How high-tech F1 has changed the race engineer role

However, it has now transformed into a very complex role. It requires an individual to not only deal with the driver aspect, but be at the top of a communication chain that includes the pit-wall, garage and remote factory operations to offer analysis in real time.

In simple language, a race engineer is now a driver interface fed by real-time data.

Recent weather impacted races in Russia and Turkey, where race engineers and drivers had to make critical decisions on the hoof, brought to the spotlight the importance of this relationship between the drivers and their pit wall.

It was the perfect proof of how the engineer must now act as the channel for all the extra information he is being fed – both from the driver in the car, as well as strategists, weather experts and data analysts either in the garage of back at base.

The radio messages that we hear at home are just the tip of the iceberg then when it comes to understanding the success and failures of that driver/engineer relationship.

It is far from a one-way street of the engineer taking on board information from the driver to better adjust the car. Now, it’s a constant dialogue – and his role is pretty much to be the backbone of a successful weekend during every moment of track action.

For Ferrari’s racing director Laurent Mekies, who has previously worked for Arrows, Minardi, Toro Rosso and the FIA, the job for a race engineer is far more pro-active now that it was even a decade or so ago.

“The biggest evolution in this role was driver-coaching,” he told Motorsport.com.

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Ferrari, in the Team Principals Press Conference

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Ferrari, in the Team Principals Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, a track engineer could hardly have provided a driver with driving advice like he is able to do today, because there was none of the real-time data available that we currently have.

“Formula 1 has evolved a lot. The level of analysis and estimates in real time today gives us a much deeper knowledge of tyres. We can also read many more real-time parameters, and in general there are more sensors on the car.

“This allows us to interpret the data we receive from the car in real time and obtain information which is then passed on to the driver.”

The expansion of F1 teams, and this positioning of the race engineer as a funnel for all the information being fed to the driver from a range of outside parties, means communication lines are king.

Mess anything up in this process, and let a piece of dud information seep its way into the system – and that can spell the difference between a potential brilliant result and complete failure.

The increased complications of the expanded role means that training on communication skills is a must; as is constant analysis of performance.

“Each team has its own type of communication procedure, which goes beyond the aptitude of the individual engineer,” said Mekies.

“We do some tests, plus there is specific training. After the race weekends, we listen to and reanalyse both the communications you hear via the radio between the engineer and the driver, and those that take place in the internal communication chain.

“If you look at Sochi as an example, this information included weather forecasts, and the conditions of the tyres of all the drivers on the track, information on the car and the lap pace of the opponents, and all the data read in real time.

“It is a chain of command that is combined with communication protocols, flows of dialogue and decisions that pass from the remote garage, to the garage on the track, to the wall and finally to the driver. We need a time for discussion, decision and communication.”

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, and colleagues on the pitwall

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, and colleagues on the pitwall

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

But there is one aspect that needs to be tuned to the complete preference of one individual: and that is what a driver likes and wants to hear.

Each track engineer ends up developing his own approach to dealing with the role; trying to marry the flow of information with the character in the cockpit.

Mekies adds: “Not all drivers want the same amount of information. Not all want it at the same time, and not all want it in the same way.

“There are drivers who want to be motivated, others who prefer to be left alone. There are drivers who constantly ask for lap times, and that information helps serve as a reference point, let’s say an extra charge. But there are others who prefer a more silent approach, with communications reduced to a minimum.

“But the relationship between the engineer and the driver is fundamental on this front, and it is necessary to understand the correct approach to put the driver in the best conditions.

“The way of communicating, as well as the tone of language, needs to understood in context. Sometimes a dialogue that seems more excited is aimed at the personality of the driver, and delivering what he needs to perform in the best way.”

But just as the drivers are under pressure to deliver everything on track with no errors, so too is there is a minimal tolerance of things going wrong that are expected from the pitwall. A race engineer’s job is not easy.

