It’s fair to say that by the time the 2018 Formula One season came to a close, most people following the championship had grown tired of it all. Could Vettel turn it all around against Hamilton? Did Ferrari truly have the better car? When will Schumacher’s records fall? Come Abu Dhabi, the same debates had played themselves out many times over and some were left wondering what had become of the F1 of yore. Where were the racing heroes of yesteryear?
Well, these people can wonder no more, as this series of articles will answer the question of what unsuccessful F1 drivers of years – and in some cases decades – past have been up to in 2018. Note that this will only be covering activities as competitive racing drivers. As much as we’d love to discuss Brausch Niemann’s recently-published motorcycle travelogue, Ken Kavanagh’s induction into the Australian Motorsport Hall of Fame, Ben Pon’s Volkswagen-themed festival and Guy Edwards’ premature obituaries, there just isn’t the space to cover it all.
To quickly recap who counts as a ‘reject’ for these purposes, we’re including any driver who entered a World Championship round with the intention of taking part in the race who scored two points or fewer in a 10-6-4-3-2-1 system. In terms of drivers in the 2018 season, this includes Charles Leclerc, Stoffel Vandoorne, Marcus Ericsson, Brendon Hartley and Sergey Sirotkin. With these ground rules established, let’s begin like last year’s edition with the series everyone thinks about when they think of former F1 drivers sticking around…
Ha! Much like his country’s Inquisition, nobody expected Spanish Manor Marussia driver Roberto Merhi’s career path. After successively racing in GP3, F3 Euroseries, DTM and Formula Renault 3.5 before reaching F1, Roberto has been plying his trade in Formula One’s feeder series for the past two years. He started this season with MP Motorsport alongside Ralph Boschung and managed third place in the Monaco feature race, only to leave the team after Hungary. He soon joined Adrian Campos’ team for the last two races replacing Roy Nissany, scoring another podium in Abu Dhabi to finish the year twelfth overall.
Alright, enough fooling around. Time to take on the actual series you were probably expecting.
As in all previous seasons of the electric single-seater series, former F1 drivers acquitted themselves rather well. Aside from luminaries like Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Nick Heidfeld a total of five F1 Rejects undertook the full 2017-18 season, and apart from Jérôme d’Ambrosio all of them finished in the top ten. Two-lap Caterham wonder André Lotterer scored a pair of podiums on his way to eighth while current Red Bull reserve and former series champion Sébastien Buemi scored four of his own and came fourth. At the front though, defending champion Lucas di Grassi was saddled with a terrible season start and despite seven straight podiums including two wins in Zürich and New York, he was unable to overhaul Jean-Éric Vergne. With four wins, the Toro Rosso driver emeritus and Lotterer’s teammate won his maiden Formula E title. Stéphane Sarrazin also appeared in the last four races, but failed to score a point.
This contingent also fared well at the 2018-19 season opener on the outskirts of Riyadh, with Vergne finishing second, d’Ambrosio third, Lotterer fifth, Buemi sixth and di Grassi ninth. Joining them this season will be McLaren refugee Stoffel Vandoorne, whose team’s inability to get to grips with strategy left well down the field, as well as Pascal Wehrlein who is set to join Mahindra in Marrakech in January.
If this article was longer, we could talk about the IndyCar drivers related to rejects, such as the late Justin Wilson’s brother, Bobby Rahal’s son and Hans Binder and Max Papis’ respective nephews. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fall within the article’s remits, but there were enough reject drivers in the series to make up for it.
The season started well for Toro Rosso stalwart Sébastien Bourdais who won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the second year running. The Frenchman was unable to keep up the form however, scoring just one podium after this. Meanwhile he was superseded by 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi. The former Manor Marussia sufferer won races in Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Pocono but ultimately fell 57 points short of Scott Dixon, who took his fifth title. Finally, there were no repeats of Max Chilton’s heroics from 2017’s Indy 500, as Jules Bianchi’s only teammate failed to register a top ten finish and ended the season 19th to Bourdais’ seventh and Rossi’s second.
24 Hours of Le Mans
Yes, it’s part of the World Endurance Championship, but the French leg of the Triple Crown is the scene of enough one-time participants to merit its own section. If anything it deserves special attention for being won by a team featuring not one but two rejects, as Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took the chequered flag for Toyota alongside their relatively minor teammate Fernando Alonso. This is the first time two rejects have won Le Mans since the heady days of 1999 with Yannick Dalmas and Joachim Winkelhock. Further behind in the LMP1 class, three-time Le Mans winner André Lotterer teamed up with Bruno Senna and Neel Jani to finish fourth for Rebellion, while the class field reject-wise was completed by SMP’s Stéphane Sarrazin, Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orudzhev, who crashed out after 123 laps.
The LMP2 class was convincingly won by the G-Drive Oreca of Roman Rusinov, Andrea Pizzitola and Jean-Éric Vergne, until the team was disqualified for using illegal refuelling equipment. This left the highest-ranked reject-containing team all the way in seventh place in its class, the aptly-named Racing Team Nederland. Team owner Frits van Eerd shared his car with Jan Lammers, best known for his ten-year absence from F1, as well as serial attempted jokester Giedo van der Garde, who no doubt saw the race as time off from full-time Twitter bothering. Further back, the team entered by Olivier Panis and Fabien Barthez and consisting of Julien Canal, Timothé Buret and Will Stevens finished ninth in class.
