Mid-week long read: life through a lens
Precision and concentration are qualities demanded of racing drivers and photographers alike. Which is no problem for André Lotterer, who is fortunate to have deep reserves of both. The three-time Le Mans winner, and works driver for newly formed TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, is also a passionate and talented photographer, as a brief road trip out of Monaco reveals.
Ascending the southerly face of a favourite coastal cliff road, he opens the passenger window of his Panamera S E-Hybrid, prepares to overtake on the tight switchback, and cheers on the cyclist as he passes: “Allez, allez!” The 38-year old sportscar veteran is heading up to his favourite corner in the French Maritime Alps to photograph the Porsche with Monaco, his chosen home, as a breathtaking backdrop.
Lotterer has only just returned to Porsche. In 2017 he drove the 919 Hybrid in the World Endurance Championship and, following two seasons with Techeetah, he is one of two Porsche drivers in the ABB FIA Formula E championship, alongside old friend and former 919 teammate Neel Jani.
“Driving in Formula E is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” says Lotterer. “The city circuits are very tight and challenging, and the overtaking manoeuvres spectacular.” Then there are the different road surfaces, bumps, and occasionally dusty asphalt. “Of course, we intensively train for all eventualities in the simulator beforehand and try to program the car as optimally as possible. But we have to deliver on a single day: training in the morning, qualifying at noon, and the race in the afternoon. That calls for extremely focused work.”
The Panamera slows as Lotterer spies an ideal spot for an impromptu photo op. “The series is the perfect test environment for all developments in the field of e-mobility,” he continues. “I really love the sustainability, the family friendliness, and the amazing feel of the event. This is the future.” He parks the car and gets out. At 1.84 metres, he is tall for a racing driver, dressed down today in light blue shirt, dark jeans, white sneakers and mirrored aviator sunglasses. In his left hand is a 1984 Leica M6.
Lotterer looks through the viewfinder of the highly collectible 35 mm film camera, then takes a few steps back and refocuses on the Panamera. When he was thirteen, his father – himself a passionate amateur photographer – gave him his first camera, a Minolta. From then on, the young Lotterer observed the world through a lens and clicked away. “Analogue photographs have more life in them, tell more interesting stories, and are at once more timeless and more authentic,” he says, pulling the camera away from his face and pointing far into the distance toward the southernmost quarter of Monaco where he has lived since 2011.
Just a few hours ago he was doing yoga with friends in his apartment, led by his partner, Takako. He met the 33 year old in her Japan homeland in 2014. These days, the branding consultant and the Formula E driver, together with their Labrador Max, divide their time between Monaco and Belgium. But between 2003 and 2018 Lotterer lived in Tokyo, where he was successful in the Super Formula series, then still called Formula Nippon, as well as in the Super GT Championship. “The Japanese welcomed me with open arms. My years there were great, with very straightforward, polite people.”
Photography and racing share the quality of being focused on the objective. André Lotterer’s father, originally from Peru, taught him early on: “The more precisely you have your goal in your sights, the sooner you will achieve it.” His father started building a racing team in Belgium when André was still young and at the age of seven, he was allowed to start kart racing. André won his first race one year later.
“My father said, ‘If you really want to do this, then you can’t do it half-heartedly. You have to give it your all. Racing is an expensive sport. If we start here today, then we’re taking it all the way to Formula One,’” says Lotterer. His father died of cancer in 2009. “We had the opportunity to say a long and intense goodbye to him, for which I’m very grateful.”
Lotterer certainly didn’t disappoint his father; he did indeed make it all the way to Formula One. He became a test-driver in 2002 and made his race debut in 2014. His father taught him to set the bar high, “because you can always do things better. You should never stop working on yourself. Self-criticism is just as important as self-confidence.”
The passion for photography helps Lotterer prepare for his day job. “I often arrive a few days early to capture some beautiful moments. Photography is perfect. I can be by myself, switch off, get over the jet lag, and clear my head.” Even when at home he’ll often grab his cameras, set off in one of his four classic Porsches and just drive around, stopping now and then to photograph his car. It’s the combination of technology and precision, he says, that fascinates him about photography. And which inevitably reminds him of motorsport: “With the camera in my hand, I’m just as ambitious and self-critical as in the race car. To me, a photo is never perfect. I always try to shoot a better one. It’s like driving a corner. There’s always room for improvement. You never drive a corner absolutely perfectly.” In everything he does, Lotterer sets himself the highest possible bar. And the results speak for themselves.