If, like many of the Badger team, you first discovered F1 during the nineties, the entry list for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours makes rather nostalgic reading. Consider names like Jean Christophe Bullion, who enjoyed a brief and unspectacular 11 race stint at Sauber in 1995; the entirely forgetable Shinji Nakano; and Christophe Bouchet, a man confirmed as an F1 driver who never got the chance to start a grand prix. They’re names you’d forgotten, careers you thought had ended but continue in the sportscar world.
Add to that list a pair of grand prix winners, a Champ Car title-winner turned F1 flop and BBC Radio 5Live’s diminutive driver-cum-commentator and you’ve got a pretty interesting list of former F1 men on the entry list for this year’s enduro classic, and here we’re naming the whole bunch.
The #7 Peugeot – probably the favourite to claim outright victory – is made up entirely of former F1 drivers, so what better place to start than with the French marque’s entry. Alright, they’re weren’t particularly successful F1 drivers, but they were grand prix driver none the less.
Two-time F1 podium finisher Alex Wurz is effectively leader of the three man squad, the cheery Austrian combining his sportscar commitments with an increasingly prominent role at the FIA (he’ll be president one day and you heard it on Badger first). Alex is joined by former Minardi and Williams man Marc Gene and one-time Super Aguri racer Anthony Davidson in the #7 machine. Nothing less than the win will do for these boys.
In the #8 Peugeot we have another ex-grand prix driver Stephane Sarazzin. Don’t remember the lad? We wouldn’t blame you: he started just one race, in a Minardi, at the Brazilian Grand Prix of 1999. Then seen as an F1 racer of the future, Sarazzin was subbing for the injured Luca Badoer at Interlagos, and actually qualified rather well, taking 17th on the grid and thus out-doing his team-mate – which, funnily enough, was the aforementioned Gene. However Sarazzin would exit his one and only race in spectacular fashion – see the video below for proof.
Spinning Steph is joined by Franck Montagny, who ran seven races for Super Aguri in 2006 after they’d fired the slow-and-dangerous Yuji Ide but before they’d hired the just-plain-slow Sakon Yamamoto. Franck was better than both but, unfortunately, he isn’t Japanese. A talented all-rounder, he has raced Champ Cars, Indycar, Superleague and sportscars since his brief F1 stint. Former F3000 front-runner Nicolas Minassian completes the line-up
There are two more ex-F1 drivers in the #9 Peugeot, with Le Mans native Sebastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy – who had stints with Team Lotus and Minardi in the mid-nineties – completing the French marque’s factory effort.
On to the Audi team, who have just one former F1 man in their ranks: Scotsman Allan McNish. Nishy is a two-time Le Mans winner, having triumphed aboard a Porsche in 1998 and then in an Audi ten years later, and will likely be in the running again this year. The fact he shares his #3 machine with eight-time Le Mans winner and all-round endurance racing god Tom Kristensen should help.
We’ve a pair of Frenchmen to tell you about now. First up is Olivier Panis, who (effectively) leads the #10 Oreca car’s line-up. The 1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner making his fourth appearance at Le Circuit de Sarthe in 2011 and will look to better his best finish of fifth, achieved in 2009. Jean-Christophe Bullion meanwhile will drive the #13 Rebellion Racing entry. The Frenchman drove the majority of the 1995 season for Sauber, scoring a best finish of fifth in Germany, before handing his seat back to Karl Wendlinger, whose place he had taken following the Austrian’s severe injuries at the previous year’s Monaco Grand Prix. Bullion never returned to F1.
He’s not quite French, but Olivier Beretta is near enough that we’ve lumped him in with Panis and Bullion. In fact Olivier was the third (and to date last) Monaco-born F1 driver, contesting the first ten races of the 1994 campaign for French squad Larrousse before getting le boot. Veteran Jan Lammers meanwhile will participate in the #5 Hope Racing entry. Competing in F1 mainly between 1979 and 1982, the Dutchman holds the record for the longest gap between starting two grand prix, having been absent from the sport for a full decade before contesting the final two races of the 1992 campaign for the ailing March team. Ultimately he never scored a point and failed to qualify on 18 occasions. Still, there’s always Hope (get it?)
Christian Klien is the most recent F1 departee contesting Le Mans this year, having raced sporadically for Hispania last season and now competing for Aston Martin at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The 28-year-old Austrian will be behind the wheel of the British marque’s #007 machine, teamed with Brit Darren Turner and Germany’s Stefan Mucke.
Thiago Monteiro is one of the men set to pilot the #15 OAK LMP1 machine. Monteiro drove for Jordan in 2005, landing a podium at the infamous U.S Grand Prix that year, and stayed on as the team became Midland in ’06. He has since raced in the World Touring Car Championship, part-owns the Ocean GP2 team and oversees the career of young countryman Antonio Felix ad Costa. The #49 OAK LMP2 entry meanwhile counts former Prost and Minardi rent-a-driver Shinji Nakano among its pilots.
And here’s one for you geeks: Christophe Bouchet, one of the drivers set to run in the #33 Level Five Motorsport entry, never started a grand prix, But, he was named at French minnows Larrouse for the ’95 campaign, only for the team to fold before he’d had a chance to even qualify. You have been hit with the stick of knowledge.
The most successful F1 driver in the field is Giancarlo Fisichella, three times a race winner for Jordan and Renault. The Italian will compete in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, the favourite to win the GT class. Victory at last month’s 1000km of Spa cemented that tag, and Fisi’s pursuit of victory is aided no end by another F1 driver – and GT specialist – in the shape of Gianmaria Bruni. The Italian drove for Minardi during the 2004 campaign, taking a best result of 14th at the Malaysian, European and Hungarian Grand Prix. His post-F1 record is far better: three times a GP2 race winner between 2005 and 2006, he has since finished as runner-up in the 2007 FIA World GT championship and won the GT class at Le Mans in 2008.
Finally we’ve got Jan Magnussen, who also competes in the GT class. The Dane ran one race for McLaren in 1995 before landing a full-time ride with Stewart Grand Prix in 1997. His time there was no happy however, and he was given the boot mid-way through 1998 – the same weekend he scored his maiden F1 points. Jan will drive the #74 Corvette at the Circuit de la Sarthe.