Lotterer warns not to expect too much from his F1 debut

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Three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer feels ready to make his Formula 1 debut this weekend with Caterham after securing an unusual deal to race in Belgium this weekend.

Caterham confirmed on Wednesday that Lotterer, pictured left, would be replacing full-time driver Kamui Kobayashi for the race at Spa-Francorchamps, allowing the team to draw on the German’s experience from his other racing escapades.

However, given that Lotterer has made his name in sportscars, and that he hasn’t tested an F1 car since 2002, there have been some questions about his suitability for the seat. He is unfazed by the prospect, though.

“For sure, it’s a big challenge,” he admitted to the media in Belgium. “I think you have to be quite brave to jump in like this in the middle of the season.

“The reasons I feel ready for it is that first of all I still race in single seaters, SuperFormula, which I believe is one of the fastest single seater series outside of Formula 1. In that sense, I’m not out of shape.

“And I’m racing really complex cars in the WEC with Audi. The last time I drove an F1 car was more than ten years ago. The sport changed and evolved, but on my side, for sure I gained a lot of experience as well.

“It’s something nice to do in my career and it’s a great opportunity. I thank Caterham a lot for this, and also Audi and Team Toms in Japan who have given me the freedom.”

Lotterer warned the F1 community not to expect too much from him, given that he has only tested the car on the team’s simulator and will get behind the wheel for the first time on Friday during practice.

“I will have to learn everything very fast so don’t expect too much from me,” he said. “Obviously, Formula 1 is largely dictated by the car, and we don’t have a winning car. We have an updated package and I hope I can bring all my experience and my speed, as fast as possible.

“It’s an unusual situation.”

Kobayashi is poised to return to the wheel of the Caterham for the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. However, this weekend’s race will give us an interesting insight into how difficult it will be to make the transfer from sportscar to single seater racing, as well as showing what Lotterer himself is capable of behind the wheel of an F1 car.

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Tony DiZinno wrote earlier today, his debut will be refreshing for both Caterham and Formula 1 as a whole.

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.