Competition was far closer for the LMGTE Pro teams, with four of the top five cars in the class featuring a reject driver. Sadly for us none of them won, but behind the prevailing Porsche of Estre, Vanthoor and Christensen came their teammates, Richard Lietz, Frédéric Makowiecki and Gianmaria Bruni. Behind them, the Ganassi Ford of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais, the Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Mike Rockenfeller and the Ferrari of Toni Vilander, Pipo Derani and Antonio Giovinazzi.
The exact opposite was true on the LMGTE Am side of things, the best representation being the MR Racing Ferrari that former most recent Monegasque F1 driver Olivier Beretta shared with Eddie Cheever III and Motoaki Ishikawa, which finished ninth in the class. They were the only reject finishers, after the works Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy crashed out a few hours into the race.
World Endurance Championship
For the first time, the FIA’s World Endurance Championship is held over two years. As such, the final standings won’t be known until the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year but it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Toyota will continue the domination that was confirmed by their highly-publicised Le Mans win with Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Rebellion Racing is the Japanese manufacturer’s closest competitor, one car inheriting the win at Silverstone upon Toyota’s disqualification and the other scoring two podiums with Bruno Senna, André Lotterer and Neel Jani. The reject contingent in LMP1 was completed by Stéphane Sarrazin who raced for SMP Racing with Egor Orudzhev and Matevos Isaakyan to third place in Silverstone, though the other SMP car will feature Sergey Sirotkin at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.
The LMP2 field has been enlivened by Giedo van der Garde, who has raced for Frits van Eerd’s Racing Team Nederland between attempts at Twitter humour. Driving with Giedo and Frits in Spa and Le Mans was Jan Lammers, but success wasn’t forthcoming and the veteran was replaced by Nyck de Vries, with little improvement. At the same time, 2014 WEC champion and Super Aguri hand Anthony Davidson replaced Nathanaël Berthon at DragonSpeed alongside Pastor Maldonado and Roberto González and duly finished second in class in Shanghai. Jean-Éric Vergne also made an appearance in Fuji for TDS Racing replacing Loïc Duval, finishing fourth in class with Matthieu Vaxivière and François Perrodo.
In the LMGTE classes, the reject banner is carried by Gianmaria Bruni, Minardi teammate to F1’s resident two-seater driver Zsolt Baumgartner. The Italian’s first full season as a Porsche driver is going promisingly, with two podiums placing him and teammate Richard Lietz third in the championship. In the Am class, defending champions Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy started well with class victory in Spa, but a poor run of form since leaves the works Aston Martin drivers second in the table. Further back, the MR Racing Ferrari of former latest Monegasque F1 driver Olivier Beretta and teammates Eddie Cheever III and Motoaki Ishikawa is eighth thanks to a pair of top-five finishes.
WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
IMSA’s premier series, born from the ashes of the merger with Grand-Am, can be considered as America’s answer to WEC. The chief difference is that this series is actually competitive, as was reflected in the GTLM class standings. Defending champions Antonio García and Jan Magnussen scored eight podiums, twice as many as anyone else and duly won the class title again… despite taking no class wins at all! Kevin’s father was the only reject to compete full-time in the series, but the endurance rounds featured a healthy retinue of guest drivers. In that same class, Sébastien Bourdais joined Dirk Müller and Joey Hand to second place at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and Gianmaria Bruni teamed up with Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in the Porsche that finished third in Sebring.
While former F1 drivers did well in the Prototype class – Felipe Nasr took the title itself and Christian Fittipaldi won the Daytona 24 – reject success was limited to Lucas di Grassi finishing second at the season-ending Petit Le Mans with Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez. Elsewhere, Bruno Senna shared a Ligier with Paul di Resta to fourth place in Watkins Glen and Daytona, where the duo was joined by Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen.
The guest appearances also extended to the GTD class, with the ever-present trio of Pedro Lamy and teammates Dalla Lana and Lauda – plus Stock Car Brasil champion and son of Chico Serra Daniel Serra – taking pole in both Daytona and Sebring. Their Spirit of Race Ferrari wouldn’t play ball, however, leaving them to finish 21st and 12th in class. One-race Spyker hero Markus Winkelhock fared rather better, finishing sixth at Daytona in Andrew Davis, Andy Lally and John Potter’s Audi, while DTM legend Bernd Schneider shared a Mercedes with Kenny Habul to eighth place at Belle Isle.
European Le Mans Series
The most prominent reject to compete in the ELMS in 2018 was undoubtedly Jean-Éric Vergne, who shared the LMP2 title-winning G-Drive Oreca to three race wins with Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola… except in the season-opening Paul Ricard round. This absence cost him the chance to share the drivers’ title. Will Stevens had no such scheduling issues, completing all races in the Panis Barthez Ligier with Timothé Buret and Julien Canal. The team finished the season sixth in the standings, ending on a high with second place at Portimão.
Two more drivers briefly appeared in the series: Bruno Senna joined Philip Hanson at United Autosport at Paul Ricard. The pair took their Ligier to the finish in 12th position. In the LMGTE class, meanwhile, Gianmaria Bruni drove the Proton Porsche to fifth place in Monza along with Giorgio and Gianluca Roda. Otherwise co-driven by Matteo Cairoli, the car ended up winning the class championship.