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Ex-F1 star Nasr excited about Porsche drive in sportscars’ “prime time”

by Roger Gascoigne

Photos: Porsche

When Felipe Nasr debuts the new Porsche 963 in this weekend’s Daytona 24 Hours, IMSA’s first race for the new generation of prototype sportscars, his struggles with uncompetitive F1 cars will be a distant memory

During 2022, the Brazilian kept race fit with outings in the World Endurance Championship’s LMP2 prototype sportscar class with Team Penske, who have been chosen as Porsche’s works team for its new 963 hypercar, and with two Porche teams in GT3s. Formula Scout caught up with him during the year at Spa-Francorchamps where he was making his debut in the circuit’s famous 24-hour race.

Nasr made his car racing debut back in 2008 in Formula BMW Americas’ Brazilian Grand Prix-supporting round at Interlagos with his uncle Amir’s own team. He then made the long trip to Europe, like many Brazilians before him, for an attack on the FBMW Europe championship with EuroInternational in 2009.

“Everything was new for the first time for a boy coming from Brazil,” he remembers. “All I had was the background of karting in Brazil. I’d never done any racing in Europe and then making the switch to Europe when I was 16 and going straight towards the FBMW Europe championship that year in 2009. And having these already high-profile teams and drivers.”

Yet Nasr swept to the title, taking five wins and nine second places to win the title by over 100 points. His team-mate Dani Juncadella was runner-up, and other title rival Michael Christensen is now part of the same #7 Porsche as Nasr for Daytona.

“Winning the championship in my first year was a big deal,” says Nasr. “That really opened the doors for me to chase my dream, which was achieving Formula 1.”

“Going through British Formula 3, winning that championship as well, being successful in GP2 and then getting a test and reserve driver role at Williams and then later on getting my Sauber drive, it happened real quick.”

Photo: BMW

For the step up to British F3 in 2010, Nasr signed with David Robertson as his manager and joined his team Double R Racing, which he co-founded with Kimi Raikkonen. After taking a single win as a rookie, Nasr switched to Carlin for his sophomore campaign and was unstoppable.

Nasr and team-mate Kevin Magnussen both won seven times, but the latter was beaten “big time” when it came to the points table, Nasr stresses, laughing. Magnussen has since become one of the regular faces of F1, and is currently with Haas.

On the back of a successful third season in GP2 in 2014, which he was second in the standings for the majority of , Nasr got his chance to graduate to F1 with Sauber. He was an outstanding fifth on his debut in Australia, the first of six points-scoring finishes in the year and putting him comfortably clear of team-mate Marcus Ericsson in the standings.

Sauber struggled in 2016 and finished 10th in the constructors’ championship, with Nasr’s two points at his home race in Brazil crucially moving the team ahead of Manor and guaranteeing it much needed revenue whilst pushing Manor out of F1. But it was Nasr and not Ericsson who was shown the door to make way for the arriving Pascal Wehrlein.

With Williams initially looking like losing both of its pairing of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, Nasr was linked to a return to the team where he had made five free practice appearances in 2014.

“There were some opportunities out there,” he recalls. “What was really difficult was when Sauber gave me the word that I wasn’t going to stay after scoring points for them in 2016. It was pretty much too late.

“As you know, in F1 things move real quick and the backing of the drivers makes a huge difference. You know who’s getting which seat and especially when you’re talking to the midfield teams, this is always the case to get a proper seat.”

The opportunity to join Williams was, he admits, more realistic in 2017 than in 2015, but “it’s a lot of factors that have to come together at the right time; and it just didn’t happen”.

F1 newcomers since 2013
Finish on debut Races until a top-five Best F1 result
Magnussen 2nd Magnussen, Nasr 1 Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Ocon 1st
Nasr 5th Gasly 7 Russell, Sainz, Verstappen 1st
Kvyat, Sainz, Tsunoda 9th Stroll 8 Kvyat, Magnussen Norris 2nd
Vandoorne 10th Verstappen 10 Albon, Stroll 3rd
Palmer 11th Albon 13 Tsunoda 4th
Giovinazzi, Norris 12th Ocon 14 Giovinazzi, Nasr 5th
Gutierrez, Hartley, Leclerc 13th Bottas 20 Palmer, Schumacher 6th
Albon, Bottas, Gasly, Rossi 14th Giovinazzi, Leclerc, Norris, Tsunoda 22 Gutierrez, Vandoorne 7th

“In the end [I came to the realisation that] I wanted to go somewhere where I can straight away fight for championships and victories. And I needed that. I feel like that was my ultimate goal. Because if you look at F1, if you’re not on one or maybe two teams, you ain’t gonna win races.”

