On the eve of the Le Mans 24 Hours, a lot has been said comparing the ever-growing World Endurance Championship and the as-ever under-fire world of Formula One.
In truth, all these comparisons are dumbfounded. It’s like comparing Equestrian and the Grand National for the sake of a horse. Two men who can comment on the welfare of both series however, are ex-Toro Ross and current TeamByKolles drivers Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi, who, barring Le Mans this weekend, are contesting the WEC in 2015. We caught up with the two veterans earlier this season to talk all things vroom.
BadgerGP: As a driver who has raced in Formula One amongst other series Christian, how does the LMP1 car compare to drive?
Christian Klien: Characteristically they are the same cars as LMP2 machines. This car has a more powerful engine, and an LMP2 car is more or less like an Formula 3 car to drive which you have to drive very smooth, because there is not that much power, but it has good aerodynamic downforce.
This car is a little bit the opposite; if you have more downforce on this car, then you can again start to be more precise. But now it’s just a matter of quick into the corner, turn the car around fast, and get quick out of the corner.
BGP: Vitantonio, you’ve raced in a multiple race series now, including the Japanese Super GT and Super Formula series. As a series, what is WEC doing so well compared to others in terms of reaching out to fans?
Vitantonio Luizzi: I have to say that this championship is growing a lot, with big manufacturers like Porsche and Nissan coming into LMP1. A few years ago, I didn’t think so, but having four big manufacturers fighting in LMP1 and lots of fast privateers in the other categories, like GT-Pro, I think the championship is creating a great show, maybe closer to the people, to the fans and spectators. That is why we have so many people watching the races at the track, and I think at Le Mans it will be something really incredible. They are doing a really good job in pushing forward and promoting this category.
Of course, overtaking F1 is always difficult because for many years it has been the pinnacle of motorsport, but the WEC is doing a really good job in giving a hard time to F1.
As two former drivers, what is the problem with F1 at the moment?
CK: There are two different viewpoints. For the sport, the technology that is in Formula One is good. And for the manufacturers like Mercedes it is good.
For the fans it has become too complicated, and I think they are not really that interested with the technology that is in the car, and with all the overtaking with DRS. It should be down to racing and it should be exciting for the fans, and that has been a little bit lost the last few years.
If I go to a F1 race now with that engine noise I just do not find it as exciting. When I remember as a little kid and my first visit to a Formula One race at the Hockenheimring, what still stays in my mind is that engine noise. That really catches you, and it’s not there anymore. I don’t think that’s the right direction and that’s why fans, who are not stupid, are looking around and have seen that WEC is really, really strong and that there is great motorsport here. Those Formula One fans who look for other categories is a great thing for the WEC.
VL: It became really, really complicated like Christian said, with DRS, and KERS etc; everything became really artificial. I believe that the technology that is in Formula One and goes into road cars should be there as it is still the pinnacle of motorsport, so it still has to be part of that. It’s become a lot more artificial though, and obviously the fact that the noise used to make the ground shake when the cars pass by in front of you, and used to give you a lot of adrenaline – this is the main thing that goes up into the heart and mind when you’re a fan.
But on the other hand we now have lots of other categories like the WEC, or Formula E, that is completely the opposite but still gives a great show. Now I think the fans have a lot of choice to choose which direction with what gives them that adrenaline.
For sure, I think with a bit more noise it would again be more exciting.
BGP: It’s fair to say that the Red Bull Driver Programme is brutal. Looking back, do you have any bad feeling towards the company that essentially removed you from Formula One?
VL: That depends. Many things changed in the Red Bull driver programme since I arrived in Formula One. Christian was before me, but I started with them in 2002 until I reached Formula One, and I will always be really thankful to Mr. Matschitz for the opportunity he gave me.
For me Formula One is a special business, because there are a lot of sides to it away from motorsport. For example there is the political side you have to address (Klien smirks), these things don’t come out, but in the first five years there was many changes in the Red Bull system with me and many other drivers, we paid with the consequence of many changes.
Of course, I will forever be thankful, but it was not due to the result that me or Christian and a lot of other drivers went out. There a lot of other aspects to that decision.
CK: I think it’s the same for any young driver in F1, not just the Red Bull drivers. One thing I will say is that I think there is more pressure on the Toro Rosso drivers than the Red Bull Racing drivers because of the way the Red Bull Drivers Programme works.
They helped me for ten years, from go-karting to F1, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am now, but obviously my last year in F1 could have worked out better. But looking at the big picture, it was a ten year partnership, so I can’t really say too much about that.