“It is not a role for the faint-hearted,” explained Mekies. “The challenge is to make fewer mistakes than others, because everyone makes them.”

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Norris: Openness over mental health important to help others

The McLaren driver has confessed to facing some troubled times during his early F1 career, as he struggled coping with the pressure to perform at such a young age.

But after working with both a good external support team, and his own McLaren squad, the young Briton has got himself in to a happy place and is now enjoying grand prix racing again.

While some top sports stars have been reluctant to be so honest about such difficulties, Norris has not been shy in talking about what he has been through.

Recently, he spoke about the topic on ITV’s popular This Morning programme, and he thinks it important he adopts that attitude.

He feels that by speaking about his true feelings, that could help others who are perhaps afraid to speak about any troubles they are facing.

Speaking about the growing awareness on mental health issues, Norris said: “I guess I am now much better than when I was two years ago. And this makes me enjoy everything a lot more. You can enjoy life a lot more as well.

“You’re not always worrying and thinking and panicking, and so on. So just the way you feel is so much better. And I think the more you see people say it, the more confidence every person has to get more help.

“For me, it’s helped me a lot. And then I know that I can help also other people. I don’t just say it because I want to tell you, I say it because I know other people struggle with it.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21, and Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT02

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21, and Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT02

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“So it’s also a good opportunity for me to try and help other people. And I think we also realise that these big athletes who are saying it, they don’t just say it because they want people to feel sorry for them.

“It’s because we know we can also help younger people or the people in the world to try and feel better as well.”

Norris thinks that his difficulties were something that other drivers have been through in their careers, but perhaps were not able to be as open about it because attitudes were different then.

“I’m sure there’s plenty of drivers in the past which felt the same way, or athletes in the past, which felt the same way, but just never said anything,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s we’re more open nowadays, or if we’re more willing to say what we’re feeling, some of the younger drivers now?

“Still it’s not everyone. It’s not like every young driver says what they feel. It’s just been a few more recently or more athletes now, which have said it.”

He added: “But I think the more people that say it, the more people realise the consequences, and actions from other people. And social media can influence the way people feel.”

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How unlucky has Alonso really been in F1 2021?

But how unlucky has he really been in 2021?

At Istanbul Park Alonso excelled in qualifying and managed to start in fifth, but during a wet start he was spun around at Turn 1 by AlphaTauri‘s Pierre Gasly, who was sandwiched in between Alonso and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Trying to claw his way back, Alonso then made contact with Haas driver Mick Schumacher after a late divebomb, which the Spaniard received a five-second time penalty for.

On a day when the mixed conditions offered opportunities to score big, Alonso’s incidents prevented him from finishing higher than a distant 16th. It prompted him to say that “luck seems to keep avoiding us this year big time.

I guess we are accumulating a lot for next year.”

Alonso’ comments perhaps sound odd after he’s been enjoying a solid comeback season with the rebuilding Alpine outfit, in which he is outscoring teammate Esteban Ocon – usually extremely important in his book – and Alpine is heading AlphaTauri and Aston Martin for fifth.

But it’s not so much the championship standings that appear to play on Alonso’s mind, but rather a string of missed opportunities to win on his comeback or at least return to the podium, and in doing so backing up his claim that at age 40 he is a better driver than he was when he took his two world titles in 2005 and 2006.

In Hungary’s crazy wet weather race Alonso was lucky by his own admission to escape the Turn 1 melee which took out several contenders, but he believed he had the pace to win.

Having lost track position to team-mate Esteban Ocon, however, relegated him to a wingman role, which he executed brilliantly as he held up the quicker Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton while Ocon secured his maiden win.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, rejoins after a spin on the opening lap

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, rejoins after a spin on the opening lap

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

In the end Alonso couldn’t prevent Hamilton from finally finding a way through, which dropped him off an elusive podium in fourth.

Following Spa’s shambles, the next couple of rain races did provide fresh opportunities for Alonso to benefit from the chaos.

