It has been confirmed today Marussia Formula One driver Jules Bianchi passed away at the Le Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice.
He was 25.
Bianchi had been in a coma since crashing out into a recovery vehicle during a safety car period during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Bianchi’s passing means that Formula One’s 21-year spell without a fatality has sadly come to an end.
The Marussia racer secured what would be the best result of his career at Monaco last season, when he was classified in 9th position (having finished 8th on the road), earning the Anglo-Russian team their first and only points.
This is sadly not the first tragedy to hit the Bianchi family – Jules’ granduncle Lucien Bianchi, also a former F1 driver, was killed at Le Mans in March 1969 during an early season test session.
Ironically, Lucien also scored his best Formula One result at Monaco – a podium in 1968 with the Cooper BRM in what was their final season in Grand Prix racing.
There really is precious little more to add, except that my sincerest thoughts go out to the Bianchi family, his friends and team.
Below is a piece tapped out shortly after Bianchi’s Suzuka accident. Even though some of the facts have changed since, it still feels somewhat relevant now.
Rest in peace Jules.
‘The Silence of it All’
October 5th, 2014
“Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton may have won this morning’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, but the accident suffered by the Marussia of Jules Bianchi on lap 43 prior to Dunlop Curve rendered that mute.
Dampened celebrations – if they could be called celebrations – followed, as Hamilton with runner-up Nico Rosberg and 3rd place man Sebastian Vettel solemnly went through the motions upon a brightly lit stage.
As news spread, so did the strain upon the faces of those underneath the podium – the reality of the situation etched in line and brow.
The seriousness of Bianchi’s predicament was not immediately known; such was the positioning of the Adrian Sutil’s already stricken Sauber and location of the camera crew.
According reports from the on site media, Bianchi suffered a serious head injury when he went off track and collided with a tractor. Thereafter he was transferred to Mie General Hospital not far from the circuit, but has since come out of surgery and is breathing on his own.
Throughout his extraction, the Frenchman was said to have remained unconscious.
The reappearance of the red flag was a relief – it had already been an exhausting race by this point, but as more solid information began to filter through from the scene, a lifetime caught up with Formula One.
Such moments make a mockery of sport’s self importance, bringing to the fore the triviality of the pursuits of fast men in fast machines – these matters hold little standing of import now and amidst all of the chatter and debate, what stands out the most is the silence of it all.
Naturally there will be analysis; there will be accusations; there will theories; there may be answers, but for the moment, there is just waiting.
At this point, my only thoughts are with Jules Bianchi, his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.
The Norisring is an odd place. As a circuit, its layout is not up to much. As a place, one could write books…
From the start, there’s a curving straight leading to a tight first gear hairpin, the a short chute into a quick right/left chicane, followed by another long curving straight, a 2nd hairpin and then brief blast to the line.
At just over 2km, it is easily the shortest track on the European F3 calendar. Its bumpiness – visible from the suspension travel from quite a long way away – makes it one of the more remarkable courses on a season packed with historic names and venues of significance within the culture of motorsport.
But one cannot avoid the history of this area, of the whole city; for the city – Nuremberg – was where Germany’s National Socialist Party – the Nazi Party – began to gain a foothold in the 1920s.
The tribune, which now hosts the grandstand on the start/finish straight was at one time where Adolf Hitler delivered many a pronouncement. This too is also the site of the infamous Nuremberg Rallies and a catalyst for the nightmares that followed.
These structures remain as a reminder and a warning of the dangers of what can happen when totalitarian regime takes hold. It’s probably still happening today around the world, only with fewer outlandish monuments, but with just as much will to coerce, destroy and control.
Antonio Giovinazzi returned to winning ways in the final FIA European F3 race at the Norisring this morning.
While the Italian continued to build small gaps amidst a number of safety car periods, George Russell, Alexander Albon and Charles Leclerc fought for podium honours.
For a time, Dorian Boccolacci and Jake Dennis were also involved in the fight, but 2nd and 3rd would eventually go to Russell and Albon respectively.
From 3rd on the grid, Giovinazzi jumped to the start of the field following sluggish starts by front row pairing Albon and Russell, allowing the Jagonya Ayam Carlin racer to slip through a gap in the middle to shoot into an early lead.
