The Swiss driver’s dream of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans ended dramatically just five minutes from the finish. A fortnight later, mellowed by his disappointment, he took the Formula E title
“MY SECRET: STAY COOL, EVEN WHEN THINGS ARE HARD”
It was the most dramatic finish in the 84-year history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With less than two laps to go, the dominant Toyota being driven by Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima broke down. Even their rivals came to hug the devastated team after the race.
A fortnight later, Buemi bounced back to take the Formula E title in another incredible finish. “I probably wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for the drama of Le Mans,” he explains now.
THE RED BULLETIN: Do you think good and bad luck balance out in the end?
SÉBASTIEN BUEMI: How can you balance out what happened in Le Mans? Even if I end up winning the race five times in the future, that wound will still be there.
What was the most painful thing about it?
Knowing that all the time and effort we had put in since January – the 17,000km we had done in testing, the 1,000 tyres we’d used – had been for nothing. Knowing what it takes just to be in a position to win Le Mans: the car, the team, luck, the right race strategy… And then the dream goes up in smoke a lap and a half from the finish.
What were you thinking when you went to sleep that night after Le Mans?
That I couldn’t care less about motorsport. I’d never cared less in my whole life. I even told my family not to talk about the race.
How did you get over your disappointment?
I have a son [Jules] who’s not even a year old yet. He looked at me when I got home. That’s when I caught sight of real life again. Before that, I’d been thinking purely as a racing driver: the pits, the track, the race… that’s your life, and you think that’s what it’s all about. But it isn’t. I realised that when I looked into Jules’ eyes.
So, is distance the secret of success?
The most difficult thing for a sportsperson is giving your all, but still being able to smile if it doesn’t work out; seeing the bigger picture even when things don’t go your way.
The culmination of the Formula E season provided unparalleled drama:
Buemi’s last remaining rival, the Brazilian Lucas di Grassi, collided with him at the start of the race, which almost cost the Swiss driver the title. His car remained intact, however, and he realised that his only chance was to record the fastest lap and thus win overall thanks to the extra points on offer. Di Grassi knew it, too, and held up Buemi as best he could. So the latter driver deliberately held back until he was in last place and had a clear run, then blitzed the fastest lap time he needed.
It must have been so difficult staying cool with all those emotions swirling around and still being able to deliver at the right time…
The fastest lap was my last chance. I couldn’t afford to focus on anything else. When we collided, I thought I was destined to blow it again. But straight after that I realised that nothing could be as bad as what had happened at Le Mans.
What was your frame of mind as you went into the race?
I was completely relaxed. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t win the title. I’d just give it my best, and if that worked, great; if not, the sun would still come up the next morning. That was the good thing about the week or so after Le Mans.
The fact that you became more relaxed?
Yes. Otherwise I don’t know if I’d have been able to cope with the pressure. Before the race, team principal Alain Prost, who lost the 1984 Formula One title to Niki Lauda by half a point, took me to one side and told me to enjoy the moment. He said I was one of only two drivers who still had a chance to become the champion at this, the last race of the season, and that was what we did the sport for, after all. Before Le Mans, I would have shaken my head if someone said something like that to me. Now I understood it and felt the positive energy.