Andre Lotterer's Caterham Debut Shows There Is More Than 1 Way to Break into F1

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 22:  Andre Lotterer of Germany and Caterham sits in his car during practice ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 22, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Andre Lotterer's cameo with the lowly Caterham team at the Belgian Grand Prix was one of the feel-good stories on a weekend of ill-feeling due to the outbreak of war at Mercedes.

Little was expected of the German driver when he was formally announced as Kamui Kobayashi's replacement less than two days ahead of the first free practice session, despite the outfit championing the 32-year-old's experience, feedback and expertise in changeable weather conditions.

His main goal for his first (and probably last) grand prix weekend, you suspect, was to avoid the kind of humiliation that Luca Badoer suffered at the same circuit in 2009.

SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM - AUGUST 30:  Luca Badoer of Italy and Ferrari drives during the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps on August 30, 2009 in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Badoer, of course, deputised for the injured Felipe Massa at the Valencia street circuit and Spa, where he finished—according to the official Formula One website—over 100 seconds adrift of the race winner, Kimi Raikkonen, who was driving an identical car. 

Since then, every driver who has ever made his Formula One debut, or has stepped into a seat, during an existing campaign—especially due to the shortage on in-season testing—has run the risk of coming down with a dose of what we like to refer to as "Badoer Syndrome."

SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM - AUGUST 30:  Fans display a banner in relation to Luca Badoer of Italy and Ferrari before the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps on August 30, 2009 in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Get
Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Most of them, it must be said, have evaded the condition.

Vitantonio Liuzzi, for example, replaced Giancarlo Fisichella—Badoer's successor at Ferrari—for the final five races of 2009 and earned himself a full-time seat for 2010.

Nick Heidfeld took Pedro de la Rosa's seat at Sauber for the last five grands prix of 2010 and scored the same amount of points as the Spaniard had claimed in the preceding 14 events.

Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, recently explained to Jonathan Noble and Ben Anderson of Autosport how his midseason bow with HRT in 2011 helped to shape the driver who has won three races this season.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 29:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Hispania Racing Team walks in the pitlane before practice for the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on July 29, 2011 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Ima
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

If any driver was susceptible to Badoer Syndrome, however, Lotterer—despite three Le Mans 24 Hours wins to his name—was surely the prime candidate, with his last involvement in F1 in 2002, when he held the role of test driver at Jaguar.

The Duisburg-born driver, however, approached the Belgian Grand Prix with a refreshing sense of freedom, which was reflected in his driving.

He out-qualified teammate Marcus Ericsson, who has participated in every race this season, by an entire second, according to the official F1 website

And although his race lasted only one full lap, his performance on Saturday alone justified his participation in the event, with the German telling Caterham's official website:

I am pleased with my race weekend—I made no mistakes and did a reasonably good job. Of course it would've been fantastic to finish the race and do a whole Grand Prix, but it's still been an amazing weekend. I can go home happy even though it didn't really end the way I would've liked it to.

I want to thank Caterham F1 Team for this amazing opportunity—it's been fantastic to experience Formula 1, I got a lot of support and the team has been great.

The strength of Lotterer's showing, albeit alongside a driver who has no business sitting in the cockpit of a Formula One car, raises questions over whether F1 is picking its talent from the right areas.

GP2, the series which this year travels along with F1 to 11 grand prix venues, has in the past provided the self-appointed pinnacle of motorsport with drivers of the calibre of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 10:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain with his trophy after he finished second and clinches the GP2 World Championship prior to the Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 10, 2006, in Monza, Italy.  (Ph
Clive Mason/Getty Images

A GP2 champion, however, has failed to progress to Formula One the following year for two seasons in succession, with first Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer overlooked for race seats in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

And the winner of this season's crown, either current leader Jolyon Palmer or Williams-backed driver Felipe Nasr, is unlikely to find a place on the 2015 grid—a sad reflection on a competition that was not too long ago regarded as the training ground for the stars of tomorrow.

In its absence, formulae such as the GP3 Series, where Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat cut their teeth, and the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, where Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Kevin Magnussen rose to prominence, have edged their way to the forefront.

For Formula One talent-spotters, it is very often junior single-seaters or nothing.

The true beauty of Lotterer's appearance at Spa, though, was found from whence he came.

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 22:  Andre Lotterer of Germany and Caterham drives during practice ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 22, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Le Mans, and the World Endurance Championship, is something of a retirement home for F1 drivers.

Take a look at the entry list for this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans and you see names such as Fisichella, Heidfeld, Mark Webber, Alexander Wurz, Mika Salo and Jan Magnussen to name just a few who had previously competed in Formula One.

A bunch of competent drivers, of course—but a bunch of drivers whose best days are unquestionably behind them.

The prospect of Lotterer, who was previously, presumably, another member of that list, heading in the opposite direction and performing admirably was fascinating and a testament to the quality of the WEC field, which makes you wonder why F1 doesn't explore alternative categories in its search for talent.

The last driver to make the jump straight from endurance racing to F1 was Bruno Senna, who made his F1 debut for HRT in 2010 after racing at Le Mans for Oreca the previous year.

Janos Marjai/Associated Press

And the most recent to enter F1 having driven anything other than a single-seater the previous campaign was Paul Di Resta, who joined Force India in 2011 after winning the DTM title in 2010.

Both men grew into highly skilled racers, with the latter unfortunate not to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren for 2013. 

Lotterer, in his brief spell with Caterham has perhaps, reminded F1 that there is a whole world of talent out there.

It's just up to F1 to take full advantage of it.


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