Andre Lotterer’s Journey to Formula 1

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He is the most accomplished driver under the age of 35 that has never started a Formula 1 race.

Until this weekend.

The news that Andre Lotterer, the ace driver of the Audi Sport Le Mans Prototype program(me), and who is also driving for legendary Toyota factory racing team TOM’s in the Super Formula championship in Japan, would be making his Formula 1 debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix – at age 32 – was first reported on Monday, and came as even more of a shock as the news that broke later in the afternoon (or evening) that Toro Rosso will be making Max Verstappen the youngest driver in Formula 1 history next year, at age 17. Which is almost half of Lotterer’s current age.

At 32 years old, Lotterer is only a few months older than when former Audi teammate Allan McNish made his F1 debut for Toyota in 2002. He lasted just one year before going back to endurance racing. He is one year older than the last driver to make his Formula 1 debut past the age of 30 – Yuji Ide. In fact, those three men – Lotterer, McNish, and Ide, account for all of the Formula 1 rookies to have made their F1 debuts past the age of 30 since 1997. By the time fellow German Michael Schumacher turned 32, he had already won his third World Championship, and had passed Ayrton Senna for second on the all-time Grand Prix wins list. And by the time Senna himself was 32, he was already a three-time champion with McLaren after his legendary and controversial championship duels with Alain Prost, who at age 32, had won the first two of his four World Championships with McLaren, and was running down the all-time wins record of Sir Jackie Stewart, who himself was a two-time champion by age 32. By the time Stewart retired in 1973, he had passed the all-time wins record of Jim Clark, who himself had planned to retire after the 1968 season as the winningest driver in Formula 1 World Championship history at the time, before the tragic Formula 2 accident at the Hockenheimring that claimed his life…at the age of 32.

Yet also, at age 32, Damon Hill had just won his first Grand Prix for Williams a month shy of his 33rd birthday, and only one year after his Formula 1 debut for Brabham. The man who founded the team, the late Sir Jack Brabham, won both his first race and first World Championship in 1959 at the age of 33. Nigel Mansell, the man who former Lotus team director Peter Warr said would never win a Grand Prix “so long as he had a hole in his arse”, finally proved his old boss wrong when he won the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in a Williams-Honda, just two months after he had turned…32. Continue reading “Andre Lotterer’s Journey to Formula 1”

In Defense of Luca Badoer

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From the satirical motoring blog Sniff Petrol, came a spoof article about a new series for the most rubbish drivers in Formula 1, headlined by the polarizing Venezuelan, Pastor Maldonado of the Lotus F1 Team. But this article isn’t about Maldonado, a former Grand Prix winner and GP2 Series champion in his own right, now struggling just to score a championship point in his fourth season. There’s a line in this article that lists three “benchmarks” of complete and utter futility in the highest level of auto racing, three of the worst drivers in recent F1 history, at least in the mind of Mr. Richard Porter, the Top Gear writer who has run the blog for nearly fifteen years. See if you can identify which one of them doesn’t belong, based on their career descriptions.

Driver #1 was a 31-year-old rookie driving for a first-year team. He never outqualified his veteran teammate, often ending up more than a second adrift of his lead driver’s times. He spun in nearly every practice session he participated in, and after four miserably slow and incident-filled races capped off by punting Christjian Albers’ Midland into a rollover at Imola, he became the first driver in the modern era to be revoked of his FIA Super License for failing to drive at an acceptable standard, and the only one since.

Driver #2 was a 42-year-old Israeli businessman, a gentleman racer in the truest sense, to put it as nicely as possible. He was a backmarker in all three of his Euroseries F3000 starts, and in 2005 he used his business connections to buy a weekend test driver appearance with Minardi at the Hungarian Grand Prix. He was 13 seconds off the pace of his nearest teammate, he radioed in complaining to the team about the car having too much grip, and after spinning into a gravel trap after just a handful of slow, miserable laps, he had to be craned off track while he was still strapped into his Minardi PS05 because he didn’t know how to detach the steering wheel on his car.

And then we get to driver #3. Driver #3 is one of seven drivers since 1985 to have won the top-level Formula series on the ladder to F1 – either International F3000 or GP2 Series – in his rookie year, at age 21, finishing ahead of three other rookies in that season’s championship, who would combine for 25 Formula 1 victories in their careers. His baseline qualifying success rate against all of his F1 teammates was well over 50% despite often driving for some of the least-capable and under-funded teams in the sport. And as a test driver for Scuderia Ferrari, he was the primary tester of the cars that won the team eight Constructors’ Championships in a span of ten years, and had a longer tenure at the Scuderia than did Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, and the seven-time world champion driver who was the face of the team for a decade, Michael Schumacher.

Drivers #1 and #2 were Yuji Ide and Channoch Nissany, respectively. But just who was Driver #3? None other than Luca Badoer.

And if you are reading this, and have no knowledge of F1 history prior to the year 2010, you’d probably be asking yourself – “What in the hell is this last driver doing in the same group as the first two guys with all the talent that he seemed to have and all that he’d accomplished during his brief career?”

Thank you. Because this is the point I’m here to demonstrate. Continue reading “In Defense of Luca Badoer”