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Wurz was told he’d race for McLaren in 2002 before Raikkonen signed

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Ex-Formula 1 driver Alexander Wurz has revealed that he was told he’d be racing for McLaren in 2002 before the team signed rookie driver Kimi Raikkonen to replace the outgoing Mika Hakkinen.

After winning the championship with McLaren in 1998 and 1999, Hakkinen announced in 2001 that he would take a sabbatical from F1 before ultimately entering full retirement.

Hakkinen was replaced by another flying Finn in the form of Raikkonen, who had made waves in his rookie year with Sauber despite having only 23 car races under his belt before debuting.

Raikkonen would go on to lead McLaren until the end of 2006, coming close to the title in 2003 and 2005 before eventually winning it with Ferrari in 2007.

However, history could have been very different, with Wurz revealing in a blog for the McLaren website that he had been told he would replace Hakkinen for 2002.

“Towards the end of the 2001 season it became clear that Mika Hakkinen would retire, and I was quite hopeful at the time that I would replace him,” Wurz wrote.

“In fact at the Monza test I had to get out of the car. I was on a long run, and they stopped it for me to receive a phone call from Martin Whitmarsh. He said, ‘Congratulations, I thought I’d interrupt the test, because you’ll race for us next year.’ He was so excited to tell me, because it was just after the meeting where they had decided it.

“We did not know at the time that Ron [Dennis] was also negotiating with Sauber to get Kimi out. If Sauber had said ‘No’, and if Ron had not thought that Kimi was a better option than me – which he probably was to be fair – then I would have raced for McLaren in 2002.

“Anyway, I did not get a follow-up call after Monza, which is when I realized there was something brewing. So I got on a plane and went to see Ron, and he said ‘Actually, we are talking to Kimi.’

“It was too late and too difficult at the time to get another contract. I was grown-up enough even back then to realize that they did not do it to hurt me, they did it because they thought it was the better option for the team.

“The choices I had were to be like a spoiled kid and walk away, or to be a man and just continue to try to convince them by doing a good job for them.”

Wurz continued in a reserve role at McLaren until the end of 2005, finishing third in his only race for the team when he replaced the injured Juan Pablo Montoya in the San Marino Grand Prix.

Wurz also revealed that he turned down a drive with Newman-Haas in CART because he was certain he would have to replace Montoya for more races due to his shoulder injury.

“At that time I had an offer from Newman-Haas to go racing in the States. However, I was thinking that I would also race at Barcelona and Monaco, for McLaren, in place of Montoya,” Wurz wrote.

“I had to do a promotional trip to Moscow with Juan Pablo, and he when was at dinner I noticed he had to kind of throw his hand onto the table to eat. He could not lift his hand properly, that was how bad his shoulder was.

“But he had to prove that his tennis accident on the motocross track was not so severe. So, at that time I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be back in the car next race,’ so I said ‘No’ to Newman-Haas.

“But then Juan Pablo came back after all, and his shoulder was fine, and in the end I only ever did that one race for McLaren.”

The Austrian would get one final season racing in F1 with Williams in 2007 before moving into endurance racing, from which he retired at the end of 2015 and is now focusing on his role as chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.