Amidst this, Dennis also fed his way through into 2nd place, only to overshoot the first hairpin, dropping behind Russell – but only for a moment. Under acceleration, Dennis pulled back past Russell as they entered the chicane to secure a temporary 2nd, while a quick thinking Leclerc pushed Albon down to 5th.
It would prove to be significant for Giovinazzi, as almost instantly the race was neutralised by the safety car when a stalled Matt Solomon was rear-ended by the blindsided Sam MacLeod on the grid.
Back in the pack, Lance Stroll hopped over the first hairpin kerb and touched the side of Carlin’s Callum Ilott, resulting in a broken front wing and right front puncture for the Prema Powerteam man.
On the lap five restart, Giovinazzi continued to head the field, but it was Leclerc who made a big move as he dived down the inside of the turn one hairpin, only to immediately slip wide and drop back to 5th, delaying Dennis who also fell to 4th – Albon, meanwhile, reclaimed 3rd from the manoeuvre as he filtered in behind the promoted Russell.
The race would not stay green for long. Seeing a (small) gap, Gustavo Menezes threw his Volkswagen-powered Jagonya Ayam Carlin machine down the inside of the hairpin on the sixth tour, collecting race two winner Maximilian Günther – both retired on the spot.
A long safety car period followed, but again Giovinazzi made the most of the restart (lap 13) as he edged a 1.0s lead over the chasing Russell and Albon. Behind the leading trio, Leclerc took Dennis for 4th around the outside of the hairpin in a brave, but perfectly judged move.
Things would get worse still for Dennis. Under the microscope of Dorian Boccolacci (Signature), the Englishman would be shoved out of the way by a slightly out-of-control Boccolacci. As wheels locked together, both ran wide, with Dennis losing two spots as both Boccolacci and Santino Ferrucci (Mücke) collected 5th and 6th places.
Boccolacci lost out on lap 23: the Signature man slowed significantly, allowing Dennis, Ferrucci and Mikkel Jensen through; however he would soon be with Dennis once again when Jensen passed the English driver for 6th spot.
This was too good to last unfortunately. On lap 26, Nabil Jeffri found a non-existent gap into the turn one hairpin and slammed into the side of Matt Rao, taking both out on the spot. Safety car number three.
It would give Russell, Albon and the attacking Leclerc a final opportunity to attack Giovinazzi for the lead, but it was not to be – the Carlin driver escaped with haste and eventually drew a gap of 1.4s as the chequered flag flew on lap 38. In what may prove a key win for Giovinazzi, he took the maximum points in a race where championship rivals Dennis and Felix Rosenqvist di not score – but more on that in moment.
Russell secured an excellent 2nd place to secure his third podium of the year, although Albon and Leclerc made him work hard for it. Looking for top end speed, Carlin dialed in a low downforce setting for this race, while Albon ran the more stable – but slightly slower – medium downforce settings. Back in 4th, Leclerc could do nothing about either of the two ahead, as he dropped a mere 0.32s behind Albon come the final lap.
The fight for 5th and 6th was a touch more feisty in the final laps. A charging Jensen trailed teammate Ferrucci for a time, forcing his way by the younger Mücke driver on lap 33, leaving Ferrucci open to attack from Boccolacci and Ilott.
Taking what could be best described as an adventurous line from the hairpin, down the back straight and through the final corner, Ferrucci defended hard and managed to hold 6th place – but only just.
In Ferrucci’s mirrors, a hassled and held up Boccolacci fell victim to Ilott’s late race rise, with the Red Bull junior taking both Boccolacci and the ailing Dennis on successive laps, allowing Ilott to claim 7th.
Boccolacci would assume 8th place ahead of Alessio Lorandi (9th) and Brandon Maïsano (10th, after starting 7th); however the slowing Dennis could not hold onto any scores, leaving the championship contender with no points from the weekend.
Outside of the points, Rosenqvist made an awful start, dropping the Swede from 8th to 18th off the line. The Prema Powerteam racer would climb back to 13th, but he will rue yet another “lost” weekend.
In the championship, the result means Leclerc leaves the Norisring with a 42.5 point lead over the new 2nd place man Giovinazzi, with Rosenqvist falling to 3rd, some 66.5 points behind the Monegasque racer. Dennis’ dire weekend ensure he now has an 80.5-point deficit to Leclerc.
The next round takes place at Zandvoort in two weeks time – a very different circuit, but critical and one that Rosenqvist and Giovinazzi have plenty of F3 experience on.