In Sochi’s Russian Grand Prix he was holding sixth when the rain came down and in the challenging conditions he climbed to third.

But, like erstwhile leader Lando Norris, Alonso delayed his stop for intermediates for one lap too many and lost another podium shot, dropping back down to sixth at the finish.

Then came the Turkish Grand Prix, which was effectively over for Alonso before it began.

Either way, Istanbul would have been the most unlikely podium shot of them all, given that all four Mercedes and Red Bull cars finished in the top five.

Curiously Alonso’s frustration doesn’t stem from that fact that he couldn’t capitalise from rainy conditions on uncompetitive weekends, which is the mantra of every midfielder and backmarker in F1.

He explains it’s because wet races have tended to fall precisely on weekends where Alpine was at its strongest yet circumstances prevented him from getting the most of out them, whereas Alpine’s more uncompetitive weekends produced a more predictable outcome.

“It’s frustrating that when we are not competitive, we have a very boring race,” he told Autosport after the race in Turkey.

“And when we are competitive, we have crazy weather, crazy things happening.”

Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1, on the grid

Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1, on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It echoed his Sochi comments where he claimed “we never get lucky” and that “every point we got this year is on merit, we never had any gifts this year. So I’m proud of every point that I took this year.”

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Whether he’s unlucky or not is up for debate, but Alonso can find solace in the fact that his Enstone team is starting to find its feet and looked competitive for two consecutive weekends, which it had not really managed earlier this year.

Far from matching the upward trend of its 2020 rival McLaren, Alpine has been more stagnant and is banking on getting the 2022 rules overhaul right to make the next step.

As for Alonso himself, he claims he’s nearly back to his very best after securing his best grid position since his comeback.

“I would say this weekend, yes. In Sochi, again, it was a little bit up and down with the weather and the dry tyres at the end,” he said.

“I think there’s still a little bit more to come, but I’m definitely more confident now.”

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The Schumacher Monaco conundrum that complicates F1 pole debate

With the fight for the front in qualifying being a pretty fraught affair, it’s no surprise that the driver who comes out on top wants to feel rewarded.

In Turkey, for example, Lewis Hamilton was a little bit disappointed that an engine grid penalty meant his supreme Q3 effort will never be recorded in the history books.

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“Well, I still… I get recorded the pole, right?,” he asked in the press conference. “No? Ah, dammit…”

The world champion had already cheekily signed his ‘pole position’ Pirelli tyre with a special message for teammate Valtteri Bottas: “To Valtteri. Enjoy my pole trophy. Nice lap tho. 102.”

But while losing pole positions through grid penalties is nothing new in F1, and has been happening since Kimi Raikkonen lost top spot at the 2005 Italian Grand Prix with a 10-place engine drop, the implications of sprint races on the record books has been a catalyst for a growing discussion on the matter.

With F1 hosting three sprint qualifying trials this year, the shake up of the weekend format meant a two-pronged effort to set the grid for the main grand prix.

There is the traditional regular qualifying session on the Friday, and then the short 100km sprint race on Saturday.

The original plan had been for the official pole position tag in the history books to be given to the fastest driver in Friday qualifying.

However, complications caused by the FIA regulations, in that pole position is officially designated as the driver in first place on the grid, meant a change of plan and it being awarded to the sprint winner.

It’s something that Bottas does not agree with, especially as at Monza he was fastest on Friday, won the sprint – and still didn’t get pole because he took an engine change.

“I think on the sprint weekends, definitely, the fast man in qualifying should be handed the official pole award and pole position for records,” explained the Finn.

“And also in a situation like this [in Turkey], Lewis had the fastest single lap. He was technically on pole but then after he is dropped so… I don’t think it’s really fair.”

Pole man Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Pole man Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

F1 chiefs are looking right now at potential tweaks to the rules to change the awarding of pole position on sprint race weekends.

