So far, everybody’s winning!
It’s great to have got my first full FIA World Endurance Championship season under way! By the time many of you read this, I’ll also have competed in the second race at Spa-Francorchamps – it’s incredible how quickly time has passed since the announcement that I would step up to replace Tom Kristensen.
Before the recent Silverstone race I was continually told, “It must be great to start the season at your ‘home’ track.” While this is true in geographical terms, modern motor sport works in such a way that it was actually only the second time I had raced at Silverstone in nine years. I’m more accustomed to competing at Oschersleben in Germany than I am at Silverstone!
I get the feeling that Audi Sport Team Joest surprised a few people with its performance throughout the Silverstone weekend. While our sister car won, things unfortunately didn’t go quite to plan on my side of the pit garage. Despite a strong qualifying performance and a good start to the race, we eventually wound up fifth after an early collision caused us to lose four laps.
But the real winners of the weekend were surely the 45,000-plus crowd, the worldwide television audience and of course sports car racing as a whole. It must have been the best possible advertisement, showcasing how much endurance racing has developed over the past 10 years. Gone are the days of looking after the tyres or brakes and nursing the car to the finish. It has become a cliché, but it really is now a sprint from start to finish, with every second counting and non-stop action all the way. I often get asked why we, as drivers, fight so hard with our competitors so early in an endurance race. The reply is simple: in 2011 the Le Mans 24 Hours was won by the incredibly narrow margin of 13.854sec and the opening race of 2015 at Silverstone by just 4.610sec. This kind of close finish is becoming the norm rather than the exception, so the drivers’ approach has changed significantly since I first started watching Le Mans as a child. Everybody now pushes the car to its absolute limit on every lap of every stint. The result is the best racing with which I have ever been involved (or, indeed, have witnessed). Even when I’m not in the car, I’m glued to the TV screen watching events unfold. Is there currently another series in the world that can offer such action and quality as we saw at Silverstone?
The other thing that became apparent during the weekend was the huge progress all manufacturers have made. It’s incredible to think that, in such a short period of time, performances have improved by more than three seconds per lap. This year’s fastest race lap at Silverstone, set by the winning Audi, was 1min 40.83sec. In 2014, the same crew – Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoit Tréluyer – was similarly quickest, on 1min 44.21sec. From a driver’s perspective, performance gains of that scale are almost unimaginable.
What’s even more fascinating is the current performance gap between Formula 1 and LMP1. Until we have both raced on the same circuits within the same year it is hard to draw any direct comparison, but Lewis Hamilton posted the quickest time in last year’s British Grand Prix, a 1min 37.16sec. It’s incredible to think that the difference might be less than four seconds, despite LMP1 cars being 250kg heavier. I would be very interested to compare average lap times between the two if traffic could be removed from the equation. Could we have reached a point where the current race pace of an LMP1 car is quicker than that in F1?