Sunday evening following the 74th Grand Prix de Pau and come 8.15pm, it is time to leave.
From a rather pleasant, if windy day, the clouds ahead began to thicken and gaze. Picking up further still, the now tumultuous draft necessitated zipped and buttoned jackets, while those lucky (or clever) enough to have brought hats began to pull the rims down over now cold ears.
The escape was reasonably quick though. Based partially underground, the easy access car park provided a rare warmth and cover from whistling winds.
Soon, we pulled away from the scene of one of the world’s most enigmatic temporary racing circuit’s – now back to living as a regular street. Thereafter it was a long, but quick drive to Toulouse and to another airport hotel and eventual flight.
We missed the rain though – just. Had the clouds opened only a few hours earlier, who knows how different the race could have developed…
Maximilian Günther took a shock fist FIA European F3 victory at the Norisring today.
The German took advantage of a feisty battle between Alexander Albon, Charles Leclerc and George Russell, when the trio ran wide and side-by-side into the turn one hairpin, allowing Günther to sweep from 4th to 1st in one move.
Behind Günther, Albon claimed 2nd place ahead of Leclerc (who led for approximately twenty metres into the hairpin) and Russell, the latter of whom had swapped the lead with Albon twice prior to Günther’s rise.
After taking the lead, the race did not merely end for Günther, who was pressured by Albon right to the flag, with the Mücke man eventually winning by just 0.4s. Leclerc completed the podium, while Lance Stroll saw an opportunity to slip past Russell amidst the hairpin melee.
The race had been peppered with safety cars throughout, with the 36 lapper interrupted no less than four times. The first neutralisation began when Ryan Tveter (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) clashed with Alessio Lorandi (van Amersfoort) in the hairpin on lap three.
That was followed on lap fifteen by scary incident between Michele Beretta (Mücke) and Matt Solomon (Double R) at the hairpin, when the latter clipped Beretta at low speed, but an angle that tipped Beretta into a roll, leading the Italian to clattering the outer wall at an upturned angle.
Restarting on lap 20, there was third safety car three tours later when Santino Ferrucci divebombed Antonio Giovinazzi for what was then 3rd place into the hairpin. Giovinazzi could do nothing to avoid Jake Dennis, who took damage to his left rear wheel – this resulted in the trio blocking the track.
Finally on lap 28, an over ambitious Pietro Fittipaldi ran into the back of Fabian Schiller and while Schiller continued, the stalled Fittipaldi was collected by the innocent Kang Ling.
Aside from the stoppages, Albon led almost throughout and apart from occasional noises by Leclerc and Dennis, it was always Russell chasing the Thai racer.
The Signature man did lose the lead very temporarily at the very start, as Russell outdragged his way to the front. Albon retook the lead at the hairpin on lap two, but by the time the pairing had reached the second hairpin at the far side of the circuit, Russell had retaken the point, only for Albon to finally secure the lead before the emergence of the safety car on lap three.
Thereafter Albon kept a narrow gap over Russell, with the distance never expanding beyond 1.7s, although the constant safety car negating opportunities for the Volkswagen-powered Albon to pull away. Time and time again, Albon edged away from the Englishman, only to be drafted back toward the Carlin man under the guise of the safety car.
It all changed at the front after the lap 32 restart when both Russell and Leclerc came alive to scythe past Albon at the two hairpins respectively. On the next tour, Leclerc had drafted alongside Russell on the way to the turn one hairpin; however Russell squeezed the Monegasque race to the inside line and onto the excessive bumps.
This destabilised Leclerc forcing him and Russell out wide, while Albon also ran long with them, allowing the stalking Günther to take a narrow line into the hairpin and escape into the lead in what was one of the most intelligent pieces of driving witnessed in F3 this year.
As the corner unfolded, Leclerc pulled alongside Albon, but could not make the move into 2nd place stick. It meant a run of Günther, Albon and Leclerc to the flag, with Günther gladly accepting his first European F3 victory.
There was extra luck for Günther though. Starting 12th, the Mücke racer climbed to 8th by the end of lap two, only to be collected by teammate Ferrucci on lap three, costing Günther one position and plenty of time.
Having run the furthest wide in the Russell/Leclerc/Albon melee, Russell was also susceptible to Lance Stroll, who had quietly risen up the order with a clean drive from 15th on the grid – no heroics or last action moves; just avoiding the mistakes and unsuccessful manoeuvres.