But the topic of the pole record at more regular weekends is one that has ignited intense debate among fans – with many arguing that pole should simply go to the fastest driver in qualifying irrespective of penalties.

However, there are two famous examples of Michael Schumacher at Monaco that offer contrasting examples of whether that would be the right way to go.

On the positive side, handing out pole to the fastest qualifier would have put Schumacher’s brilliant lap from Monaco 2012 into the record books.

The German, who had endured a fair share of frustrations since his Mercedes comeback in 2010, finally pulled everything together that afternoon to lead the way for what would have been his last official pole.

Except Schumacher had gone into that weekend knowing that pole would never be his because he had been carrying a five-place grid penalty for a collision with Bruno Senna at the previous race in Spain.

He started sixth, with Red Bull’s Mark Webber taking the official pole after ending qualifying in second place.

Few would argue, however, that it would have been more fitting for the record books for Schumacher’s performance that day to be recognised.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 248 F1

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 248 F1

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

But amid the calls for poles to go automatically to the fastest man, what Schumacher did at Monaco six years before in 2006 shows the dangers of doing just that.

Back then, in the closing stages of Q3 on Saturday, Schumacher was topping the timing sheets with title rival Fernando Alonso out on track and looking on course to snatch pole.

Schumacher then famously lost control of his car at Rascasse – parking up at the barriers and, with his car wedged against the Armco, it meant Alonso could not complete the lap he needed to go top.

The session was finished and Schumacher, as the fastest man, appeared to have taken pole position.

But amid immediate accusations that Schumacher had crashed deliberately, the FIA intervened and the stewards concluded that the German had broken the rules. He was stripped of his pole position and sent to the back of the grid.

Were Schumacher to have been awarded pole position in the record books that day, even with an asterisk next to it for his grid drop, it would have always been recalled for all the wrong reasons.

What Schumacher’s Monaco examples of 2006 and 2012 show us is that there is no hard and fast rule that will satisfy everyone when it comes to awarding poles.

While most agree that the fastest on Friday of a sprint should get pole that weekend, there is not as much consensus about what happens when the sticky subject of grid penalties are included.

Should the power boost that comes from a fresh engine be cast aside and those that have swapped power units be allowed to keep their pole in the records?

Should sporting penalties be ignored – so Schumacher would have kept his poles both in Monaco 2006 and 2012?

Or should sanctions earned inside the qualifying session be taken into consideration (such as what Schumacher did or drivers ignoring yellow flags), but those handed down outside of it (engine/gearbox penalties), not count?

The latter perhaps would be a better solution, but in F1 nothing is ever completely straightforward – so don’t expect much to change very soon.

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Vettel: Too many races could stop F1 being “special”

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The confirmation on Friday of F1’s 2022 schedule means the series is heading for its biggest ever season next year with 23 races crammed in between the middle of March and the middle of November.

The stresses and strains that the schedule is putting on staff has already been highlighted by several teams, but outfits have duly approved F1’s plans for 2022.

But for Vettel, who arrived in F1 in an era where there were fewer races but more tests, thinks there is a downside to the sport adding on more and more to the schedule.

“This is only my opinion, and it’s not worth anything, but I think we should not have that many races,” said Vettel, in an interview with selected media including Autosport.

“It’s for a number of reasons. I think one, maybe it’s too many races for the people to watch. It’s not special any more, if there’s that many.

“And second, I feel for [the staff]. Us drivers, we are at the good side of things: we can arrive on a Wednesday night and leave if we find a flight etcetera on a Sunday night.

“But the team already has a lot more stress. They arrived Monday or Saturday the week before, they build the garage, prepare the cars, and then also they have to run the full week and then pack down, send everything back, and prepare back in the factory.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21, Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41, and other drivers line up for practice starts at the end of practice

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21, Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41, and other drivers line up for practice starts at the end of practice

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

“For them, it’s a job that you’re busy all weekdays and nearly every weekend, so you have no time for yourself.

