Yifei Ye: ‘Ferrari is the team most of drivers dream to be part of’
Photo: WEC

Yifei Ye: ‘Ferrari is the team most of drivers dream to be part of’

The 23-year-old AF Corse driver shares his insights on what it feels like to compete for one of the most successful brands in motorsport at the highest level of endurance racing in FIA WEC.

Yifei Ye’s meteoric rise to the top of endurance racing reached a significant milestone on December 18, 2023, when he joined Ferrari as an official driver. The 23-year-old’s first race with AF Corse - the Italian brand’s privateer effort in the Hypercar class - was the Qatar Airways Qatar 1812 km, whose name is derided, coincidentally, from the country’s national holiday… December 18.

The calendar coincidences look to be working mysteriously for Ye, who will turn 24 on June 16, midway through… the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans! ‘Having lived in Le Mans for five years - as a French F4 graduate - it will be a special moment for me. Winning Le Mans is a goal of mine.’ Ye was excruciatingly close to what would be the best-ever birthday present three years ago when his leading LMP2 car died down a lap from victory. Last year, Ye crashed out of the lead with the #38 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche 963.

Ye is now embarking on an exciting new chapter as a Ferrari official driver, a status all aspiring racing drivers seem to look up to, as he did as a kid watching Michael Schumacher reigning supreme in Formula 1. ‘That red colour just grew in my head’, smiles Ye. ‘Growing up and going through karts and formula cars, you always watch the top of motorsport, and you always see Ferrari doing well. It’s one of the most successful brands, if not the most successful. It’s the team most of the drivers dream to be a part of.’

The young Chinese’s integration seems to have been flawless. After years of hard work from China to France and all over the world, Ye could call home Ferrari’s hallowed HQ. ‘I really felt I was coming home. The people in Maranello have all been very welcoming. It gives me a lot of confidence that I’m with the right team and I just can’t wait to keep working well with them.’

At AF Corse, Ye is teaming up with Robert Kubica, with whom he won the 2021 European Le Mans Series, and Ferrari official driver Robert Shwartzmann. ‘My teammates have the same first name, so it always creates confusion when someone calls for Robert’, laughs Ye. ‘We had to come up with some kind of nicknames. Robert K., “The Polish Rocket”, has a lot of experience at the highest level. He has a deep understanding of the technical aspects. Robert Shwartzmann also brings very valuable information to the team. I think we form a very strong team together.’

‘We work together to make a Ferrari Hypercar win races’

Ye wasted no time in getting up to speed. The AF Corse #83 Ferrari 499P finished fourth in Qatar and was the fastest Hypercar that was not a Porsche 963. ‘We did the best result we could with the car we had and executed a brilliant race’, adds Ye. ‘It was a great start to our season. We will only get better from there and we also scored important points for the championship.’ As a privateer entry, AF Corse are competing for the FIA World Cup for Hypercar Teams. The Italian outfit running the yellow-liveried 499P are currently second in the standings - a single point behind the Hertz Team JOTA #12 challenger - after sealing their first independent team class win during the 6 Hours of Imola, round 2 of the FIA WEC. AF Corse finished eighth overall. The result didn’t reflect the team’s strong pace, as showed by Shwartzmann’s second-fastest Hyperpole lap, with the changing Emilia-Romagna conditions doing no favours to the three Ferraris on race day.

Still, Ye is adamant that AF Corse have a chance of winning as good as any of the other factory entries. ‘We have seen it in Qatar. But we work together to make a Ferrari Hypercar win races. Whether it’s a factory or privateer entry does not matter.’

A statement performance ahead of next week's TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps would go a long way in erasing the memory of a challenging home race weekend as well as boosting AF Corse’s credentials to be the dark (prancing) horse of this season with Yifei Ye taking centre stage. After all, 2024 is the year of the Dragon, the sign Ye was born under and which is displayed on his helmet.