Russell ended the day a disappointing 5th, just ahead of Mikkel Jensen (Mücke, 6th), while Gustavo Menezes took 7th, despite overshooting the hairpin on the opening lap. Dorian Boccolacci could not hold onto his teammates pace today, with the Frenchman ending the day 8th ahead of Lorandi (9th) and Brandon Maïsano (Prema Powerteam).
Championship challenger Felix Rosenqvist was running 5th early on, but took a drive through penalty when he was adjudged to have missed his gridslot at the race start.
Accidents happen sometimes in motorsport – they just do. Sometimes there is no fault; it is an accident in its most basic terms.
Just an accident.
Of course there is no deliberate action or desire to damage, but often the outcome of an incident is some sort of wreckage.
For the teams, it means a loss of position or an end of the end; for the mechanics, it means a late evening with the tools out; for the parents (or backers), it means getting out the wallet.
All parties are aggrieved, but again, this just happens sometimes.
Such was the situation in the opening race of the FIA European Formula 3 Championship at the Norisring today.
Toward the halfway point, the lapped Arjun Maini (having pitted early on) was allowing the field to pass, by reducing speed and moving to the outside line of the circuit. All would have been well had the unsighted Jake Dennis not clattered into the rear of Maini, effectively ending the race for both.
Running in the top eight at the time, Dennis was furious and Maini apologetic, but alas, the damage had been done – there was little that anger was ever going to cure.
It sounds like a silly accident and it was, but such was the spray being lifted, it is unlikely Dennis would have clocked that Maini was there and going as slowly as he was.
Maini for his part was going to slowly. Although his intentions were correct, the Motopark man was travelling at almost half the speed of the lapping drivers, which, coming toward the end of the race, was probably not the wisest of tactics.
But these things will happen. Both machines will be repaired and will start the race later on with (hopefully) no issues. There was anger; there was an apology and eventually tempers cooled.
That’s racing; that’s life.
Charles Leclerc extended his lead in the FIA European F3 Championship today, with a controlled victory at the Norisring.
Behind the Monegasque racer, Antonio Giovinazzi reinvigorated his championship challenge with a drive to 2nd, Felix Rosenqvist jumped to 2nd in the points as he climbed to the final podium spot.
Under teeming rain, the race both started and ended under the safety car, due to considerable spray around the short layout.
It was not until the fourth lap that the race was allowed to run, from which point Leclerc drew away from the chasing pack. Initially Maximilian Günther followed, but the German was quickly taken by Signature’s Alexander Albon.
Albon closed to the tail of Leclerc by lap 11, only for the Thai racer to run wide at the turn one hairpin and drop to 5th, allowing Günther back up to 2nd, albeit 6.7s shy of the lead.
The Mücke racer would not hold the position for long. Running wide at the hairpin on lap 14 allowed Giovinazzi to assume the position. The battle between the Jagonya Ayam Carlin man and Günther would last an additional lap, with the duo swapping positions twice before Giovinazzi stamped his authority on the battle.
It marked a positive middle stint for Giovinazzi, who had only the lap before done the same to Rosenqvist. The Swede would within another two laps be back into 3rd, having eventually demoted Günther further still.
However by 20, the race was neutralised, as a spate of minor offs and incidents forced the stewards to call for the safety car. In amongst the minor scuffles, Jake Dennis collected the lapped Arjun Maini at the hairpin; a corner that would also claim Santino Ferrucci and Matt Soloman.
Amidst the mess, the safety car was called, slowing the pace and effectively ending the contest. Although the rain had subsided, the heavy spray remained, ensuring the race would not restart.
Behind the leading trio, Günther had little choice but to accept 4th spot, ahead of Albon (5th). Dorian Boccolacci made it two Signature Volkswagen cars in the top six, while Gustavo Menezes (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) drove a quiet race to 7th.
Lance Stroll climbed the order to record 8th for Prema Powerteam, but Pommer continued to drop down the order as the race aged, taking only 9th in his Motopark machine. Carlin’s George Russell rounded out the top ten for Carlin.
Giovinazzi and Russell collected lingering carbon fibre wreckage strewn about the section. Giovinazzi was under investigation immediately following the race, as it is understood he may have overtaken the safety car just after its release.
