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.