Despite the premature end to his F1 journey, he looks back on his time there with pride. “I’m very grateful for my time in single-seaters and everything that I learned because for me it was something like a dream to go that far,” he says. “It was amazing to really go to the top and something I really wished for and worked hard for it.”

As the doors of F1 closed, other single-seater doors opened but with disappointing results. A planned reunion with Carlin in its IndyCar programme in 2020 was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of the season, while three outings in Formula E with Dragon Racing failed to produce any satisfactory results.

In the end it was endurance racing, in America’s leading IMSA series ,which provided his second career in motorsport and a string of successes. Driving one of Action Express Racing’s Cadillac DPi-V.Rs in the top Daytona Prototype International class, Nasr won the IMSA title at his first attempt in 2018 despite being unfamiliar with the American circuits.

He finished second the following year, was eighth in 2020 after missing a race, then became a two-time champion in 2021. Nasr had made a huge impression, and it ultimately led to landing a works Porsche drive and then the Penske hypercar seat.

“And here I am, it’s been a long journey,” he says. “I can only say how happy I am to join Porsche and Team Penske and how grateful I am for that trust on getting me on board on such a big project and it only reminds me of the top quality of people that I’ve met during all these years in motorsports. I can really feel how big is a project like that.”

“For me, it was a unique opportunity to join the Porsche motorsport family together with Team Penske, which I felt very privileged to be taking part of and being involved from the early days on the development phase and bringing my experience from the prototypes on the last four years that I’ve driven.”

Having been involved from the start of the new car’s intensive testing and development, Nasr is naturally highly impressed.

“It’s a very powerful car. And this is what really stood out; the pure power the car has reminded me some of the single-seaters that I drove in the past,” he tells Formula Scout. “We’ve been to different circuits and doing a lot of mileage, we’ve been making a lot of progress on the car and it’s all new to us.”

“It’s been a long learning process for everybody, but I’ve been enjoying it a lot. It’s been challenging but fun,” he enthuses. “It’s never easy when you have to build something from scratch but I guess this is this is the good part of it. It has been very special from the beginning and it’s gonna be even better when we see the car lining up at Daytona.”

Compared to the Cadillac DPi car he took to his two titles, the Porsche: “is more powerful, 680bhp together with the hybrid system, but it’s a lot heavier. So, there are differences in the way you drive the car and [how you] maximise the potential of the car, but it’s still experience with prototypes on set-up, on what the car needs to be and the way it needs to be driven as well.”

Nasr has no regrets about the choices he made, even when he sees the successes that his former F3 adversary Magnussen is enjoying “second time around” in F1.

“I don’t see it that way. I mean Kevin he got the call. Good for him and, you know, I wish him the best but he’s gonna lose out on all the Daytona, Le Mans and all this stuff that he could have on his CV.

“I know drivers that have been in F1 for 10 or 12 years. They might not even step on a podium. And I said: ‘You know what? I want to go somewhere to win the big races. I want to win in Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans. I want to have more stuff on my CV.’ And I’m glad I made that choice early enough that I could get into prototype racing.”

Nasr is clearly certain that he is in the right place at the right time. “It’s a prime time for a sportscar racing having all these manufacturers involved, and I feel it’s going to be some very exciting years ahead and good racing.”

“I knew this time was going to come where manufacturers are looking for drivers again, as LMDh was on the horizon. So, I think I made the right move to be ready for this new prime sportscars time that was going to come.”

He adds: “You make choices in life, every day. When you wake up if you want to get a coffee or water you make choices, and you make choices what do you want in your career.

“When I look back and I see you know, I’ve won this, I’ve won that. And I believe my chances are higher when you go together with a brand like Porsche and Team Penske. I think our chances are pretty high up that you can add more successful victories in your CV.”