The hairpin proved a difficult tight bend throughout, with Markus Pommer, Sergio Sette Camara, Michele Beretta, Alesio Lorandi.
There has been much mirth surrounding the subject of Formula Three since my last visit to the series on the streets of Pau last month.
While accidents at this level are to be expected – this is a learning category after all – the level of chaos and destruction witnessed at Monza a few weeks ago unnerved even the hardest supporter of the category.
That was followed this weekend by some equally astonishing manoeuvres at this weekend’s round at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium – manoeuvres that left Formula Three stalwart Felix Rosenqvist fuming after he had been collected in all three races by Antonio Giovinazzi, Lance Stroll and Markus Pommer.
The on track behaviour at these famed circuits was nothing short of abysmal, with a number of moves and accidents leaving Stefano Domenicali (President of the FIA Single-Seater Commission) and FIA President Jean Todt very angry indeed.
These were not accidents born of slight missteps or minor misjudgements, but rather incidents steeped in the very definition of incompetence. The clash between Stroll and Giovinazzi toward the end of Curve Grande at Monza was shocking mainly because of its violence, but when Brandon Maisano blocked and then chopped Gustavo Menezes on the approach of Les Combes at Spa on Saturday, the consequences could have been far worse.
In that incident, Menezes flew into the air, landed on the Armco on trackside, breaking his rollhoop bar in the process, rendering his helmet the main point of contact as he slip upside-down toward the run-off area. The heavy scratch marks across his helmet bore the marks of heavy evidence.
The lack of awareness, acknowledgement of rivals and the track limits only served as a red flag – but maybe this can be turned into a good thing. It is no secret that driving standards across the entire route of junior motorsport have been rather lacking in recent years. Whether it GP2, GP3, Formula Renault 3.5 or the plethora of Formula Renault 2.0 series’, the manner in which some of the ‘talent’ have conducted themselves has left much to be desired.
Even categories as high as the FIA Formula E Series and the Verizon IndyCar Series has played host to some dreadful, amateurish driving at times this year, so it is clear that this is not a Formula Three problem alone. This is made all the more disappointing when the actions of some truly talented individuals at the front of these categories lose out on top results, because someone in their mirrors has failed to grasp onto the fact that life does not possess a restart button.
Yet surely this is the catalyst – the moment where standards of race driving are flagged for what they are; an opportunity to teach young drivers about the importance of not chopping, weaving and mindlessly dive-bombing; a chance to make sure those behind the wheel know that the white lines around the circuit are not merely decorative.
And this is where the likes of the FIA really need to make things happen and really stamp down.
For his clash with Rosenqvist (and other frontrunner Mikkel Jensen), Stroll was banned from taking part in Race 3 at Spa this weekend – good. Perhaps we should see this action more often and if Stroll (et al) commit another brainless infraction this year, then bar them for an entire race weekend.
If that is what it takes, then do it and if after that, they still have not learned, then the problem really is in the hands and minds of the driver.
Meanwhile, I will leave you with Rosenqvist’s thoughts following this weekend and of the coming race meeting, which takes place at the Norisring. “To be perfectly honest, I think these are the worst driving standards I have ever experienced. It is just impossible to race among some of the guys out there, and it doesn’t matter how cautious you are; I was extremely careful in the final race and still got spun around by a driver who had just been handed a drive-through penalty. It’s such a shame this is happening, because the championship is fantastic and the organisers are trying their best to address the issues.”
Rosenqvist continues, “Some of the new kids seem to think we’re in a video game, and if it goes on like that at the Norisring we are in real trouble. It’s a wall-lined circuit with lots of slipstreaming and heavy braking zones, and I have to admit I’m feeling concerned going there. It is possible to race at a high level and to do it in a respectful manner; I think Charles (Leclerc) is a good example of that. Let’s hope for a more sensible weekend in Germany.”
There is little doubt the start of the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship has proved a stern test for Audi Sport Team Joest racer Oliver Jarvis.
Yet as Jarvis approaches the 83rd 24 Heures du Mans, the Englishman reveals that rather than be disheartened with early season form, he is excited for the challenge ahead.
Recently, TheMotorsportArchive.com caught up with Jarvis to hear his thoughts on Le Mans, teammates and finding his path.
“I’m now living a dream,” states an enthusiastic Oliver Jarvis. By the time we get to talk, the Englishman may be on his way to French shores, but the thrill in his voice rings through as clear as day.
