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wec portimao 2023 grid photoshoot2

WEC Portimao: A dozen ex-F1 drivers on duty

hypercars wec portimao 2023 grid photoshoot2

A dozen ex-Formula 1 drivers will be on the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) grid in Portimao this weekend, as the series grows in stature pitting Ferrari, Cadillac, Porsche, Toyota, Glickenhaus and Vanwall in the top-tier Hypercar category.

The 2023 WEC season, which began with last month’s season opener at Sebring, marked the historic return of Ferrari as a serious works effort in the top endurance sportscar category since the seventies; and signals the beginning of another golden era for this motorsport discipline, under the guise of Hypercars.

Already confirmed for 2024 are BMW, Lamborghini and Alpine with several more teams exploring options to ensure a big grid of Hypercars, so much so that the LMP2 class is set to make way for the extra entries, with FIA WEC catering exclusively for Hypercars and GT3s.

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Increased manufacturer involvement is of course great news for the driver market, providing an alternative platform for big-name professionals to ply their trade, in an environment closer to F1 in terms of team infrastructure, equipment and technology than it has been in years.

Former F1 drivers on the WEC Portimao entry list:

1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve (52) is part of the Vanwall-ByKolles effort, the Canadian is intent on winning his version of the Triple Crown of motorsport and lends his vast experience to the privateer team.

Antonio Giovinazzi (29) found refuge in endurance racing after failing in the top flight with Alfa Romeo, despite substantial and patient backing from Ferrari. Now the Italian has a chance of redemption, to alter his crash-happy reputation and establish himself as a useful Hypercar driver. Gio is also the Scuderia’s F1 reserve.

Andre Lotterer (41) only contested one Grand Prix, with Caterham at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, ending with a DNF and an experience the German did not want to repeat. Thereafter the three-time WEC Champion turned down a full-time F1 ride with the team, refusing to turn down his sweet Audi WEC deal, stating he was in motorsport to win. A classic example of a great driver who should’ve had a crack at F1 but never did. He is with Porsche now.

Kamui Kobayashi (36) was arguably everyone’s favourite ‘other driver’ during his career in F1, blisteringly quick but a tad too erratic, the Japanese driver who competed in 75 Grands Prix between 2009 and 2014, finishing once on the podium. After F1 he turned to WEC with Toyota, and has since been one of their lead drivers. He is in the #7 car this season which won the Hypercar season opener at Sebring in March.

Sebastien Buemi (34) is one of two former Red Bull F1 drivers in the #8 Toyota, he made 55 Grand Prix starts with Toro Rosso but surprisingly failed to progress to the Red Bull team, even when they were seeking replacements for Daniel Ricciardo the Swiss ace did not get a second chance that many believed he deserved.

The other Red Bull graduate is Brendon Hartley (33) who made 25 F1 starts, also found refuge and success in WEC, first with Porsche and now with Toyota.

Occasional Sky F1 pundit and ex-F1 driver Paul di Resta (36) is part of a very serious Peugeot factory effort in the Hypercar class, despite a non-stellar career in the top flight the Scot has heaps of experience which will serve the French outfit well. He drives the #93 Peugeot.

Sharing the cockpit of the #93 car is another Red Bull alumni, Jean-Eric Vergne who (like Buemi when Red Bull struck a driver crisis) might have been considered for a second crack at F1, to add to his 58 Grand Prix starts.

Not in Hypercar, but rather on duty in the all-Oreca-Gibson LMP2 field, this weekend, is Giedo van der Garde (37) with Zak Brown’s United Autosports team; also in the field is one-time Grand Prix winner Robert Kubica (38) lining for Team WRT and former Red Bull F1 driver Daniil Kvyat (28) in action with Prema Racing.