After being shunned by the top Formula 1 teams for being too tall, Nico Hulkenberg finally showed the global motorsport stage what he is made of by taking the most illustrious win of them all on Sunday. The Le Mans 24 hours.
What makes it even more impressive is that this was his first ever attempt at winning the race, and just his second WEC race, having competed in the Porsche 919 for the first time during the 6 hours of Spa earlier this year and finishing sixth.
Of course in endurance racing you can’t put the success of a team down to one sole entity, it does require a lot of teamwork as displayed by Porsche and his fellow drivers; Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. But it was Hulkenberg’s stint during the night shift of Le Mans that allowed the team to pull a 30 second lead on their rivals from third, with another stunning stint from Nick Tandy to follow that increased it by a further 30 seconds. Couple that with Earl Bamber’s consistent driving, and you have the perfect recipe for winning the 24 hour contest.
So all this begs the question, with his successes early on in endurance racing representing his racing CV more than his F1 results – of which his best on track result is fourth having not even scored a podium yet – should Hulkenberg make the move to sportscars?
Its certainly an emerging format that seems to please most people. With the access WEC is able to give to fans and the ‘open’ rulebook for the top teams, it’s a very lucrative championship at the minute that only seems to be getting better by the race weekend. It’s pointless comparing it to F1; they’re two different breed of animals as far as I’m concerned. But there has been a case in the last five years to be made about other championships appealing to drivers who should be in top teams in F1.
Drivers such as Josef Newgarden, who got as high as GP3 before moving back to the US to pursue a career in IndyCar had aspirations of competing in F1. But the lack of budget – something which has also plagued Hulkenberg – has forced him to look elsewhere. The same can also be said about Conor Daly, Jack Harvey, Max Chilton, Brendan Hartley, Oliver Turvey, Sam Bird, and dozens more.
One of the things that made Formula E appealing was the calibre of drivers taking part, people wanted to see Prost and Senna battling competitively again along with Piquet.
F1’s loss however, is IndyCar and WEC’s gain. And with all the talk of ‘spicing up the show’ you have to wonder whether driver lineups are being overlooked in favour of the strategical elements of the sport. One of the things that made Formula E appealing was the calibre of drivers taking part, people wanted to see Prost and Senna battling competitively again along with Piquet.
Formula 1 by contrast has too much of its emphasis based on the cars, which in this era of the sport speak for themselves. Admittedly more needs to be done to put them on a level playing field, there is no point having a grid like Formula E but only Rosberg and Hamilton being able to win every race.
But with drivers like Fernando Alonso (revered as being one of the most complete drivers on the grid) along with Romain Grosjean, who had similar successes to Hulkenberg in GP2 flirting with the idea of taking part in Le Mans after their fellow colleagues success, you have to wonder whether Formula 1 is about to lose a golden generation of drivers to what is now a championship celebrated for allowing drivers and teams to push their machines to the limits.