There were times where it seemed the almost-nomadic 31-year-old would struggle to settle into a position worthy of his talents.
Finishing runner-up in the British Formula 3 Series in 2006 would take the Cambridgeshire all the way to Japan, with his efforts eventually culminating in victory at the prestigious Macau Grand Prix at the tail end of the following year.
Yet, like for so many drivers, the Formula One train failed to pick up on the affable Jarvis and with his first major success in his pocket, the former Carlin and TOM’s racer was drafted back to Europe by Audi for a shoot-out with what would become a DTM race seat with Team Phoenix.
It would be the beginning of a lengthy relationship with the German marque – a relationship that has only blossomed further in the time since. “I moved into DTM and had two fantastic years […] and then was promoted to the new car,” Jarvis recalls.
Although Jarvis enjoyed a relatively positive experience in DTM – taking three podiums overall – his sights were higher still. Having tasted the experience of Le Mans for the first time in 2010 with Kolles Racing’s LMP1 effort (alongside Christijan Albers and the late Christian Bakkerud), Jarvis wanted more.
Driving a one-off entry for Audi Sport North America, he returned to the top class in endurance racing in 2012 and was promoted to the Audi factory squad a year later – albeit only the rounds at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans, as Jarvis explains further. “For the first couple of years, I was involved purely with Le Mans itself and Spa for the build-up. Then [I] had an opportunity to move across to the LMP squad and I jumped at the opportunity.”
The chance came when the legendary Tom Kristensen decided to hang up his helmet at the end of 2014, creating a vacuum in the #8 Audi entry. “Late on last year, I had a meeting with Dr [Wolfgang] Ullrich [Head of Audi Motorsport] and became aware that the seat to replace To [Kristensen] was available. I put my case forward and fortunately they felt it was the right decision to promote me.”
Admittedly, the start of the season has not been a perfect one for Jarvis. Despite the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro being down on top speed of its rivals at Porsche, the German manufacturer has taken both of the first two races in this year’s World Endurance Championship; however Jarvis and his teammates – Loïc Duval and Lucas di Grassi – were not on the podium for either.
Indeed finishing four laps down at Silverstone and eight adrift at Spa-Francorchamps was probably not exactly the start Jarvis had in mind for his LMP1 career with Audi Sport Team Joest. An early crash in the British round and electrical issues in Belgium humbled the #8 Audi and left trio well adrift in the Drivers’ Championship and while Jarvis remains positive, he is keenly aware of just how important this weekend is at La Sarthe – especially as the big race counts as double points for the championship. “[Le Mans] is hugely important – not just as a single race, but also in terms of the championship; it requires a different approach.
“Before the world championship, it was all about winning this big race, but now you also have to take on board that it can also be so valuable for the championship. There’s a lot to play for and it has a big impact on who wins the championship at the end of the year.”
That teammates André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler have won both races in the #7 Audi only served to underline the potential lost in the opening pair of six-hour enduros.
Changing the Guard
With a history of competing in categories such as Super GT, DTM, A1GP and the now defunct GT1 World Championship, Jarvis is finally serving his first full season with Audi, but with the shadow of Kristensen still apparent, there are big shoes to fill in the #8 machine. “I can’t wait,” beamed Jarvis. “I’m just really looking forward to getting into the car. I think we have got a great car, but only time will if that is enough to recapture Le Mans and go on to reclaim the world championship.”
Roles have changed drastically within the Audi squad in recent years. Gone are Kristensen aided by cohorts Allan McNish and Dindo Capello, all of whom retired from LMP1 in steps between 2012 and 2014. Meanwhile Jarvis, Duval and di Grassi have stepped up, alongside the now established Lotterer/Tréluyer/Fässler party in the #7 machine. Waiting in the wings is the third Audi are Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and René Rast…
Such has been the change, Jarvis feels this is a pivotal moment for both he and the Audi Sport Joest team. “I really believe now if you look at the driver line-up, there are a couple in their mid-to-late 30s, but you could see them continue for another ten years, whereas in the last five years, there has been discussion about who is going to retire and they never did,” says Jarvis, before adding with a chuckle “…unfortunately for us younger drivers.”
