Does racing really need a Vettel return at Le Mans?

Sports Car News

Sebastian Vettel is set to test a Porsche 963 Hypercar, having already been linked with a Le Mans drive. But would his return really add that much to the world of racing?

Sebastian Vettel at the wheel of Porsche 963 Le Mans Hypercar

Vettel will be one of the drivers behind the wheel of the Porsche 963 Hypercar in a 36-hour Le Mans test


The thrill of a racing comeback is something which will never lose its romance, particularly when it involves an F1 champion – the old warrior putting on their competitive armour to enter a legendary arena of battle for one last time.

There have been some legendary efforts, such as Niki Lauda claiming the 1984 title after a couple of years away and Emerson Fittipaldi getting back in the hot seat to win two Indy 500s, but we’ve also had some damp squibs: Michael Schumacher’s muted Mercedes return and Alan Jones’ miserable experience in an F1 car called Beatrice.

The racing bug is understandably one that’s difficult to shake for many, and so it appears for Sebastian Vettel. The four-time F1 champion, who only retired at the end of 2022, has announced that he will drive a Porsche 963 Hypercar next week in a pre-Le Mans test.

Last year he was linked to a competitive comeback in the World Endurance Championship, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, as part of Porsche customer team Jota.

Sebastian Vettel stands in front of Porsche 963 Hypercar

Vettel has already spent “extensive time” in Porsche’s simulator


“Nothing has been signed or decided yet, but I have the matter in the back of my mind,” Vettel told Auto Motor und Sport in 2023.  “I still have time to decide. If at some point I come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work without racing, then I will drive again.”

Vettel remained tentative in a statement to accompany news of his test. He will be one of the drivers taking part in a 36-hour run at Aragon in Spain, by the factory Porsche Penske Motorsport team in preparation for this year’s Le Mans race.

From the archive

“I’m looking forward to testing the Porsche 963,” said Sebastian Vettel. “I’ve always followed other racing series and my curiosity for endurance events encouraged me to just give it a shot. Now I’m excited about the long run in Aragon and I’m looking forward to my time behind the wheel.

“It’ll definitely take an adjustment and some getting used to but everyone in the team is very open and helps me. This will be a new experience for me. We will then see what happens next in this respect – at the moment there are no further plans for the future.”

Jota has confirmed its two-car line-up for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours but two places remain unconfirmed in the factory team’s third car.

The prospect of Vettel chasing a Le Mans win has captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide, and the former Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin man has said that he has kept himself race fit, making a relatively swift return plausible.

But does racing need older players to return, particularly those who sometimes appeared jaded and hardly went out on a high, for one final rodeo?

On the positive side, Vettel has undeniable cachet as one of F1’s 2010s kings, a driver who burst on the scene and – for a period – swept all before him.

A young and disarmingly charming upstart, the kid dubbed ‘Baby Schumi’ scored points on his debut at Indianapolis in 2007 with BMW before switching to Toro Rosso and rocketing up the Red Bull ranks.

The much vaunted energy drink’s pipeline F1 of talent had up to this point ‘only’ produced Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed (remember them?) and he soon took a stunning win for the junior team at Monza ’08 – the very first for Fizzy Drink Grand Prix’s activities in both teams – before quickly snaffling up four drivers’ titles in the senior squad from 2010 to 2013.


Vettel stunned F1 by winning the 2008 Italian GP from pole

Grand Prix Photo

In his post F1 phase, the idea of Vettel joining the Le Mans fight is particularly fun. The 2023 edition blue riband enduro was probably the race of the season across any championship, a thrilling 24-hour duel between Ferrari and Toyota which saw the Scuderia win on its return after half a century.

From the archive

With so many manufacturers joining the fight in the new Hypercar era – to the above you can add Porsche, Peugeot, Cadillac, BMW, Lamborghini and Alpine as well as the other independent efforts – throwing in some grand prix glamour to further up the ante has obvious appeal.

The idea of a German F1 icon behind the wheel of Porsche’s near-700bhp 963 LMDh Hypercar holds the highest racing romance. However, all Vettel’s F1 success does feel like a distant memory – he won his final title a decade ago, and lucked into a last race win four years back.

There’s an argument to say that the German’s legacy is being extended and overblown – and therefore fuelling enthusiasm for a comeback – by the forces of social media, rather than any recent great achievements in racing.

Vettel has maintained a profile with his environmental campaigning – particularly publicised through Instagram. Last year, he fronted a project to install a number of ‘insect hotel’ beehives on the inside of Turn 1 at Suzuka.

FIA WEC Race start 6 Hours of Fuji

Is Vettel ready to enter the ferocious sports car fray?

Add in an appearance on the UK political TV programme Question Time, some school visits and a few cute t-shirts, and the appetite for a racing return seems to be based essentially on the promulgation of him as a “nice guy”, rather than his actual competitiveness.

Indeed, his F1 career could be argued to have been a rocket ship first six years – including four well-deserved F1 titles – followed by a slow eight-season descent into midfield mediocrity. The final two years at Ferrari were miserable, and the last couple with Aston Martin unremarkable.

From the archive

When looking at the snarling beasts who characterise the front-end of WEC, including Kobayashi and Conway at Toyota, Calado and Fuoco at Ferrari, plus Vanthoor and Estre at Porsche, still merciless in their hunger for more sports car success, is Vettel really prepared to take all that on? And if he just trundles round, will the F1 champ really have added that much?

There’s also the argument about a problem which has plagued F1 in recent years: that highly capable endurance drivers who should finally be given a shot at ultimate Le Mans glory – Ollie Jarvis, Alex Brundle, Filipe Albuquerque etc – are being blocked by racing ‘celebs’.

The stakes are high – few WEC teams can avoid mistakes in an era of relentless speed and reliability. You also get the impression that Porsche might be trying to glitz-up its Le Mans line-up after an underwhelming initial season which saw a n underwhelming car garner little attention, driven largely by very talented but lesser-known GT drivers.

This year, the car has shown the pace to run at the front and, with the addition of Jenson Button at Jota, already has one F1 world champion in its ranks. It already stands a better chance of matching the attention garnered by Ferrari last year, when it swept up the plaudits for winning at Le Mans.

2023 Japanese GP Sebastian Vettel Buzzin' Corner bee hive insect house

The Vettel good vibes flow – but it might need a bit more than that for WEC success

Grand Prix Photo

Another media-friendly personality to get the good vibes flowing with a positive crossover is likely very appealing to Porsche and WEC – just look at the Shane van Gisbergen-effect where the Kiwi took a win on his debut at NASCAR’s inaugural Chicago street race.

Away from the social media hits and press release pleasantries though, does Vettel have the stomach for the real fight?