Immediately following the shock announcement of Max Verstappen joining Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2015 F1 season on Monday night, rumours began circulating that for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix Caterham would replace Kamui Kobayashi with stand-out Audi sportscar driver Andre Lotterer. By Tuesday afternoon it appeared almost certainly a done deal, with the final confirmation being announced by Caterham in a press release this morning, Wednesday 20th August. For the insular world of Formula One many have started scrambling around for information and analysis on this very quick German, with the results they’ll find on him being enough to show his F1 debut this weekend is long overdue.
Andre Lotterer has already been amongst the F1 circus once before, with early titles in German Formula BMW Junior and ADAC Formula BMW in 1998 and 1999 brought him to the attention of the new Jaguar team for 2000, who offered him several tests during the 2000 season to complement his 4th in the German Formula Three Championship campaign. The link to the Jaguar F1 team was made stronger in 2001 as he raced in British F3 for the Jaguar junior racing team, before stepping up to become the official test driver for the Jaguar F1 team for the 2002 season.
Whilst it initially looked likely that Lotterer would be promoted to a race seat in 2003 after it was announced that both Eddie Irvine was retiring and Pedro De La Rosa was to also leave. Sadly for Lotterer the team chose 2002 Minardi stand-out Mark Webber alongside promising young Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia for the 2003 season, leaving Lotterer looking to re-build his career momentum.
Lotterer subsequently shunned Europe and went to Japan to race in their premier Formula Nippon series, now called Super Formula, and Japanese Super GT series for 2003. Impressive results in both cemented his reputation in Japan as a very fast young driver as he was a frequent title contender in Formula Nippon for the works TOM’S Toyota team, alongside two Super GT titles in 2006 and 2009.
These impressive results in Japan led to some well deserved attention from Europe, although it does seem surprising looking back that despite consistently impressive Super GT results it took until 2009 for Lotterer to make his Le Mans 24 Hours. The call came from the Kolles team racing their privateer LMP1 Audi R10 TDI. After a herculean effort from Lotterer and co-driver Charles Zwolsman to complete the race without third driver Narain Karthikeyan to injury, the car came home an impressive 7th overall after completing 369 laps.
The impressive debut with the Kolles Audi in 2009 led the highly successful works Audi team to offer him a deal for the 2010 season, where his Audi R15 TDI+ came home 2nd. From here things would get very busy for Lotterer as from 2011 onwards he would have to dovetail his Japanese Formula Nippon and Super GT commitments with a full schedule in the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, morphing into the World Endurance Series for 2012.
The full time schedule has not affected Lotterer’s pace however as he finally claimed a first Formula Nippon title in 2011 after 8 years of trying, with a perfect 2011 being completed with a heroic first Le Mans 24 Hours victory for him, after fighting off an onslaught of Peugeot’s to claim the win. Things improved in 2012 as the Lotterer/Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer partnership swept to a second consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory and the inaugural World Endurance Championship title also.
2013 and 2014 so far have seen a continuation of is stellar results as the Audi trio claimed a third Le Mans 24 Hours victory and currently sit 2nd in the World Endurance Championship with 5 rounds remaining. During his sportscar and single seater career so far Lotterer has regularly proven himself to be a master of wet conditions, which maybe gives some indication of why Caterham chose to give him debut in the notoriously wet Belgian GP at Spa. Another reason may be his experience of the Spa circuit this year as he’s already raced there for Audi both in the WEC and the recent Spa 24 Hours.
Whatever Caterham chose they have made a bold yet good decision in my opinion to take a chance on the always quick Andre Lotterer for this weekend, as a sportscar fan I’ve seen plenty of impressive drives from him over the last few years for Audi. He has a chance to improve things for the Caterham team although despite circuit knowledge the Caterham car has proved very difficult all season. I sincerely hope he gets the chance to give a good account of himself this weekend despite the troublesome Caterham car, which I think is only fair after the wait he’s had to make his F1 debut.