Motorsport: FIVE Times Formula 1 Drivers Swapped Rides

FIVE Times Formula 1 Drivers Swapped Rides

James Gent By James Gent
December 14, 2019
1 comments

Recently, six-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton went for a spin on MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi’s 2019 Yamaha MotoGP YZR-M1 at Valencia, ‘The Doctor’ doing likewise aboard Hamilton’s 2017 championship-winning Mercedes F1 W08. You’ve read about that, you’ve seen the video and you’ve presumably already bought both t-shirts. But what about those ‘ride swaps’ featuring F1 drivers you may have forgotten about…?

1(a). Lewis Hamilton (F1) and Tony Stewart (NASCAR) – June 2011, Watkins Glen

  • Watkins Glen
  • McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23
  • Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet Impala

This seems as good a time as any to start with the last ride swap Lewis Hamilton was involved with in June 2011. Hamilton, still a McLaren driver at the time and with ‘just’ a solitary Formula 1 World Championship to his name, took the wheel of Tony Stewart’s Mobil1/Office Depot-liveried Chevrolet Impala for a few laps of Watkins Glen, while the then-two-time Sprint Cup Champion squeezed himself into the cockpit of a McLaren MP-23 used during Hamilton’s championship-winning season in 2008.

Organised by Mobil1 – in its maiden season with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2011 and already 16 years into a working relationship with McLaren F1 – the event marked the return of Formula 1 to The Glen for the first time since the 1980 United States Grand Prix. These were also the first laps for Stewart, a former Indy Racing League champion don’t forget (‘96/’97), in a single seater of any kind since his Indy 500 bid with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2001. Fittingly, although nobody knew it at the time, Stewart’s #14 Chevy Impala would go on to secure ‘Smoke’ his third Sprint Cup title

Oddly, this was not Formula 1’s first ride swap of the year. Hell, it wasn’t even the first of the year for McLaren. Which leads us to…

*Images courtesy of Mobil1

1(b). Jenson Button (F1) and Craig Lowndes (V8 Supercars) – March 2011

  • Mount Panorama
  • McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23 (again)
  • Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden ‘VE’ Commodore

Just three months earlier, Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button headed to Bathurst for another ride swap event, this time arranged by Vodafone. There, the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion enjoyed a few laps of Mount Panorama at the wheel of Craig Lowndes’ Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden ‘VE’ Commodore. In return, the three-time Supercar champion and seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner lapped The Mountain aboard a 2008-championship winning McLaren MP4-23.

Unsurprisingly, Button’s later run around Mount Panorama in the MP4-23 remains the fastest by any car to-date at 1m 48s, eclipsing the previous record – 2m 06.8012s set by Lowndes himself in a Commodore VE at the previous year’s Bathurst 1000 – by a whopping 17 seconds.

That this was the first time an F1 car had lapped Mount Panorama in anger is an oft-related fact. What tends to be forgotten, however, is that the 2011 ride swap was actually Button’s idea, his interest having been tweaked during a car swap with (eventual) seven-time Supercar champion Jamie Whincup one year earlier at Albert Park in Melbourne.

*Images courtesy of ESPN

2. Nick Heidfeld (F1) and Troy Corser (World Superbikes) – July 2009

  • Nürburgring
  • BMW Sauber 08
  • BMW S 1000 RR

Probably the only ride swap on this list that wasn’t a standalone promotional event, Troy Corser’s demonstration laps in the only Sauber Formula 1 car to win a Grand Prix was instead the highlight of a one-day event celebrating not only fans and partners of the BMW Sauber F1 Team but BMW Motorsport itself.

Indeed, before the two-time Superbike World Champion climbed aboard, Robert Kubica conducted demo runs in the BMW Sauber F1.08 (swapping 2008 F1 cars really was de rigeur at the turn of the last decade, wasn’t it?!) around the Nürburgring’s Grand Prix circuit. Corser’s teammate meanwhile – World Superbike race winner Rubén Xaus – did likewise with the BMW S 1000 RR before Kubica’s Sauber teammate Nick Heidfeld jumped into the saddle.

On top of that, BMW’s World Touring Car Championship contingent – Augusto Farfus, Jörg Müller and Sergio Hernández, together with seasoned Nürburgring connoisseur Claudia Hürtgen – took VIP guests for hot laps in BMW’s WTCC-spec 320si. As ride swaps go, this was almost brazenly below the radar.

Ironically, after their respective runs in the 700hp F1 car and on the 200hp Superbike, both Corser and Heidfeld would part company with World Superbikes and Formula 1 respectively just under two years later.

