Perhaps it’s fitting Andre Lotterer made his Formula One debut in a green car, the Caterham-Renault, considering more than a decade ago he was on the fast track to F1 as part of another green car program – Jaguar.
Yet it’s that juxtaposition that sums up how much F1 has changed since Lotterer was a then-21-year-old test driver with Jaguar in 2002.
Jaguar was one of a host of manufacturers in F1 at that time, but they’ve mostly departed. Meanwhile, the privateer Caterham team continues to fight for its future having been through a management change earlier this year and trying to figure out its budget.
It’s that contrast, as Lotterer enjoys a healthy multi-series career with Audi in the FIA World Endurance Championship and also still racing single seaters in Super Formula, that allows him to be at peace with where his career is at the moment.
Speaking to MotorSportsTalk at Austin this weekend for the FIA WEC Six Hours of the Circuit of The Americas, Lotterer reflected on the Belgian Grand Prix debut and where he’s at now.
“It was a nice thing for me to do F1. It was my target when I was younger, didn’t make it, but I do have a very happy and beautiful career,” he said. “Audi is the most amazing manufacturer to be with. You can be with them a long time and have a healthy career. They are the most beautiful race cars out there, so I think people envy us racing them.
“Then on the other side I have the purest and fastest race cars around the corners in the world, in Super Formula. They’re so precise, and you don’t want the race to end. The cars do exactly what you want. The combination of both things, sporting wise, are really good.”
While Lotterer praised F1’s media reach, he was less complementary about the on-track product itself.
“F1 is another dimension in terms of media. For people who don’t know that much about racing, many think it’s the only thing.
“But in terms of racing, F1 isn’t what it used to be anymore. I got to feel that when I did my race. There’s not much grip from the tires and not much downforce in the corners. You can’t go flat out. But it was still a good experience.”
Lotterer, who is now a three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Audi and longtime co-drivers Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, hailed the Le Mans challenge as a greater annual goal.
“Le Mans is a challenge, that gives you so many emotions,” he explained. “Even if you win 3 times, you want to win it again and again. In that sense, it keeps your motivation up, and it’s not wrong. You’re trying to beat Tom’s target of nine wins. It’s a race that can give you that. Driving in Japan, 10 years, I don’t get tired of it.
“F1 could be another challenge but at 33 years old, you want to go into a good challenge. What I mean by that is that you’re in a team for 2-3 years, well-funded and with everything healthy. But apart from the top 3-4 teams, nobody can offer you that in F1. So 7-8 years ago there were more manufacturers, but now is not the right time.”
Additionally, Lotterer praised the fan-friendly nature of the FIA WEC, and how much more open the paddock is compared to the F1 “piranha club.”
“It’s very fan friendly here, more open, and a lot more people. The F1 paddock is very empty. Just the teams and a few VIPs.
“For me it was a great experience as a one-off, but a lot of attention around my box. But for sure, if they want to please the fans more, it’s not the ideal way. We’re much more fan friendly here. There’s a much more humble approach.”