Motorsport.com's Top 10 LMP1 drivers of 2016

Audi's final season in sportscar racing was one to cherish, with the quality of the racing and the competition in the FIA WEC's LMP1 class as good as ever in 2016. Sam Smith and Jamie Klein pick out their 10 standout performers.

Motorsport.com's Top 10 LMP1 drivers of 2016

10.  Oliver Jarvis

Audi Sport Team Joest, Car #8

You could tell there was an added determination and steel about Jarvis even before the season had begun.

Added to his impressive armoury was a zero-compromise focus, which really came to the fore at Spa in May, and despite several horrible knock-backs, was maintained until the final lap of his stint in Bahrain.

By then, of course, he knew his future was in some doubt after Audi's withdrawal, but his performances in 2016 were unquestionably his best since joining the German manufacturer's LMP1 crew full-time in 2015.

His display in the opening stint at Fuji and his (unrewarded) accomplishments in Mexico were those of a real asset to any factory-backed motorsport programme in the future.

It would be a travesty if he did not get another significant chance at this level.

Oliver Jarvis, Audi Sport Team Joest
Oliver Jarvis, Audi Sport Team Joest

Photo by: Audi Communications Motorsport

9.  Mark Webber

Porsche Team, Car #1

There was a certain irony in the fact that Webber chose to hang up his helmet in the midst of what was his most competitive year in sportscar racing to date.

While Brendon Hartley usually had a slight edge over a single lap, there was practically nothing to choose between Webber and his mentee in race trim.

Even at Le Mans, previously considered a chink in Webber's armour, he was bang on the pace of his teammates, although the #1 car's early spell in the garage to fix a water leak meant his efforts were for naught.

Towards the end of the year, there was a conspicuous shift towards the 40-year-old doing less of the heavy lifting in races – which perhaps shouldn't be a surprise, given how openly he spoke of his motivation ebbing over the course of the third and final year of his Porsche deal.

Having won four times in the preceding five races, Webber bringing home the #1 car in third in Bahrain was an emotional sight to behold and a fitting way to bring down to curtain on a long and successful career.

Race winner Mark Webber, Porsche Team
Race winner Mark Webber, Porsche Team

Photo by: Porsche Motorsport

8.  Kamui Kobayashi

Toyota Gazoo Racing, Car #6

Promoted to replace the retiring Alex Wurz in Toyota's LMP1 line-up for 2016, sometime Sauber and Caterham F1 driver Kobayashi didn't take long to get up to speed – although it did take him a little longer to become a rounded endurance racer.

At Le Mans, the Japanese driver was on the pace, but a costly skirmish with a backmarker and a spin with a little under four hours to go served to rule Kobayashi and his teammates in the #6 Toyota out of the hunt for overall victory. 

But, the next time the Toyota was a contender for victory – Fuji – Kobayashi had found some consistency to go with the undoubted speed, and his final stint on worn tyres in front his home fans that sealed the team's first WEC win since 2014 was one of the drives of the year.

It was a performance that rightly earned him plaudits from his crewmates Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin, as well as team boss Rob Leupen.

That was the undoubted highlight of a standout second half of the season, in which Kobayashi was usually the pacesetter in the #6 car. And he's only going to get better in 2017.

LMP1 Race winners #6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi
LMP1 Race winners #6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi

Photo by: Vision Sport Agency

7.  Loic Duval

Audi Sport Team Joest, Car #8

Albeit slightly eclipsed by di Grassi in the #8 Audi, Duval enjoyed a definite return to form this year after a shaky 2015 campaign.

The Frenchman came into his own during the championship's North American leg with superb performances in both Mexico and Austin – both races where he and his teammates were well in contention for the win until their hopes were dashed by an electrical failure and a wheel bearing problem respectively.

At Fuji, it was Duval who was tasked with catching and passing Kobayashi's Toyota to snatch the win, and the fact he fell only 1.3s short in the end says more about the Japanese driver's virtuosity on double-stinted tyres than anything else, while Duval's opening stint in Bahrain laid the groundwork for a highly popular win on Audi's swansong.

Left without a full-time ride in the LMP1 ranks for 2017, the 34-year-old's future is unclear - and it would be a huge shame if he wasn't granted another opportunity to perform on sportscar racing's biggest stage in future.

