Last weekend's 6 Hours of Bahrain marked Alexander Wurz's last outing as a professional racing driver after a glittering career - Sam Smith interviews a driver who was a class act on the track as well as off it.
Alex Wurz bowed out of motorsport as a driver last weekend in Bahrain. Aptly enough, it was from the podium after a surprise, but very welcome third-place finish for himself and his teammates Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin.
Wurz’s professional motorsport career started back in 1991, when he entered his first Formula Ford 1600 race.
Almost a quarter of a century later, the gangly kid from the town of Waidhofen an der Thaya in north-eastern Austria stands tall and proud as a universally respected all-round racer and ambassador for his sport.
Speaking to Motorsport.com in Bahrain, Wurz spoke movingly and at length about his decision to hang up that familiar red, white and blue self-painted helmet.
“I’ll miss it, it was a massive part of my life, actually half of my life has been as a professional, but I don’t feel like I have to hang on,” said Wurz.
“It is not a drug I am addicted to, but more something that I deeply love. I can see myself living without it, but at the same time I can see there will be moments when I will struggle without being in a car challenging and racing. But, I have to move on in life.
“There are so many things out there I want to do. I am very active in business and all my other roles in motorsport, which have just been waiting for when I have more time I can put on them which I couldn’t do so far.
“I also know that as a racer you have an expiry date and I want to be out before I reach that expiry date.
“Then for the rest of my life I can say at the last race I was still among the fastest and still at the top. This is what I have always wanted, and you can go and check in interviews I did 10 or 15 years ago, because I said the same thing then.”
Wurz has driven an impressive array of hardware during his career: F3, F1, DTM and LMP1 cars - but which does he treasure the most?
“The McLaren MP4/17D was special," said the Austrian. "It is incredible to think that nobody wanted it any more because the MP4/18 was developed and they thought this was the new milestone.
“There was only a handful developing the 17D and I was the test driver. We got the suspension kinematics, which I suggested and which I wanted.
"It was a phenomenal car, it just worked so brilliantly and on any track you went it set lap records. The car was just an extension of me. I sat in it and it was always sensational."
He added: “It was a bit similar with the Peugeot 908 in 2009. Whenever I was in it, it just felt like you had been born there, totally perfect to drive.
"It was like putting on some favourite shoes that are so comfortable you don’t even know you are wearing them.”
Wurz is universally respected by his peers - that much was evident at last Thursday’s drivers' briefing when all of the drivers in Bahrain spontaneously applauded him.
“There is almost no driver I have ever had a big clash with in the whole of motorsport, that is not my style anyway,” he said.
“I have high respect for everyone and I hope that every race driver has that kind of respect for their fellow competitors because you are pushing the boundaries, the laws of physics and it is, and always will be, dangerous, so you need to have a certain respect whilst also being competitive.
"It is a very special bond we all have as racing drivers to go through these highs and lows. But, you are not in motorsport to find friends. This is not why we entered into it.
"We are there because we love the competition. It is you versus them and it can be cruel. If you find a friend, like I have often with teammates or whoever, it is a rare bonus.
"Drivers should always remember that they are in it because they love it and they are sharing the same sporting passion and that should make you stick together.”