“And I think we are in a time where people are growing more and more conscious that they have a life too, and that the life doesn’t belong to the employer.”

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The swelling F1 calendar, allied to the inclusion of the much-hated triple headers, has already led to some staff electing to go for factory jobs or move away from grand prix racing completely.

Vettel thinks it would be an error for F1 to find itself burning staff out simply in the quest for more races.

“I’m not in charge and obviously there’s some other interests, but it’s just making sure that people have a balance between their life at home and the time spent away,” he explained.

“I think it should be a number of races that is sustainable for keeping your passion for many years and not being, you know, sucked out after two or three years.”

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Formula 1 confirms 23-race calendar for 2022 season

Formula 1 has announced a 23-race calendar for the 2022 season.

The season will get underway in Bahrain in March and conclude in Abu Dhabi in November, with 21 races sandwiched in between.

There were supposed to be 23 races in the 2021 season, but there were cancellations on account of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Races in Australia, Canada, Singapore and Japan will return, but there is no visit to China on the calendar.

While there’s no visit to China, there will be two races in America – with Miami added to the calendar.

“We are excited to announce the 2022 calendar as we prepare to enter a new era for the sport,” F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said.

This season has been incredible so far with great battles on the track, large audiences tuning in and fans returning to the races after the impact of the pandemic.

“We look forward to welcoming more fans back next season and hope 2022 feels more normal than the life we have all experienced in the past two years.

“We are very pleased with the interest in Formula One from places that want to host races and the growth of the sport, and believe we have a fantastic calendar for 2022 with destinations like Miami joining famous and historic venues.

“The pandemic is still with us, and we will therefore continue to be vigilant and safe – to protect all our personnel and the communities we visit.”

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Ricciardo to demo Earnhardt NASCAR Cup car at US GP

After joining McLaren at the start of the season, Ricciardo accepted a wager with Brown over him scoring his first podium for the team.

With memories still fresh of Ricciardo’s famous tattoo bet with his former Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul, Brown was eager to avoid any physical discomfort from needles so opted for a racing incentive instead.

With Ricciardo being a big fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr, and racing with the NASCAR legend’s number 3, Brown felt a prize living up to those themes would be best.

After handing him a model of Earnhardt’s 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo as a signing on bonus, Brown promised Ricciardo an actual outing in the car if a top three finish was achieved.

“I’m thinking your first podium you give the real thing a go,” explained Brown at the time.

The Earnhardt NASCAR forms part of Brown’s private car collection, which includes a number of F1 challengers and sportscars.

Despite a difficult first half to the season, Ricciardo delivered that first McLaren podium when he led home a 1-2 for the team at the Italian Grand Prix.

It was unclear when the best opportunity for the NASCAR test would crop up, but speaking to an Australian podcast last weekend, Ricciardo said there was a chance of the test taking place at Austin.

“I think it will happen in the next couple months,” he said. “I don’t know if it might even happen in the States. We’ll see. I know the car is based in Europe at the moment, but maybe to go with the American theme, how knows, they might even send it over to Austin to do a few laps in Texas.”

Now, McLaren has confirmed that the NASCAR run will indeed happen over the Austin F1 weekend.

In a tweet on Friday it confirmed the plans, although no further details were revealed.

 

The likelihood is, however, that Ricciardo will get to run during the build-up to the Austin weekend – just as Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean did when they tried out a NASCAR back in 2019.

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Formula 1 reveals record-length 23-race 2022 calendar

Following a meeting of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council on Friday, a draft schedule for next season was released.

The calendar, which stretches from the season opener in Bahrain on 20 March and finishes with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 20 November, has been put together as the sport hopes for a more normal season.

With the last two campaigns having been badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, F1 intends for events that have not happened for the past two years – including the Australian, Canadian, Japanese and Singapore Grands Prix – to return.

However, amid ongoing uncertainty about travel restrictions in China, F1 has no plans to return to Shanghai for now.

