Porsche have just announced their driver line-up for the 2017 WEC season, and wow, what a line-up!
With Mark Webber retiring from racing at the end of 2016 and reigning champions Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas leaving the LMP1 programme, Porsche had three seats to fill for 2017.
Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley (Webber’s former team mates) will be joined in the #2 car by 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Earl Bamber. Bamber has a long standing association with Porsche and spent 2016 racing for them in the IMSA championship in America.
It’s the other car where things look really exciting, though.
Reigning champion Neel Jani, already known as one of the fastest LMP1 drivers around, will be joined in the #1 car by Audi refugee Andre Lotterer and Bamber’s team-mate from that Le Mans victory in 2015, Nick Tandy, making for an extremely potent trio of drivers.
Lotterer is now massively experienced and his speed stood out even amongst his talented Audi team-mates. He was the WEC champion in 2012 and has three Le Mans victories to his name.
Tandy, like Bamber, has been on Porsche’s books for a while and spent time racing GT cars, where he notably won the 2015 Petit Le Mans outright in a Porsche 911 in the wet, beating the prototypes. He’s incredibly highly rated, and with the experience of Lotterer and Jani to draw from you can bet it won’t be long before he’s right up to speed.
It’s understood that Toyota are looking to run three cars in 2017, at least for the first three races of the season at Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans. Although Porsche have given no indication they will do the same as of yet, they may end up doing so just to see off the challenge from Toyota. With Spa and Le Mans not falling on F1 race weekends that may open up some options for F1 drivers to come and have a go in the WEC.
Nico Hulkenberg won for Porsche in 2015 with Bamber and Tandy, and should Porsche run a third car you’d have to think there’s a good chance that he’s keen to drive it.
Fernando Alonso also recently hinted that he’s set for a career in the WEC with Porsche. He was set to race for them at Le Mans in 2015 but Honda blocked the move, so although he might be keen to do it, whether or not he’ll be allowed to is another matter.
Which other drivers could be interested? The obvious one is Jenson Button, who seems keen to try other championships in his retirement. There might also be some current midfield drivers who looked at what Hulkenberg achieved in 2015 and fancy a bit of it themselves if their F1 careers don’t work out.
And then there’s Juan Pablo Montoya, who tested a Porsche 919 in 2015 but was ruled out of racing at Le Mans in 2016 because of clashes with his IndyCar commitments. But Montoya doesn’t have a full time seat in IndyCar in 2017, and if he won Le Mans he’d be only the second driver after Graham Hill to win the triple crown of motorsport (wins at the Monaco Grand Prix, Indy 500 and Le Mans), so you never know…
But of course for any of this to happen Porsche would need to run a third car in the first place. It’s all just speculation at this point!