From single-seaters to a year in DTM, Fabio Scherer is now United Autosports’ latest FIA WEC debutant – we caught up with the Swiss driver.
The 21-year-old Swiss youngster has spent majority of his career in single-seaters after two karting titles in 2015 and 2016.
Wins, podiums and strong points finishes spawned here and there in regional Formula 4 and Formula 3 commitments, as then to make a move into FIA F3 and then DTM for 2020.
The move was not all that unusual, as other drivers from junior single-seater categories had followed this pathway.
However, Scherer would be taking helm of United Autosports’ LMP2 Oreca, the Yorkshire-based squad who are reigning WEC LMP2 champions and also reigning Le Mans winners.
Last Lap’s WEC and BTCC Editor, Mo Rehman, caught up with him since his signing in December of last year, and just under two months away from the Prologue and the 8 Hours of Portimão.
Q: So Fabio, how do you reflect on the years in European Formula 3 and FIA Formula 3?
“I had decent speed or had some good opportunities to make some good results, sadly I was unlucky at the start (of EU F3) but overall it wasn’t too bad – I could show my potential.
“Then I got [the opportunity with] Sauber Junior and Charouz in FIA Formula 3, and that was pretty disappointing because the team was not like I wanted or like I expected – and the knowledge was not that high so I lost a lot of wanted time in the car, the whole team and drivers.
“So it was quite difficult – and the opportunity to go to DTM, I’d not even thought about it. I just decided to do it because DTM is one of the biggest platforms in the world, in motorsport, and to drive DTM is like a childhood dream.”
Q: How would you describe your DTM campaign, and surely the COVID pandemic didn’t make things easy?
“So I decided quickly [to go] there and I think in one-and-a-half weeks, the contract was signed…then the Coronavirus didn’t help – instead of six months [of] race calendar, it got to three months race calendar and we were running from one race to another – and as a rookie, that is quite bad.”
Q: How did this pose a challenge to you in particular?
“After a race weekend, you analyse what was wrong, and when you analysed it, it was already the next race, so you lose a lot of important time to get the problems solved and to improve. So it took me a couple of race weekends longer than expected.
“But then to the end of the season, it was quite good since Zolder and Hockenheim [when I] got into the right direction – the last six qualifying [sessions], in dry conditions, I finished all in the top-10 – in DTM, that is a good thing I think.
“And from this point, I think it was an okay season – then we thought about what we were going to do next, because it’s quite difficult with Coronavirus and the whole logistical situation with motorsport at the moment.”
Q: So how did LMP2 and the WEC fall into the frame?
“So it was like – what would make sense? What’s interesting? And then we listened quite around for opportunities and worked out some things, and then it got more clear that I’d like to go to LMP2, WEC.
“Then suddenly, on a Friday evening, I got a call – ‘yeah you have an option to do with United Autosports on their number 1 (#22) car but you have two days to decide.’
“I’m like – okay, I don’t think I need to decide much, more needing to figure (it) out with sponsors and things like that. [It was] quite a hurry, for sure, it’s something you want to do and I decided really quickly and I think one week later the contract was signed – a perfect approach I would say.”
Q: Do you remember how the conversation went? Like you described it as a hurry, clearly they were interested in you if they called?
“It is always a bit like that. For the teams, they wanted me but there was as well like ‘we (United Autosports) don’t get Fabio and we wait two weeks, we lose other opportunities on good drivers.’
Q: Tell me your thoughts on entering the sportscar discipline in an LMP2 outfit?
“For me, it’s about car-wise and driving-wise. I don’t think it’s too much different to DTM car[s] even lap time-wise – I think it was seven or eight tenths difference per lap so it’s pretty much in the range in power and weight and aero on the car as well. So that’s one thing [that’s] not a big issue.”
Q: And the endurance aspect of it?
“I think the bigger issue is to get used to the long distance and to the traffic on the track. These things are what I [will] need to work on, as well as to share a car with other drivers. For sure that’s a bit different to find a compromise that works for all three of us.
“I think these things are the most difficult ones, when you’ve never worked with it.
But to be honest, in this team, and with these two teammates, I think it (the new issues) [will] get quite quickly sorted.”
Q: Have you had a chance to talk to your team-mates, Hanson and Albuquerque?
“Yes – I am still in contact with them over the phone calls, when I have a question or something. That’s for sure a good thing.
