Back in May we published a piece entitled “RejectWatch 2017“, in which we completed a census of Formula One rejects still active in other series. It’s time to have another gander at the newfound land these drivers discovered in their respective series in 2017.
As a brief reminder a reject is defined as an F1 driver who, assuming a 10-6-4-3-2-1 points system, has scored no more than two points in his F1 career. This year Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll escaped the ranks of rejectdom , leaving behind them Stoffel Vandoorne, Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein, Marcus Ericsson, Pierre Gasly, Antonio Giovinazzi and Brendon Hartley.
It may seem counterintuitive to begin with Formula One’s main feeder series, but aside from providing the top championship with potential rejects, it’s occasionally seen drivers with a lack of success go back down a peg. This year, it was Roberto Merhi who found temporary drives with Campos and Rapax.
In his first appearances in the series formerly known as GP2, Merhi competed against two Swiss teammates: Ralph Boschung and Louis Delétraz. He failed to make Gruyère out of them, scoring 16 points in Spa and Monza which was enough for 18th in the overall standings.
The 2016-17 season of the electric championship played out similarly to the previous one: a season-long battle between Audi and Renault, specifically between Sébastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi. Buemi’s pace advantage increased this season as he stormed to six wins in the first eight races. Di Grassi’s consistent scoring allowed him to stay in touch with his rival, helped by Sébastien enduring a mistake-prone race in Mexico and a disqualification in Berlin.
Things began to go wrong for the Swiss driver as endurance commitments forced him to miss the double-header in New York. Di Grassi scored valuable points while Buemi’s replacement Pierre Gasly scored an impressive 18 points, more than perennial Renault doormat Nico Prost. A dismal accident-filled weekend in Montréal followed for Buemi as di Grassi scored 34 points to win an unexpected maiden Formula E title.
The Techeetah team had a rather high concentration of rejects. Jean-Éric Vergne had his best season yet with five podiums culminating in victory in the season-closing race, earning him a well-deserved fifth place in the standings. His initial teammate Ma Qing Hua was soon replaced by Esteban Gutiérrez who recorded points finishes in his native Mexico and Monaco, followed by a trademark 11th place in Paris. Nonetheless, he was promptly turfed out in favour of the ever-competitive Stéphane Sarrazin, who had just left Venturi and would score two podiums for Techeetah.
This was in stark contrast with his fellow Francophone Jérôme d’Ambrosio, whose torrid year with Dragon Racing left him behind his teammate Loïc Duval in a disappointing 18th overall. Despite generally having the upper hand over Duval, Loïc was able to snag a couple of big results for Dragon, which found itself propping up the rear of the field after two successful seasons.
2017-18 has started rather differently, with Vergne’s strong Hong Kong offering leaving him second in the standings after the first double-header. Buemi, di Grassi and d’Ambrosio are nowhere to be seen. With the added presence of former F1 luminaries Nick Heidfeld, Nelson Piquet Jr and Kamui Kobayashi, along with GP Rejects favourite André Lotterer, the season promises to be very exciting indeed.
In a year where the Indianapolis 500 featured Fernando Alonso’s glorious run in the lead followed by Takuma Sato’s historic victory, other former F1 drivers involved in America’s premier open-wheel championship flourished as well.
2016 Indianapolis winner Alexander Rossi managed four podiums and a victory in Watkins Glen. Seventh overall suggested his Indy win may not have been a fluke. He’ll be looking to beat that result in his upcoming appearance on The Amazing Race with fellow driver Conor Daly.
The ultra-talented Max Chilton came on well in his second season, recording six top-ten finishes led by a commendable fourth place at Indianapolis. He came within seven points of outscoring his illustrious teammate Tony Kanaan and generally had the measure of other teammate Charlie Kimball.
Chilton’s final 11th place makes for a good segue into Esteban Gutiérrez, who made seven appearances for Dale Coyne halfway through the season. Esteban failed to score a top ten finish, in stark contrast to the man he was replacing, the injured Sébastien Bourdais. The Frenchman had won the season opener and followed it up with second at Long Beach, but a severe crash during qualifying for Indianapolis ended his unexpected title challenge, though Bourdais was able to return for the last couple of events.
