Nico Hulkenberg’s triumph in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend has caught the imagination of other Formula One drivers.
Hulkenberg, driving for Force India at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, was one of the trio of drivers who drove Porsche to a record 17th Le Mans.
The German won the race at his first attempt and became the first active F1 driver to win since Britain’s Johnny Herbert in 1991.
“It was quite amazing. A very intense and long week. I flew from the Canadian GP to Paris, and then straight to Le Mans,” Hulkenberg said. “But to come there, first attempt, and to win it with my team and my teammates has just been incredible.”
Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, two-time F1 champ Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo have expressed strong interest in following Hulkenberg’s footsteps.
“All of us are a little bit jealous. He made it look easy and this is good for us as he made us F1 drivers look very good,” Vettel said. “Massive respect to him. Being capable of doing anything on the side and doing it so well, and even winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an extraordinary achievement.”
Alonso said he had a chance to compete against Hulkenberg at Le Mans, and the Spaniard hopes another chance comes again.
“Yes, I considered to race in Le Mans,” the McLaren driver said. “So maybe next year.”
Ricciardo, who won three races for Red Bull Racing last season, was up long into the night watching the race.
“I watched quite a lot of it actually, about 18 hours,” the Australian driver said. “It’s nice to have a weekend off, but when I was watching it I was obviously thinking it would be nice to be racing as well – like they did in the old days, drivers jumping from categories.”
Double world champion Lewis Hamilton, though, has no intention of ever taking part.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Le Mans,” said the British driver, who leads this year’s F1 championship. “It’s not been something I’ve ever wanted to do.”
His Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg is of a similar disposition.
“No, not really,” he said when asked if he would consider it.
Hulkenberg’s Le Mans success comes at a delicate time for F1, which is facing a lot of criticism.
Since changes to engine rules, the deafeningly loud roar that was once the trademark of the series has gone. There is an over-reliance on technology, much less overtaking, and more emphasis on saving tyres, coasting and fuel loads than aggressive racing.
The concerns were such that drivers launched an extensive survey in 12 languages in Monaco last month as part of increased efforts to make the series more exciting by seeking input from alienated fans.
“The championship itself and F1 itself is not in great shape,” said former F1 driver Mark Webber, who was runner-up for Porsche at Le Mans last weekend.
“All the drivers that I’m talking with, we’re disappointed with what’s going on with the cars, the lap times, it’s just not stimulating.”
Webber, who finished third overall in F1 three times driving for Red Bull, said in an interview released by Red Bull that F1 has “got many, many, many things wrong,” and has become “a sniff too artificial”.
More changes are to come in 2017 and the rule makers hope to have cars going five seconds quicker per lap.
“There’s a lot of questions to be answered and they need to act fast on getting the fans engaged again,” Webber said. “They’ve dulled it down.”
Vettel hinted that Le Mans may be more testing than F1.
“As racing drivers, that’s what we’re after, to push every single lap and for a long time,” he said. “So, might be something in the future to think about.”
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