Having to face up to the possibility of leaving the pinnacle of motorsport can’t always be an easy decision to contemplate, though Jenson Button’s recent difficulty in securing a seat with McLaren for the 2015 season bring the question of ‘what next’ into sharp focus for racing fans around the world.
With the decision from McLaren’s directors looming last month, former Red Bull driver Mark Webber took to Twitter and beckoned Button to ‘sign that sports car contract and get on with it.’ Since Webber left he has gone on to race for Porsche in The World Endurance Championship, and is currently in 9th position of the overall standings. In the past drivers have gone on to race in a whole spectrum of motorsports, from The World Rally Championship, NASCAR and IndyCar racing to taking part in an array of endurance sports, including the 24-hours at Le Mans.
Le Mans is the longest standing endurance race in the world, and is seen by veterans and racers alike as the pinnacle of racing
The Le Mans 24-hour race has never been shy of F1 racers. With appearances from Jacques Villeneuve, and Giancarlo Fisichella, stretching to the fifteen-strong 2014 lineup featuring the likes of Mark Webber, Nick Heidfeld, Bruno Senna and Jan Magnussen, it is safe to say that it has always been a favourite for drivers. Le Mans is the longest standing endurance race in the world, and is seen by veterans and racers alike as the pinnacle of racing. The atmosphere of the day-long spectacle, mixed with the demands of racing in a team of three for 24 hours, has awarded the event with the prestige and coveted accolades it so rightfully deserves. In a race concerned more with the consistency of performance and the preservation of consumables, the importance of outright speed is not as stressed as it is in F1. The drivers race in 2 hour intervals, and will accumulate 8 hours of overall track-time by the end of the event. On top of this impressive feat each car will cover a distance of approximately 3000 miles, eighteen times that of an average Grand Prix race day, and must do so under the same race conditions of preserving fuel, tyres, engine performance, brake pads, and above all, driver performance.
While the World Endurance Championship may be a favourite with many drivers, a sizable number of F1 expats look to the States for an opportunity to take part in the world renowned NASCAR and INDY 500 series. Both high profile events in the US adhere to the philosophy that speed is speed, and so hold races on oval tracks where straight line speed is always stressed. The cars are untamable and the average speeds are ruthless. It is no wonder then why so many drivers cross the pond to participate in these American spectacles. Perhaps the most notable figure to do so is Juan Montoya. Montoya, who raced for both Williams and McLaren in a five year stint in F1, is one of the only active racers, alongside Villeneuve, to have completed two out of the three achievements of the Triple Crown of motorsport. This involves winning all three of the most prestigious races in the world; the Monaco GP, 24 Hours at Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500. Having won the 2000 Indianapolis 500, (as well as Monaco 2003), Montoya is more than accustomed to racing outside of F1, and after 7 years racing NASCAR (2006-2013) has recently returned to IndyCar. Unlike the typical GP, racing in America involves less finesse and much more power, placing it well within the realms of a spectator sport. Crashes are much more prominent, as was seen at the Daytona International Speedway last July when on lap 98/160 of the CokeZero 400 a 26 car pile-up drew the race to a brief stop. It is the ruthless nature of American-style racing that so many F1 drivers miss out on when competing in GPs, and so it is no wonder that Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet Jr., and even Kimi Raikkonen have tried their hand at NASCAR.
Formula E has introduced entirely electrical cars fitted with 200kw batteries, equivalent to 270bhp. While they are off the pace of the standard F1 car, they are in no doubt setting a precedent for the development and advancement of the electrical car
In recent developments the upcoming Formula E series has seen a multitude of greats sign up and compete in the first few rounds of the up and coming electric racing series. Drivers such a Jarno Trulli, Lucas di Grassi, Heidfeld, and even the son of one of F1’s greatest, Nicolas Prost have all featured in the event’s debut series. Formula E has introduced entirely electrical cars fitted with 200kw batteries, equivalent to 270bhp. While they are off the pace of the standard F1 car, they are in no doubt setting a precedent for the development and advancement of the electrical car, and while they are only capable of 150mph at present, there is no doubt that if the events increase in popularity, funding and speed, races will gather momentum, and drivers currently racing under Bernie Ecclestone would feel more inclined to find race wins elsewhere.
Images courtesy of The Guardian