*Images courtesy of BMW AG

3. Sebastian Vettel and Gerhard Berger – June 2014

  • Red Bull Ring
  • Red Bull Racing RB8
  • Ferrari F1 87c

Given its propensity for off-track ‘stunts’, it was somewhat inevitable that Red Bull Racing would be on this list eventually. After all, David Coulthard pulled donuts on top of the Burj Al Arab in 2013, Max Verstappen put winter tyres to the test on a ski slope in 2018, and the Austrian team even completed a full stop in zero gravity recently. By comparison, organising a ride swap featuring Sebastian Vettel’s 2012 championship-winning RB8 and Gerhard Berger’s 1988 Italian Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F1 87-88C was a piece of the proverbial.

In actuality, the promotional event celebrated the return of the Austrian Grand Prix to the calendar in 2015 after an 11-year hiatus. On top of that, Vettel’s run in the 87c – the car that gave Berger arguably the most famous of his 10 Grand Prix wins – was the young German’s first drive in a turbocharged Ferrari F1 car ahead of his move to Maranello the following year.

Berger meanwhile, a 50-per cent shareholder of Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso until 2008, turned his first F1 wheel in anger since his retirement at Jerez in 1997 aboard the RB8. The car that claimed seven wins in 2012 en-route to Red Bull Racing’s third consecutive Constructors’ Championship.

*Images courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

4. Heikki Kovalainen (F1), Sebastien Loeb (WRC) and Dani Sordo (WRC) – December 2007

  • Paul Ricard
  • Renault R27
  • Citroen C4 WRC

Given the Toro Rosso test in 2009 that quite seriously thrust Sebastien Loeb into contention for a drive at that year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it’s often forgotten that the nine-time World Rally Champion actually made his Formula 1 testing debut two years earlier with Renault as part of a ‘Total/Elf’ promotional event with Groupe PSA sister brand, Citroën.

The fact that Loeb’s WRC teammate Dani Sordo also made his Formula 1 test debut that day also tends to slip through the net.

Harsh as that is though, that’s understandable. Already a four-time WRC champion before the test, Loeb’s pace in Renault’s 2007 F1 charger was what really made the headlines, given that his fastest laps in the R27 were barely one second slower than those set by Kovalainen. Clearly Loeb’s prep time in the Pescarolo C60 – with which he finished 2nd at Le Mans on only his second attempt in 2006 – had paid off.

Kovalainen meanwhile was no less impressive in the Citroën C4 WRC on a nearby gravel stage at Paul Ricard, the Finn having competed on the Arctic Rally as a co-driver, and even taken the wheel for a few stages, between 2003 and 2005. On top of that, memories of the 2004 Race of Champions were still fresh, an event in which Kovalainen, then the newly crowned World Series by Renault champion, bested Loeb (gasp!) for a shock win.

Against this backdrop, even Sordo, a former Junior World Rally Champion and a regular WRC podium finisher, didn’t stand a chance.

*Images courtesy of Renault F1

5. Juan-Pablo Montoya (F1) and Jeff Gordon (NASCAR) – June 2003

  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Williams-BMW FW 24
  • Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo

SO much to read into this ride swap in hindsight, one fittingly dubbed Tradin’ Places by the promoter. For starters, that year’s United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis marked the end of Juan-Pablo Montoya’s championship charge in 2003 following a collision with Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello. For another, just three years later, Montoya had ditched Formula 1 altogether to join Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR squad.

The event was also the latest in, what had been, a succession of rumour mill stokers linking four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon with an F1 role, dating back to 1997. Indeed, the native Californian was briefly linked with a switch to BAR for 1999, the year he won his second Daytona 500 and Jacques Villeneuve, his prospective F1 teammate, scored no points at all. Landmine averted.

Indeed, Gordon’s pace in the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix-winning FW 24 – his first test ever in a rear-wheel drive racing car – left not only Williams impressed but Montoya too, Gordon having lapped the Indianapolis road course just half a second slower than the Colombian.

Approving comments were also made of Montoya’s efforts in the Chevy that secured Gordon six wins in 2011. Already a one-time winner of the Indy 500 in 2000, a victory he’d repeat in 2015 with Penske, it seemed fitting that Montoya’s first run at Indianapolis as an official NASCAR Sprint Cup driver in 2007 ended with a podium.

*Images courtesy of BMW AG

Honourable mention. David Coulthard (F1) and Alain Menu (BTCC)

Remember back in 1995, when Williams was not only gunning for the Formula 1 World Championship but entered the British Touring Car Championship and took over development of the Renault Laguna? Madness! Delicious madness, and a car swap down the line was an inevitability. Such indeed proved the case, albeit as part of different programs. Future two-time BTCC champion Alain Menu actually got two bites at the F1 cherry, testing the soon-to-be championship-winning FW15C in 1993 and the team’s FW17 in 1995, while in the interim, future 13-time Grand Prix winner Coulthard jumped aboard the BTTC Laguna. This would be an awesome entry were it not for the fact that the only images we’ve stumbled across are the size of a postage stamp…

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You forgot one: John Surtees (MV Agusta 350 / 500) and John Surtees (Ferrari 158).