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LMP1 Hybrid, What IS Actually Going On?

Fake News? Factory Interest? and/ or Common Sense?

Le-Mans-2016-#5 Toyota TS050

Not for the first time the very much condensed communications from the World Motorsport Council (WMSC) set a coupe of hares running after their latest post meeting press release yesterday, this time on the subject of revisions to the FIA WEC Sporting Regulations, designed to encourage new entrants into the LMP1 Hybrid Manufacturers Championship.

Some misunderstood the process and presumed that we were about to see a new and radically altered ruleset in the wake of Audi’s withdrawal at the end of last season.

The reality though is that the WMSC has simply ratified the work done, and the agreements made, between the FIA WEC and its existing manufacturer teams in establishing a package to raise the potential for a new factory team (or more) to commit to joining the Championship as soon as possible, and certainly before the next major ruleset change in 2020.

DSC was told as early as last November that this work was underway, and had been discussed and a framework agreed by the two remaining factory LMP1 manufacturers, the balance struck looking to ensure the existing WEC customer base was reasonably content whilst seeking to provide a slightly softer landing for a new manufacturer entering an arena where the development curve has been extraordinarily steep.

That includes changes offering any newcomer some significant leeway for the first two years of a programme on testing (including wind tunnel), fuel allocation, bodywork/ aero choice, level of tyre allocation during race meetings and in other areas including the opportunity to change an ERS system/ solution mid season.

peugeot-LMP1-Spa

Despite speculation elsewhere there is absolutely no move to dispense with Hybrid powertrains, and indeed the factory most likely to make a decision to join the WEC, Peugeot, have repeatedly privately made clear that their interest is in (an albeit lower cost than at present) hybrid formula.

Further concern has been voiced following recent widely syndicated media reports quoting Toyota’s Technical Director Pascal Vasselon offering the nugget that Toyota would be unlikely to continue in the FIA WEC if hybrid technology was reeled in.

WPascal-Vasselon-Toyota-WEC-2016

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the article incorrectly states that Toyota are committed to the WEC to the end of the 2017 season – they are actually committed for two more seasons under their current programme, that comment, or rather that response to a question it would seem, deserves some examination.

How do you define reeling in?

Is that a reduction in the number of energy recovery systems (already confirmed is a rowing back from a planned third system, with a reduction to a single system for the new regulations from 2020 under consideration, it’s likely this potential prospect that is the target of the comment), a reduction in the maximum power of the remaining systems, cost capping (always a game that onlookers can enjoy!) or a combination of any or all of the above?

There is a perfectly sustainable argument that says the R&D value of hybrid technology to a car manufacturer applies just as much to its eventual unit cost as to its efficiency, and that ultimate power would, and should, come after those other two parameters in an order of priority for a mainstream OEM whose programme is predicated on R&D.

All three would be rather nice of course, and there’s little doubt that the near vertical development curve in LMP-H has pushed the boundaries in a number of very positive ways technologically speaking, albeit at substantial cost in financial terms.

The key is finding a happy balance, always tricky when you are at the cutting edge of technology and of competition in such a valuable marketplace.

The prize on offer is sustainability, of technological development, budgetary control and sporting involvement.  History teaches us that that’s as easy to achieve as cutting your fingernails using three juggled chainsaws. You might get it right once but……

For now, the situation is that Porsche and Toyota have declared themselves reasonably satisfied with the current short-term vision for the class in which they compete, and with the package suggested to encourage a new factory aboard.

Porsche-919-Nürburgring-WEC-2016-aero

The two key moments that are approaching are these:

Will the push to net Peugeot (and/ or others) be successful?

And what happens in the 2020 rulebook to sustain and grow sportscar racing’s premier class?