He has hit a point in his assessment of the current Audi line-up. Of the leading two entries for Audi in LMP1, the average age across the six drivers has dropped to 33 years – down from 39 years in 2012. There is plenty of speed in the sextet – with the added bonus of maturity and experience – however he was also keen to point out that age is by no means a barrier to speed or aggression, as anyone who had witnessed McNish in his later years can contest.
But times have changed and as Formula One has all but closes doors to those without government support, long held brand partnerships or manufacturer backing, endurance racing has become a more attractive proposition for those seeking to become top level professional racing drivers.
Jarvis believes now more than ever that sportscars has become a viable alternative to Formula One for those earlier in their racing careers and it is a factor that is also serving to lower the median driver age in endurance racing, although a now laughing Jarvis also notes that ‘Capello had ten years in a row when he was going to retire.’
The time for change was perfect though. With new LMP1 regulations debuting last year, the game at the top level of endurance racing was changing too. Despite claiming another Le Mans 24 Hour race win last year – as well as a win in the rain-affected Six Hours of COTA – Audi did not have a stellar time in the category’s other six-hour events. Although the Lotterer/Fässler/Tréluyer entry ended the season as championship runners-up, they were a long way adrift of eventual title holders of Toyota’s Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi.
Keen to avoid a repeat of the 2014 hic-cough, Audi needed to make a step-up and have moved from the category’s 2mJ class to the 4mJ class – it is a move that has proved effective for the manufacturer so far. “At the end of every year, the team work extremely hard to make a step forward and this year, the engineers were coming up with some quite impressive figures.”
Silverstone showcased the stark differences between the Audi and Porsche LMP1 machines. With its huge downforce numbers, the R18 was stunning around the Northamptonshire sweeps, yet Porsche’s prowess down the Hangar and Wellington Straights – thanks in part to their placement in the 8mJ class – astounded even the most ardent of Audi supporters. Come the Spa 6 Hours, a new “low downforce” aero package allowed the #7 Audi beat the #18 Porsche in a straight fight, albeit only by 13 seconds.
Yet Le Mans is an animal all its own and Jarvis knows Audi cannot afford to relax for a moment, as performance takes a temporary backseat to reliability. “The number one thing at Le Mans is reliability; number two is to stay out of trouble and number three is performance – if you don’t have number one or number two, your performance has very little effect.
“We would hope from what we have seen at past races that Audi has fantastic reliability and drivers who can stay out of trouble and keep the car on track, because when you are pushing so hard for each tenth-of-a-second, it is possible to make mistakes. There are also factors that are out of your control, especially with many drivers on track and many who are less experienced, so you do have to be cautious, but you also have to have some luck.”
Like Porsche – but less so Toyota – Audi improved drastically and were having been running significantly quicker than last year; however the team based in Ingolstadt is still looking closely over its shoulders.
Pre-season comments of a three second gain at the Prologue in Paul Ricard seemed almost too good to be true, leading to claims that Audi and Porsche were ‘running light on fuel’, but the opening pair of contests have proved otherwise. The at Le Mans pole lap – a 3’16.8s; set by Porsche’s Neel Jani at Le Mans this week – is already six seconds quicker than the pole from two years ago.
The two leading LMP1 teams have also taken chunks out of their pace from last year, much to the astonishment of Jarvis and others. “You listen to it and think ‘3 seconds [improvement]; that sounds like a hell of a lot’ and what’s fascinating is what they estimated is what we achieved in Paul Ricard, so we are where we feel we should be. The big question mark was where our competitors are at.”
In the cockpit however, the changes have not been quite so drastic. “The way you drive the car is very similar, because it is the same concept, but you do feel that extra boost of power,” comments Jarvis. “To achieve the 4mJ of power, you have to harvest more energy or retrieve more energy, so it does have an influence during the braking phase, but the driver technique required is almost identical to last year.”
There is little doubt that the WEC has enjoyed an increased profile in recent years and with Nissan (finally) joining the fray from Le Mans onward, the manufacturer fight may intensify further.
For fans, this can only be a good thing. For competitors like Jarvis, it is gold and it would only serve to make victory at La Sarthe taste just that bit better. “This is the big one – we want to win it. To come away with a podium would be satisfactory, but we wouldn’t be jumping for joy with a 2nd or 3rd. Going into the race, from what we have seen so far, we are going in to win it. We say that about every race, but Le Mans is the big one – it can change your year and even your whole career.”
Jarvis starts this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hour Race from 4th place.