World Endurance Championship
With Audi pulling out of WEC at the end of 2016, the Porsche-Toyota struggle for honours boiled down to two individual cars which swept the season. The all-reject Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson (joined in Austin by Stéphane Sarrazin) won the first two and final three races, while the intervening four rounds (including a thrilling recovery drive at Le Mans) were won by the Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and then-future F1 driver Brendon Hartley.
By virtue of one more podium and Le Mans counting double, it was Porsche who prevailed for the third straight year, providing Bernhard and Hartley with a second WEC title. Behind them, the sister car of Neel Jani, Nick Tandy and André Lotterer recorded an impressive seven podiums but no victories.
The Vaillante Rebellion of Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Nicolas Prost was often the best LMP2 entry, winning their class four times along with the title. In the meantime Jean-Éric Vergne toiled away for 15th overall with teammates such as Tor Graves, Jonathan Hirschi, Ben Hanley and Matt Rao. The man they call JEV was also replaced for the Nürburgring by Roberto Merhi, who finished ninth.
In the LMGTE Am class at Aston Martin, Pedro Lamy teamed up with Paul Dalla Lana for the fifth straight year and Mathias Lauda for the third. Thanks to four class wins, the trio won its first title after three years of narrowly missing out. At Le Mans, the LMGTE Am class was joined by GT veteran and soon-to-no-longer-be-the-last Monégasque F1 driver Olivier Beretta, who finished seventh in class for Spirit of Race with Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci.
WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
The IMSA’s high tolerance for one-off entries makes it fertile ground for F1 rejects, and it didn’t disappoint. While no rejects competed in the Prototype class full time – Christian Fittipaldi was the only former F1 driver to do so – the GT Le Mans category was won by Jan Magnussen and Antonio García, the pair’s close-fought second title in nine seasons together and their first in IMSA.
Halfway through the season they were joined by Gianmaria Bruni. After nine years and two WEC class titles with Ferrari in GT racing, the Italian jumped ship to Porsche and teamed up with Laurens Vanthoor for the remaining seven rounds. Bruni and Vanthoor scored 186 points to the 185 scored by the sister car of Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner in the same period of time, proving that Bruni is still as good a driver as ever.
As the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring remain prestigious endurance races, several WEC drivers attended them as endurance-only third or fourth drivers. Bruno Senna and Brendon Hartley teamed up in a Nissan, while Sébastien Buemi competed with Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani for Rebellion. Both teams duly finished both races in the top ten, and the latter was joined in Daytona by Stéphane Sarrazin. Hartley and Senna also returned for the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, where the Brazilian finished fourth and the Kiwi took the overall win with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel.
Sébastien Bourdais similarly appeared in the GT Le Mans class with Joey Hand and Dirk Müller, winning the class in Daytona and finishing second in Sebring. Pedro Lamy also raced at Daytona in the GT Daytona class with his regular WEC Aston Martin teammates and Marco Sørensen. They finished twelfth in class.
European Le Mans Series
Jan Lammers had largely stopped racing in serious championships after 2012 at the young age of 56, but following some historic racing in 2016 and his friendship with wealthy Minardi enthusiast Frits van Eerd, he returned in style with a full-time drive with Racing Team Nederland. Sharing a Dallara LMP2, the ageing Dutchmen were rarely competitive and recorded a high mark of seventh place at the Red Bull Ring, highlighting van Eerd’s inexperience and Lammers’ lack of practice.
For the final two races, the LMGTE JMW Motorsport team benefited from the services of former Caterham and Marussia driver Will Stevens, who had been selling his services to any GT team around. Teamed up with Jody Fannin and Robert Smith in a Ferrari 488, the trio finished second in class in both Spa and Portimão to seal the class title by two points.
Part 2 of the RejectWatch Recap can be found here.
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