Loïc Duval, Audi Sport Team Joest
Loïc Duval, Audi Sport Team Joest

Photo by: Audi Communications Motorsport

6.  Timo Bernhard

Porsche Team, Car #1

The quiet and unobtrusive driving force behind the development of the Porsche 919 Hybrid programme, Bernhard was as fast and dependable as ever in 2016.

While some of his race performances were understated, his speed and panache through traffic were usually sublime, and he showed his inherent pace throughout the season. 

But it was Bernhard's work behind the scenes that really galvanised the #1 crew after a dreadful start to their title defence, leading to the miraculous run of four wins in the space of five races after Le Mans. 

If there is one man you would want in your team when the chips are down, Bernhard would still be at the very top of the list.

#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard

Photo by: Porsche Motorsport

5.  Sebastien Buemi

Toyota Gazoo Racing, Car #5

Buemi drove better than ever in 2016, but as per the previous campaign, he and his teammates in the #5 Toyota had very little to show for it.

If there was something to go wrong in the Toyota camp this season, it usually struck the #5 car, and it was little surprise to see Buemi get occasionally frustrated. But, it is to the Swiss ace's credit that he never lost faith in the car or the team.

This was borne out of the collective determination to try and right the wrong of what happened at Le Mans. For Buemi personally, some of the exasperation was exorcised in his title-winning Formula E campaign, but in the tight-knit team ethic of Toyota it was also handled with dignity.

What was also impressive was the way Buemi picked up the slack after Anthony Davidson's testing accident at Magny-Cours.

Those within the team talk of a new maturity to Buemi's racing over the last few campaigns, and there is little doubt that, with a little luck, one of WEC's best all-round drivers would be able to replicate the 2014 results that saw him crowned champion.

Sébastien Buemi, Toyota Racing
Sébastien Buemi, Toyota Racing

Photo by: Vision Sport Agency

4.  Andre Lotterer

Audi Sport Team Joest, Car #7

For the first time in his WEC career, Lotterer went win-less after a frustrating 2016 campaign, although that was more down to the failings of the ultra-radical latest iteration of the R18 than anything else.

Indeed, the German was still by and large the super-fast, reliable bedrock of the #7 crew he had been for the previous four seasons, and can consider himself unfortunate that wins at Silverstone (where he and his teammates were excluded due to a worn skidblock) and Mexico (where he crashed with a brake problem) slipped through his fingers.

It certainly seemed the #7 car that suffered the more severe niggles of the two Audis across the course of the year, and the departure of long-time race engineer Leena Gade after Le Mans will have also caused a degree of disruption behind the scenes that can't have helped matters.

If this, and being ruled out the title battle so early in the year, led to signs that Lotterer wasn't always pushing to the absolute maximum, a switch to Porsche in 2017 alongside Neel Jani and Nick Tandy should be just the thing to bring out the very best in the three-time Le Mans winner once again.

Andre Lotterer, Audi Sport Team Joest
Andre Lotterer, Audi Sport Team Joest

Photo by: XPB Images

3.  Neel Jani

Porsche Team, Car #2

Of Porsche's trio of world champions, Jani is the only one who will be defending the title in 2017 – which says much about his margin of superiority over teammates Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas.

During qualifying, it was a common sight to see Jani put the #2 Porsche right in the mix, only for one of Lieb or Dumas to drag the car's down average time by several tenths.

It was telling that the only time the #2 car was on pole all year was the only event all season where the average system isn't used, the Le Mans 24 Hours. The time Jani set on Wednesday night to put he and his crewmates at the front of the grid at La Sarthe was a mightily impressive effort, even if it didn't trouble his record lap from the previous year.

Equally remarkable was his last stint in the race, where he dramatically slashed the gap to the race-leading #5 Toyota before picking up a slow puncture prior to the Japanese car's dramatic slowdown.

While that victory, along with an inherited win at Silverstone, were fortuitous to an extent, there was no doubt that Jani himself was a highly deserving recipient of the world title. It will be fascinating to see how he stacks up to new teammates Lotterer and Tandy next year.

Race winners #2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb celebrate
Race winners #2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb celebrate

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

2.  Brendon Hartley

Porsche Team, Car #1

Hartley was imperious in 2016, an effective combination of raw pace and metronomic consistency.