A statement from F1 said it hoped the Chinese GP could be reinstated ‘as soon as conditions allow.’

In place of China, Imola will be back on the schedule with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix set for 24 April.

F1’s first grand prix in Miami has been scheduled for 8 May, and will take place between Imola and the Spanish Grand Prix on 22 May.

Miami circuit

Miami circuit

Photo by: Liberty Media

The intensity of the schedule, and the need to get it finished in November prior to the football World Cup in November, means that there will be two triple header runs.

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Although teams have been reluctant for three races on the bounce to become a norm, they have accepted that they are a necessary evil if F1 is to deliver as normal a calendar as possible.

As part of the Concorde Agreement arrangements that govern the sport, teams need to approve the calendar – which they have duly done.

McLaren had been openly outspoken about its desire for there to be no triple headers at all, but team principal Andreas Seidl said recently that he hoped longer terms things could be trimmed back.

“It’s the reality we are in at the moment,” he said. “It’s also great to see that actually, there is a lot of interest in Formula 1, that different markets are interested in it

“We also understand that going hopefully towards a different calendar in the long term, it’s a process of transition.

“But generally our position hasn’t changed. For us, we are in favour of a race calendar of maximum 20 races. I think that also on the commercial side the focus on quality and exclusivity works.”

2022 Provisional F1 calendar

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Binotto to skip races in “critical phase” for 2022 Ferrari F1 project

Last year Binotto sat out Turkish and Bahrain Grands Prix to work from Ferrari‘s base as a test run for this season, when teams are forced combine a packed calendar with an intensive development programme for 2022’s all-new cars.

Binotto also missed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix due to illness, handing over the reins on the ground to Ferrari‘s sporting director Laurent Mekies.

Following on from 2020’s experiment, Binotto had singled out Turkey as one of the 2021 race weekends to stay at home for, so he could help oversee Ferrari’s 2022 car project.

On Sunday he said he also intends to sit out the long flyaways to Mexico and Brazil.

“This is one of the races I was targeting to be back home,” he said.

“Obviously, the calendar has changed a couple of times since the very start, so I changed a bit my plans, but certainly Turkey was one of these ones.

“I will skip at least another two races before the end of the season. At the moment I’m planning Mexico and Brazil.

“The reason is as you may imagine, especially Mexico and Brazil, overseas, it’s a long trip, while here back at Maranello there is clearly much to do, it’s an entire team to somehow manage, both the chassis and the power unit, and the entire organisation.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, arrives on the grid

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, arrives on the grid

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Binotto says his presence at home is helpful as Ferrari’s 2022 project enters a “critical phase” in the final stages of its design process, and he has praised Mekies for his efforts leading Ferrari at the race track.

“We are in terms of 2022 development certainly in a critical phase, where time is getting closer and closer,” he explained.

“I’m happy to be here. On Thursday and Friday, being in the office, I can certainly be more focused on whatever is happening back here in Maranello.

“On Saturday and Sunday, I’m fully dedicated to the race weekend.

“I’m missing the networks in the paddock, but Laurent Mekies can do a great job. I’m very happy with how he is managing the entire team when I am not there, so I am very happy with that.”

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When a future Le Mans winner with “no regrets” became an F1 driver for a day

It’s hardly surprising for a recently retired three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner to have “absolutely no regrets” when recalling their time in motorsport.

Marcel Fassler’s top-level racing career spanned 20 years, contesting of the DTM in the first half of the 2000s before a switch to sportscars yielded a Spa 24 Hours-winning stint at Corvette, followed by his most successful spell at Audi, concluding his contemporary racing career at the end of 2020.

While the trio of Le Mans triumphs alongside Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer will be rightly remembered, it was during his sophomore DTM season a decade prior that Fassler realised a childhood dream.

