Is EoT Working In LMP1?
With the Toyota TS050s utterly dominating proceedings thus far this season in performance terms, the external narrative is a very clear one: No it isn’t, and certainly not in terms of allowing close racing, whether with or without issues for the Toyotas.
The process of arriving at the starting point for the current season deserves some examination, Toyota were the ‘last men standing’ in the LMP1-H field after successive withdrawals from Audi and Porsche.
A rapid re-think of the non-hybrid regs saw a response from chassis manufacturers and customers that exceeded most expectations, the new cars would be designed to be able to match the Hybrids on lap time though the Hybrids would be granted an ‘efficiency’ advantage to accentuate the message that they are using significantly less fossil fuel to achieve the same mileage.
In the pre-amble to the season though, the behind-the-scenes machinations conspired to stack the deck somewhat more and with little by way of pre-season data from most of the new cars there was an element of ‘finger in the air’ too.
Add in a lap per stint advantage for the Toyotas in the first two races and things got to a point where the open question was “How much of an inbuilt advantage is enough?”
That question was answered in part at Spa when the #7 Toyota started from pit lane, a lap down and, with a near faultless run, ended the race second with laps advantages on the non-hybrid cars.
Then at Le Mans , we saw a crushing example of just how good the Toyotas are, as a near faultless run from both cars saw them never challenged on either pace, or reliability.
The new-for-2018 pit stop regulations didn’t help matters, a change apparently made to improve the show has had a net effect of masking good, or bad, team-work, has reduced strategic options and has taken away an opportunity for teams to switch strategy mid-race.
Into the bargain by the way the pit stops are not different enough to attract a meaningfully increased audience – there is no shortage of opinion of the “What was the point of that then?” variety.
Ultimately though there are two major points that nail the coffin lid of the current situation shut.
Whilst the most recent EoT changes did make a significant difference to the one-lap pace of the best non-hybrid cars they are still not as close as was the initial intent. More to the point, they are now at or around the upper level of their current capabilities.
Put another way, further significant EoT adjustments to improve the pace of the non-hybrids are unlikely to be within their real-world capabilities! Indeed the one lap pace of the non-hybrids already equals or exceeds recent hybrids, Jenson Button’s qualifying lap better than any produced last year by a Porsche 919 Hybrid at Silverstone.
Then there is the ace in the hole for the hybrids, the performance characteristic that defines the difference between the Toyotas and their ‘competition’. Quite simply their ability to deploy the huge power boost that comes from the hybrid systems on board means that they are unbeatable by the privateer cars in and through traffic. In this environment one lap pace is not the defining factor, it’s the consistent ability to deal with traffic that produces the huge, unbridgeable gap.
It’s a crushing demonstration of the abilities of these cars, masked in previous years by their in-class competition, but now laid bare as 700+ bhp, aero-efficient LMP1 cars lost lap after lap to them because their ability to pass cleanly and accelerate away can’t come close to the hybrids.
Add into that the fact that this is going to be the competitive environment for the next two seasons (including the current Super-Season) and the conclusion is clear – either watch your privateer pack fall away and/ or struggle financially as they try to match the Toyotas, or do something about it.
So what can be done?
On the non-hybrid front there will be progress on both pace and reliability, but that is simply a part of the regular development cycle and the performance curve will not be a near vertical one! Tyres could have a part to play, the non-hybrids currently use Michelins designed for the hybrid cars and that does give them a less than ideal platform, effectively unable to get the front tyres up to temperature as they have been designed to run on a car powered through the front wheels under (hybrid) power.
The potential solutions there are either that a privateer, or a collective of privateers, helps fund tyre development from Michelin and/ or that a competitor brand enters the marketplace.
Dunlop have shown interest, and indeed supplied Rebellion and ByKolles in recent seasons, so could this provide part of the answer? Beyond that there is the clear need to equalise the pit stop refuelling time (a simple matter, and one that is simplicity itself to communicate by both race organisers, and more importantly, by Toyota).
Pragmatism has already been seen with the quiet (indeed silent) dropping of the fuel stint lap advantage for the hybrids, it would be sensible to continue that process.
But the big money item is just as clear a choice now: the only realistic immediate way to effect a meaningful change is to reel in the Toyotas. There is simply no other way, or combination of ways, that will make up the difference, and two years is too long to wait for the ‘cavalry’.
That gives the WEC a series of problems of course, and a potentially very unhappy major customer but now is the time to grasp that nettle, and for Toyota to show once again what they have shown throughout their time in the WEC, that they will step up to the plate with dignity and class and do what is best for the sport.