTE Pro class – the sound filling the air was filled was such variety and the hybrid engines in the LMP1 classifications echoed around the cavernous main grandstand. Ear defenders were certainly needed by many in comparison with the often criticized F1 power units.
The overtaking: Even with a gulf in speed, the overtaking was bold and impressive and no need for any DRS zones. Such a daring nature was most evident when an LMP1 car came up behind a GTE Pro. Despite the fact they could out pace them on the straight, they still put their nose into the first corner at turn 1 making their way through with the finest of margins – breathtaking to watch.
2021 F1 regulations are well-timed indeed because after 8 seasons, WEC is enjoying its moment in the sun. With such experience on display, wheel to wheel action as well as well-priced merchandise and event programmes – WEC will continue to grow in popularity. As it does, do not be surprised to see more former F1 faces joining the fray and not just in the twilight of the career but for what could become the highlight of their career.