Despite storming to Championship success last season in the GP2 Series, Swiss sensation Fabio Leimer was unable to graduate into the world of Formula One for 2014.
Instead, Leimer secured a drive in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Rebellion Racing, which will see him make his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours later this month.
However, this week the former GP2 Champion got his chance to return to the wheel of a Formula One car – for the first time since 2011 – courtesy of official F1 tyre supplier Pirelli as a reward for clinching the GP2 crown last season.
In the iconic black and gold colours of Lotus, and at the wheel of the team’s 2012 car – the E20 – with which Kimi Raikkonen raced to victory at Abu Dhabi, Leimer completed 78 laps around the Paul Ricard circuit on Tuesday.
Although the 25-year-old became the second consecutive GP2 Champion to be unable to secure an immediate drive in Formula One after Davide Valsecchi, after negotiations broke down with Sauber with regards to a potential drive for this season, the Swiss racer remains determined to find his way into the sport, with talks ongoing in his quest to secure a F1 seat in the future.
We caught up with Leimer after his test day with Pirelli to discuss his current season in the World Endurance Championship, Formula One and his thoughts on the GP2 Series.
Richland F1: First of all Fabio many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Does this testing opportunity with Lotus come as something of a bittersweet experience for you, having failed to make it onto the Formula One grid for 2014 despite your Championship win in GP2 last season?
Fabio Leimer: Of course it is, but it’s part of the game.
RF1: Does a seat in Formula One still remain your main goal, or is your attention now on your sportscar career?
FL: Yes single-seaters are still my main focus, but sportscar racing is a more than a viable alternative.
RF1: You were the second consecutive GP2 Champion to fail to find a race seat in Formula One after Davide Valsecchi. In your opinion does something need to change with the GP2 Series to stop this trend continuing and if so what?
FL: Yes something needs to change. But this has been an ongoing development for the last few years. Upcoming F1 drivers should have the opportunity to test and show their potential. As it is at the moment, they just don’t get a decent chance based on their merits.
RF1: We would all very much like to see you racing in top-line single-seaters again, do you have any Formula One options available to you for next season?
FL: Yes I do, but I can’t disclose ongoing negotiations here.
RF1: Has hailing from a country that has a painful history of motorsport – racing is banned in Switzerland – ever affected your ability to attract sponsors in your homeland?
FL: It’s hard to say if that is the reason for our difficulties in that respect. We have noticed that motorsport racing is not viewed by the general Swiss public as one of the more interesting sports. Therefore it is not really a target for companies with a national focus. International oriented Swiss companies focus currently more towards F1 and the factory teams of the LMP1 on a team/series level.
RF1: What are your thoughts ahead of Le Mans next month? Where do you think the 24 Hours ranks amongst the biggest challenges of your career?
FL: As this is the first time for me, I don’t know what to really expect and how to put it into perspective. Based on the media attention and the accounts of fellow racers, I would say that it will rank pretty high.
RF1: After securing the GP2 Series Championship crown last season with Racing Engineering, did you enter talks with any Formula One teams about a potential drive for 2014 during the immediate aftermath or did you turn your attention immediately to sportscar racing?
FL: Yes we were directly in contact with the Sauber F1 team, but were disappointed in the end. After that we broadened our scope and got the most interesting offer from Rebellion Racing in the LMP1.
RF1: And finally you have already competed in two iconic races this season , the Six Hours of Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps. How different is sportscar racing in comparison to single-seater racing?
FL: As you may know, I wasn’t really able to compete in either of those races due to technical difficulties with the car. But in general I would say that the two types of cars are quite similar to drive, especially in terms of downforce.
Many thanks to Sven-Oliver Mangold and Fabio Leimer for the communication and time taken to complete this interview.
Picture(s) Copyright © Pirelli & Octane Photographic