The Vanwall Racing Team has made a significant change to its driver lineup for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion, has been replaced by Tristan Vautier. Although Villeneuve was slated to make his highly-anticipated return to Le Mans in June, the reasons for his replacement remain unclear.
The Canadian driver’s involvement in the remaining three World Endurance Championship (WEC) rounds at Monza, Fuji, and Bahrain is also uncertain.
Villeneuve had an eventful start to his WEC career with the Vanwall Hypercar team, driving the Vandervell 680 non-hybrid LMH car alongside Tom Dillmann and Esteban Guerreri. His journey so far has been a struggle that includes a crash in the Sebring Prologue, a race-ending incident with Francesco Castellacci’s Ferrari GTE car at Spa, and another shunt, followed by a brake failure, at Portimao in April. Unfortunately, these incidents may have contributed to the decision to replace Villeneuve for Le Mans.
Vautier Steps In for Le Mans
Tristan Vautier, the 2021 Sebring 12 Hours winner, has been chosen to replace Villeneuve for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With extensive experience in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Vautier currently drives for Algarve Pro Racing in the European Le Mans Series LMP2 Pro-Am class.
Vanwall Racing Team owner Colin Kolles explained the choice, saying, “His wife is pregnant and they are expecting the baby now, at the beginning of June.
Le Mans is a big race. We cannot take the risk. Due to the fact that also the mileage is lacking, we decided to have a new driver which will be Tristan Vautier.” Vautier will be sharing the No. 4 Vanwall Vandervell 680 Gibson with Tom Dillmann and Esteban Guerrieri at Le Mans.
Vautier’s Upcoming Le Mans Experience
This year’s Le Mans will be Vautier’s first race appearance with the ByKolles organization and his first outing in an LMH car. “We need a solid result. This is the target. You never know what happens, obviously, but it’s my job to minimize the risks,” says Kolles. Vautier will get his first chance to drive the Vandervell 680 during the official Le Mans test day on June 4.
On the other hand, Vanwall reserve driver Esteban Muth was not chosen for Le Mans due to the team’s preference for a more experienced lineup. Kolles elaborated, “Esteban Muth is a young, talented driver, but we cannot risk going with somebody who has even less mileage, in terms of experience in traffic.”
1 week to Sebring 🙌🏻 pic.twitter.com/LAtB4pPvPu
— Vanwall Racing Team (@Vanwall_Racing) March 4, 2023
Future Plans for Vanwall and Villeneuve
As of now, the Vanwall driver lineup is only confirmed for Le Mans, despite Villeneuve being named on the provisional entry list for the 6 Hours of Monza. Villeneuve, along with the team, recently participated in a three-day test at that Italian circuit.
The test session was also attended by Porsche Penske Motorsport and Ferrari AF Corse, but no further information on Villeneuve’s participation in the upcoming races has been released.