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A marathon not a sprint: Five drivers who swapped Formula One for WEC and found success

Written by Max Drinkwater-James, Edited by Tarun Suresh


Formula One has been seen as the pinnacle of motorsport globally for decades with many junior drivers setting their sights on the F1 glory. That glory isn’t a guarantee and many drivers find themselves in a race against time to find success in the cutthroat world of Formula 1.


So what do you do if you are a driver who has spent their whole life fighting to get into F1 to only find yourself out of the sport? Well, why not follow in the footsteps of those before you and exchange the quick sprint-like nature of F1 for the gruelling marathon that is the World Endurance Championship? 


WEC has become increasingly popular with drivers from across the globe with drivers from series such as F1, Indycar and Formula E fancying their chances at arguably the most physically demanding form of motorsport. So who has swapped their F1 life for WEC and found success? Well here are 5 drivers that have done just that.



  1. Fernando Alonso. One world championship, Five wins, Seven podiums, Four pole positions. 


In his pursuit of motorsports illustrious triple crown Alonso joined up with the Toyota Gazoo Racing outfit in the number 8 car alongside fellow ex F1 Drivers Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima between 2018 and 2019.


The trio would land themselves five wins including back-to-back victories at the 24h hours of Le Mans securing one of the pieces of Fernando’s triple crown bid.


Seven podiums and four pole positions would top off a success-filled stint for the trio with them claiming the WEC Championship for the 2018-19 season. Alonso ended up grabbing the headlines after running his WEC career alongside his McLaren drive in 2018 before leaving the sport entirely at the end of 2018 to retire. We all know how that retirement went.


  

2. Brendon Hartley. four world championships, 21 wins, 48 podiums, 15 pole positions.


Hartley joined Toro Rosso for the 2018 season. Hartley competed in WEC before his move to F1 in 2018 for 5 seasons meaning he states a different argument compared to the likes of Alonso.


Hartley only spent one season in F1 before being dropped in 2019 by Toro Rosso and subsequently returning to WEC.


The move back gave the Kiwi vast success, with two world titles and a runner-up up since his return Hartley has found far more success in his WEC career than in his short-lived F1 career. 21 wins and 48 podiums to back that argument up show the New Zealander 


3. Kamui Kobayashi. 2 World Championships, 16 wins, 39 podiums, 19 pole positions. 


Kobayashi was held to a hugely high regard when he left F1 in 2012 and again in 2014. A vastly exciting driver to watch with plenty of speed; yet never found success during his time in F1.


Still to this day, Kobayashi is a hot topic of “what if?” in F1; yet this isn’t the case for his WEC career however with 2 world championships and 16 wins under his belt including a win at the Le Mans 24 hours in 2021 cementing his success in endurance racing.


Kobayashi would enter a unique role at the end of 2021, becoming a driver and team principal for the same team when he was confirmed to have a shared role for the Toyota GR team. 



4. Mark Webber. One world championship, eight wins, 12 podiums, seven pole positions.


The Aussie joined Porsche after he left Red Bull after the 2013 season. His first of three seasons was nothing to shout home about however 3 podiums and a fastest lap was a decent enough start nonetheless.


The 2015 season would be by far Mark’s most special in terms of results after the trio of Weber, Hartley and Timo Bernhard won the world championship finishing six of the eight races that year on the podium.


No title for Weber in his final season in 2016, however, a further four wins and six podiums ensured the Aussie secured a pretty good amount of success in his switch from F1 to WEC. 



5. Sebastian Buemi.  Four world championships, 23 race wins, 50 podiums, and 12 pole positions. 


Buemi made the switch to the WEC after spending his career at Toro Rosso between 2009 to 2011 when he was dropped by the Faenza outfit. The Swiss driver would join Toyota in 2013 for the first of his 8 season tenure in the sport.


Four world championships coupled with 23 race wins, four of which came at the iconic 24 hours of Le Mans left Buemi with quite the track record in the sport.  50 podiums put Buemi at the top of the other drivers named in this list for podiums scored, and that is no easy feat in a motorsport category as challenging and testing as WEC.



Drivers who have more recently made the switch and haven’t quite found success yet include ex-AlphaTauri driver Nyck De Vries the Dutchman has joined Toyota for the 2024 campaign. Mick Schumacher joins Alpine for this year whilst continuing his role as Mercedes reserve driver.


Antonio Giovinazzi and Daniil Kvyat who have both been away from the F1 grid for a couple of seasons now but have also made the switch to WEC. Also, former F1 veterans Jenson Button and Robert Kubica are on the grid for the 2024 WEC season. 


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