Silverstone apart, he was also virtually error-free and always looked the benchmark performer in the Porsche stable. Those in the Porsche team, including teammate Webber, acknowledged how much the Kiwi had come on in his third season at this level.

Hartley's first hour at Silverstone and his performances at Nurburgring, Mexico, Austin and Shanghai in particular were of the very highest level, while his engineer Kyle Wilson-Clarke believes he also communicates in a much more thorough manner now.

With his skill set growing by the season, the 27-year-old is set to have a very good chance of joining some big names in the endurance racing hall of fame and fortune.

#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Brendon Hartley
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Brendon Hartley

Photo by: Porsche Motorsport

1.  Lucas di Grassi

Audi Sport Team Joest, Car #8

Like Hartley, di Grassi finished his third full season of WEC at the very top of his game.

Boasting ferocious pace, an engineering brain and a knack for cementing any winning position he finds himself in, the Brazilian is the consummate professional both in and out of the cockpit.

While the stunning Audi R18 frustratingly will not see through its true potential, di Grassi extracted every last drop of performance from the car this season, and was easily the best of Audi's six drivers.

His duel with Buemi at Spa was one of the highlights of the season: this writer can still hear the echoes of his own inner scream as di Grassi took to the grass at well over 180mph at Blanchimont to put a stunning move on his Swiss rival.

It was a moment of sheer exhilaration, and typical of the commitment and belief di Grassi exhibited all season.

Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Joest
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport Team Joest

Photo by: Audi Communications Motorsport

shares
comments
WEC LMP1 season review: The golden age continues

Previous article

WEC LMP1 season review: The golden age continues

Next article

Top Stories of 2016, #20: Webber bows out of racing

Top Stories of 2016, #20: Webber bows out of racing
Load comments
Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked Prime

Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked

Toyota scored its fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and a 1-2, with the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez beating the #8. But although it looked straightforward from the outside, Toyota faced serious problem that had to be solved with some quick-thinking and ingenuity.

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far Prime

What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far

The new dawn for the FIA World Endurance Championship has arrived at Le Mans, as Hypercars prepare to duel for victory in the world's oldest endurance race. Motorsport.com picks out the 10 things we have learned in the build up to the race.

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2021
Le Mans 2021: The team-by-team guide Prime

Le Mans 2021: The team-by-team guide

After a two-month delay due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours is set to get underway with the start of the Hypercar era at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2021
Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse? Prime

Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse?

One Toyota, normally with the number 7 on the side, always seems to attract the bad luck in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez are hoping for a change in fortune this time around, but face significantly more unknowns than in recent years

Le Mans
Aug 19, 2021
Why Glickenhaus should be taken seriously on its Le Mans bow Prime

Why Glickenhaus should be taken seriously on its Le Mans bow

Many were quick to dismiss Glickenhaus when the boutique American sportscar firm's entry into the top class of the Le Mans 24 Hours was announced. It's all-new LMH racer, powered by an engine built by a rally specialist, goes in as the underdog against Toyota but the mathematical odds suggest that it has more than just a faint hope of success.

Le Mans
Aug 18, 2021
How 1971's benchmark Le Mans team lost with the best car Prime

How 1971's benchmark Le Mans team lost with the best car

The JW Automotive Engineering team won twice at the Le Mans 24 Hours with ageing Fords and was considered the heavy favourite to add more victories to its tally after partnering with Porsche. But despite being armed with the all-conquering 917, this formidable combination was never as successful in real life as on the big screen.

Le Mans
Aug 15, 2021
Why Jose Maria Lopez isn’t motivated by emulating Fangio Prime

Why Jose Maria Lopez isn’t motivated by emulating Fangio

Having twice missed out on Formula 1 and reinvented himself as a touring car driver, Jose Maria Lopez has had a rocky ride to becoming a four-time world champion. One more would put him level with his nation's favourite son, but there's another prize he would value far more than the honour of matching Juan Manuel Fangio's tally.

WEC
Aug 14, 2021
The understated Le Mans legend who has earned a testimonial Prime

The understated Le Mans legend who has earned a testimonial

OPINION: After 24 Le Mans 24 Hours participations, 50-year-old Emmanuel Collard will be absent from the grid this year, stuck at the mercy of his gold driver grading. But, while he's not motivated by breaking start records, the French veteran is determined to return to the field next year.

WEC
Jul 24, 2021