Will Ferrari’s Formula 1 drivers be involved in its bid for Le Mans 24 Hours victory when it returns to the top level of sportscar racing in 2023?
Judging by Charles Leclerc’s response when questioned on the topic at Ferrari’s F1 team launch on Friday, they would like to be, even if F1 commitments would make it difficult.
Ferrari announced earlier this week that it would take on Porsche, Audi, Toyota and Peugeot in the World Endurance Championship with a new hypercar project.
It will be Ferrari’s first factory bid for outright Le Mans victory since 1973, and its first presence in the race’s top class since the last appearance of its 333SP in customer hands in 1999.
When Leclerc and new team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr were quizzed about the Le Mans project and the possibility of racing for Ferrari’s sportscar team around their F1 commitments, both responded positively but Leclerc did so with particular conviction.
“I love Le Mans, I’ve always been a fan of Le Mans, so yeah if the opportunity arises, then I will be very happy to join,” he said, having made a point of getting his own answer in on the question even as the conversation appeared set to move away from Le Mans.
“At the moment my main focus is Formula 1. But again, if there’s an opportunity why not?”
Sainz was more reserved, saying he would be the “main supporter and main fan” of Ferrari’s Le Mans effort.
“But driving wise I think we have a lot of work to do here in Ferrari,” he added.
“My full focus is with Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 and all the other projects at the moment are not in my direct mind.
“I will be following closely, but it is still a bit too far away.”
Though Ferrari’s expansion into other categories – with IndyCar also considered last year – was mooted as being a way to redeploy staff it might otherwise have to lose under F1’s new cost cap, team principal Mattia Binotto said the Le Mans project was “not a consequence of the financial regulations at all”.
He said it was purely a case of Ferrari evaluating Le Mans on its own merits.
Binotto said he would not be running the sportscar project and that Ferrari’s F1 arm would be “fully focused on the F1 programme but no doubt if we must support with knowhow, expertise, we will do it, because we are a unique company”.
Greater efforts have been made to prevent date clashes between Le Mans and F1 lately, with 2016’s clash with F1’s Baku race the main exception.
Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso have both taken Le Mans wins in the middle of full F1 programmes in recent years.
Hulkenberg joined Porsche for the 2015 race while driving for Force India in F1 and won alongside Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, while Alonso was still part of McLaren’s full-time F1 roster when he took the first of his two Le Mans triumphs for Toyota with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in 2018.