Hulkenberg: Le Mans Champion

This weekend was a landmark one for motorsport. One of the most exhilarating Le Mans 24 Hours race in recent memory, characterised by a mesmerising battle for LMP1 honours, saw Nico Hulkenberg become the first active Formula One driver to win the race for 24 years. The German has been widely regarded as one of motorsport’s most promising talents for some time, yet having missed out on F1’s top-line seats hitherto, speculation regarding a potential future in WEC has been rife since the triumph.

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Firstly, Hulkenberg’s Le Mans success should be celebrated. Of course, teamwork is a staple of the event and credit also needs to be given to Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, who also piloted the number 19 Porsche around the famous venue. This was a team featuring two Le Mans debutante’s and therefore, was the least favoured of the three Porsche entries. Yesterday’s headlines had a sniff of the prevailing underdog about them.

Perhaps this could be deemed as a surprising statement, given that Hulkenberg drives at the pinnacle of motorsport. However, this is an argument that would be feasible decades ago, as oppose to the modern era, as technology has driven the various forms of motorsport further apart. The demands of driving an LMP1 car throughout a three hour stint is radically different to a Grand Prix. Coupled with the eye-watering schedules which modern F1 drivers are faced with and the extent of the challenge to win Le Mans, as Hulkenberg has, is realised.

Hulkenberg’s Future

Immediately after the chequered flag, speculation and debate was given the green light regarding Nico Hulkenberg’s future. In truth, this speculation has been rife for years, as the highly rated German has been widely tipped to obtain one of F1’s most coveted drives. Certainly, his consistency has warranted a reward but hitherto, opportunities have come and gone.

With many predicting that Hulkenberg’s chance of ascending to the sport’s top tier teams has passed, it was these same doubters who were rather vocal following the German’s triumph, suggesting that Hulkenberg should look for a move to the WEC on a permanent basis.

However, I doubt that Hulkenberg is about to turn his back on the pinnacle of motorsport. In many regards, Nico has little more to prove in sportscar racing – winning Le Mans takes precedence over the WEC championship title, such is the prestige and challenge of the event. On the contrary, Hulkenberg has plenty to prove in Formula One, yet to etch his name onto the illustrious list of race winners, nor even stand on a podium. Consider the fact that Hulkenberg could potentially tick two of the boxes required for motorsport’s triple crown, should he win the Monaco Grand Prix in the future, it is clear that F1 offers more opportunities for Hulkenberg to improve his CV than the WEC which has already left its mark.

Leaving F1 would extinguish the potential for this famous double.

Inspiring A New Attitude

Hopefully Hulkenberg’s triumph will inspire more F1 drivers to consider a Le Mans appearance. Certainly, their schedules will be squeezed and it remains to be seen whether his endeavors in France will have a detrimental effect on his performance in Austria next weekend, as he returns to regular duties at Force India. However, what should be commended is Force India’s belief in their driver and their cooperation with his ambitions.

It is ultimately a lack of flexibility which could halt future Le Mans efforts from F1 drivers – and this is a shame. However, with Hulkenberg evidencing that a one-off appearance can yield the big prize, driver’s arguments in their team bosses office may be more vociferous in the future.

Image Credit: "Le Mans 2015" 
By Audi AG, via Flcikr [CC-BY-2.0]
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