“Both of them feel friendly and I got a nice welcome in the team, so sure it is good, and I’m really looking forward to work with them – especially Filipe because he’s probably one of the best endurance drivers in the world. He won Daytona (24H) a couple of weeks ago, so you can learn a lot from him and that’s a good thing to get to the front in the future, in my career.”
Q: You mentioned Filipe Albuquerque. Why is he the ideal out of all the team-mates to be partnered with?
“I think most of the racing drivers are like, I don’t tell the younger drivers what makes me that strong – like the tricks and the types – and they are keeping it to myself, keeping it to my pocket.
“Filipe is different. He’s more like he wants to improve us or make us stronger and he takes a bit like the chief role but on a good side, you know. It’s a bit like on the extreme side to speak about that role, so for sure that’s a good thing and can help a lot. He has so much experience in racing; he did LMP1 Audi, all the things with United – it’s a team that works for a long time together.”
Q: And what do you think about Phil Hanson?
“He’s my age, so, when I spoke with him the first time, he was friendly. He’s young but has a lot of experience in endurance racing, so he’s on a good level as well. So for sure, it’s like working together with all of them that makes it interesting and I think teammate-wise, it couldn’t be better. I like that quite much.”
Q: Is there a difference physically preparing yourself for endurance compared to what you’ve done so far?
“It’s a bit dependent on weighting; in DTM you had the minimum seat weight of 80 kilos, so you trained for endurance but if you can, for more muscle. In endurance racing, where you need to share the car, the weight is as light as possible, so you train [for] much more endurance again, like cardio and all this kind of stuff, even muscle training.
“My instinct is to be as strong as before, but to be lighter. That is the easiest approach I would say.”
Q: You aren’t just joining any team, but the reigning LMP2 world champions. What are your expectations when you get behind the wheel first-hand?
“The first expectation is to be as quick as possible on a speed level, so lap-time-wise. I think that is a fairly plausible approach.
“For sure in the first race like Portimão I think the main thing is to survive the hours of driving and learn as much as possible – and then I think to take the advantage that you are three [drivers] in a car. And then my target is to be as early as possible on the level of my team-mates, who made the same good things (successes of the team like LM 24H win) last year.
“The team got me because they want to protect the titles and win them again, so for sure the pressure is on – always in this sport when you want to be successful, you need the pressure and you are under pressure.
“That’s a good approach and at the end it feels mentally good, because they (the team) believe in you, that you are successful, and that’s what I like. If you want a big motorsport future, you need to be successful.”
Q: You mentioned a bit about COVID, and how it made things tricky from last year. I was interested whether you’ve done any sim-racing like most other racing drivers were doing?
“I did one (with Audi), but I’m not a big fan of that – I like sim racing as training, on a highly-professional level simulator, but not like the gaming version. For me, there is two options of sim racing – and it’s the pro one where you usually use for training. And there is the sim-racing for fun.
“In the for-fun one, usually the racing driver has a difficult time to be on a level of pro-sim drivers who just drive sim (simulation). That’s the point where you get a bit disappointed to participate against sim-racers, some of whom have never driven a race car before, and you lose two seconds per lap to them – that’s the bad side of it.
“For me, they need to be at least split or separated because a lot of people, when they are quicker on the simulator, I am quicker in the car – it’s a totally different approach.”
Q: Could you give me an insight into what the professional simulator is like?
“At the beginning, when you are not used to it, you get headaches. You really get tired quickly because you don’t drive with your instinct.
“Still, it’s more about the systems, the strategy, but you get used to it – the more you do it, the better is works. For sure, it’s quite normal at this point, like you go and drive with your targets and do what you want, then you step out, check it (with the engineers), and if it isn’t perfect then you try again.
“It’s not the funniest work, but it’s important – the more precise you are, the more exact you work, the better it gets (for the real track).”
Q: In general, how would you describe your driving style?
“I would say, for endurance, it sounds a bit wrong. In the past, it was a bit like the approach of Max Verstappen – a bit more aggressive and [I] like to fight and so on.
“For sure, it would need to be changed for endurance but what I’m really strong in, or in the past at least, was that the longer the race went, the better I got. So that’s a good thing in endurance racing, or it should be.
“From this point of view, I am really looking forward and I have high expectations, I would say.”
Be sure to stayed tuned for Part 2 of this interview series where he talks about the calendar ahead, the Le Mans 24 Hours and much more!