The amiable Swiss had been offered a Formula 1 test by fellow countryman Peter Sauber should he win a DTM race, and Fassler duly delivered at Oschersleben in his HWA-run Mercedes CLK in 2001. Sauber stayed true to his word and Fassler went for a seat fitting at Hinwil before Mercedes insisted that he drive a McLaren instead.

The intervention proved anticlimactic at first, with a single installation lap the only mileage completed at a waterlogged Silverstone before a postponement to a far more productive follow-up at Barcelona two weeks later. Fassler racked up over 60 laps in an “under the radar” test, and admits adapting from tin-tops to race-winning F1 machinery required a recalibration, both mentally and physically.

“I remember the braking was amazing,” recalls Fassler. “The first time I was braking at the end of the straight, I needed to put the throttle on again and upshift because it stopped immediately and I was like ‘Wow!’

“Afterwards I think it went not too bad. I did something like 60 laps, even knowing that I was really well prepared for the test, my neck was really hurting a lot in the last ten or 15 laps. But I’m still pretty proud because it was not just one car, it was one of the best cars in the field. That was something really special.

Marcel Fassler got to test a McLaren Formula 1 car in 2001, first at Silverstone and then Catalunya

Marcel Fassler got to test a McLaren Formula 1 car in 2001, first at Silverstone and then Catalunya

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“I still say I have absolutely no regrets because I still had a really good career and I could fulfil my dream of being a Formula 1 driver, even if it was only for one day! That was really great.”

Despite talks post-test of a potential “second test driver” McLaren role, Fassler admits an F1 drive was never a realistic prospect as highly-rated Alexander Wurz already fulfilled the team’s test and reserve role.

“My chances were really like almost nothing. At least I got an opportunity which I think not many of the drivers would once have in their racing life” Marcel Fassler

“Sometimes you are at the right place at the wrong time, and for me it felt a little bit like this. I was in the right place, but maybe not at the right time,” he says.

“There were talks about [being] a second test driver, but because I was from Mercedes in a top car in DTM, we decided to keep the main focus on that. Also at that time Alex Wurz was the test driver who was very highly-rated anyway so I knew that my chances were really like almost nothing. At least I got an opportunity which I think not many of the drivers would once have in their racing life.”

After completing his final race for Corvette in last November’s Sebring 12 Hours, Fassler retired in March of this year, but remains more involved in motorsport than he had initially anticipated.

He still gets his fix of racing action from competing in events such as the Goodwood Revival for enjoyment, but his lack of contemporary driving commitments allows him to enjoy modern motorsport without the pressure of competing at the top level.

“I’m a happy retired man I have to say! I’m following on TV and everything, but I have to say it feels really good and it was the right time for me to take this decision,” he explains.

Last outing for Fassler at Corvette came in this year's Sebring 12 Hours

Last outing for Fassler at Corvette came in this year’s Sebring 12 Hours

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“At the moment I’m more busy than I actually was expecting, so I need to change something for next year! But it’s good fun, good challenges for me, it’s a lot to learn and I love what I do now.

“It’s fun to look how they do in motorsport now and I’m happy I do not have the pressure anymore!”

Since last November, Fassler has returned to Hinwil to develop Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Formula 1 simulator as well as heading Swiss team Sportec Motorsport’s KTM X-Bow effort in the inaugural season of the GT2 European Series.

While the deal came together at short notice, Fassler is proud of his role in the outfit which went on to take victory in the Am championship, with Christoph Ulrich converting pole to overall victory at Paul Ricard as the highlight of a successful season.

“I’m happy because it was also a programme which we decided on a short notice. We got a really good product from KTM and we have an Am car, and we won already in Spa the championship on this one,” says Fassler.

“We had a really good Swiss driver which made it happen for us, and for us I’m a bit proud that I was a part of that performance in the team even now, not as a driver. I think in the first year if we can win championships and races, podiums and everything it makes me really proud.”

Fassler got to call himself an F1 driver

Fassler got to call himself an F1 driver “even if it was only for one day!”

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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