Lewis Hamilton and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart will do a car swap for a demonstration test at Watkins Glen, NY this summer. The event should be reminiscent of the test staged a few years back at Indianapolis, when Juan Pablo Montoya (then a Williams pilot) and NASCAR ace Jeff Gordon traded seats for a demo.
The Montoya-Gordon exchange was amusing in a number of respects, as you may remember. Both drivers had a good deal of difficulty in adapting to their respective cars’ braking zones, Montoya because he was forced to brake so much earlier than in an F1 car, and Gordon because he was unable to adjust to a braking zone that seemed, compared to what he was used to, non-existent. Consequently, Montoya had a few off-roads, and Gordon often found himself heading into apexes at a snail’s pace, shouting into his helmet mic, “What do I do now?”
Tony Stewart will get a chance to drive a McLaren MP4-25, which was last run in race spec in 2010, and Hamilton will slide in behind the wheel of Stewart’s Chevy Impala. The event is being sponsored by Mobil 1, a mutual sponsor of the the Stewart-Haas NASCAR team and the McLaren F1 squad.
Stewart, who is in no immediate danger of winning the Thinnest Man in Motorsports award, is already concerned about getting in shape for the one-off event. He is planning on running some winged sprint car events on ovals later this year to beef up his neck muscles, which generally take a beating from the lateral G-loads experienced in Formula 1.
Speaking at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, Stewart said, “You don’t really think of things like that, but those are aspects that you have to think about when you go to drive somebody else’s cars. It is kind of the same as running the winged sprint car, they pull on your neck muscles a lot harder too. Hopefully I will just keep running enough winged sprint car races and I’ll get it in shape that way.”
Judging by Stewart’s girth (one suspects he wears “relaxed fit” jeans), compared to that of his McLaren counterparts (Hamilton is not a large man, and Jenson Button, while tall for an F1 pilot, is lean, as you would expect of someone who competes in triathlons), one wonders if he’ll merely be able to fit into the cockpit of the MP4-25, never mind preserving his neck muscles.
We know, of course, what Juan Pablo Montoya’s test ride led to: a permanent home in NASCAR. Could the same be true of Lewis Hamilton? Unlikely. Montoya is a peculiar animal. He never liked having to maintain an F1 fitness level (he now looks as if he wears the same size coveralls as Stewart), and he likes to bang wheels with other cars periodically, which is generally disastrous in the world of F1, but is practically de rigueur in NASCAR. Hamilton is more of a thoroughbred. I think his time as a NASCAR Good Ol’ Boy is a one-off, and when he leaves Formula 1, he’ll be finished with racing for good.