The latest movements in the Hypercar class could bring big F1 star power to the grid, writes John Dagys...
There’s been abuzz of activity surrounding the FIA World Endurance Championship in recent weeks, with numerous ex-Formula 1 drivers and other top-line sports car racing stars having been linked to Hypercar class drives for next year.
The game of musical chairs comes amid the ramped up second season of the combined LMH and LMDh platforms racing together in the world championship, and additional factory entries from Alpine, BMW and Lamborghini joining the globe-trotting series, in a class that’s set to feature upwards of 20 full season entries in 2024.
Hertz Team JOTA has been in the center of the cycle as well, with the British squad set to add a second Porsche 963 to its stable, potentially featuring a star-studded lineup of ex-F1 drivers.
Leading German publication Auto Motor und Sport broke the news last weekend that four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has been in talks with JOTA on a potential return to the wheel, alongside 2009 F1 champ Jenson Button and LMP2 champion-elect Robert Kubica.
Just days before the news broke, JOTA team co-owner Sam Hignett denied the rumor to Sportscar365 that former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen and Button were in the frame for a seat in the second Hertz-sponsored Porsche, likely meaning that the prospects of Vettel would be taken over Finnish ace Raikkonen.
There appears to be heavy ex-F1 interest with at least one incoming LMDh manufacturer as well, with Mick Schumacher confirmed to be in talks with Alpine, according to the manufacturer’s team boss Bruno Famin.
Ferdinand Habsburg, according to Endurance-Info, could be in the frame for a seat with the French manufacturer as well, alongside Nico Lapierre and two of the team’s current LMP2 pilots Charles Milesi and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
It appears there will be at least two drivers being replaced in existing lineups, with Stoffel Vandoorne confirmed to take over Gustavo Menezes’ seat at Peugeot and Motorsport.com reporting that Jose Maria Lopez is likely out at Toyota, potentially replaced by the team’s former reserve driver Nyck de Vries.
De Vries, who recently began studying at Harvard University, however, was downplayed as a prospect for the Japanese manufacturer’s lineup in 2024 by team director Rob Leupen, who spoke with Sportscar365 at the most recent round at Fuji.
Should Lopez get the boot from the Toyota GR010 Hybrid program, Sportscar365 understands the Argentinean could find refuge in one of the Lexus RC F GT3 entires that ASP is poised to campaign in the new-for-2024 LMGT3 class, although unconfirmed at this point.
Also in the rumor mill is at least one potential driver change at Porsche Penske Motorsport, which could initiate a driver swap with one of the German manufacturer’s customer teams.
Both Antonio Felix da Costa and Yifei Ye, who is believed to be promoted to full works status next year, are understood to have caught the eye of Roger Penske’s factory organization, although the status of both drivers’ contracts with JOTA is unclear.
Then there’s also Lamborghini Iron Lynx, which is set to field a single full-season Hypercar entry next year, although one of its rumored drivers, GT3 superstar Raffaele Marciello, is reportedly attempting to get out of his contract to join BMW M Team WRT’s new factory operation.
If that comes to fruition, it could place one of the team’s WEC earmarked drivers to BMW M Team RLL’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program instead.
Currently, multiple signs point to the likes of Rene Rast, Robin Frijns, Dries Vanthoor, Maxime Martin, Sheldon van der Linde and newly crowned ABB FIA Formula E World Champion Jake Dennis potentially forming BMW’s WEC lineup.
It’s no doubt an exciting time to be a fan of the WEC, which could add significant star power to its arsenal next year, should some or even most of these rumors come to fruition.
Photo: MPS Agency