DSC was on hand at the FIA WEC’s press conference today in Bahrain and got a chance to speak to CEO Gerard Neveu along with select media outlets about the new 2020/21 calendar along with select media, to ask key questions surrounding the various changes.
Here is what he had to say:
Tell us the thought process about the decision to drop Shanghai from the calendar for the first time?
“It’s always a challenging decision because the first of all, nothing is definitive. A calendar is something that evolves. We didn’t come to Bahrain last year and we’re back.
“Clearly, it was difficult to be back in Shanghai at this period. But I’m sure that we will be back in Shanghai one day, it’s the question of what is the priority for the paddock. And what is the wish from the people from Shanghai also from China. So I think that we will have another opportunity.
“A few years ago a few manufacturers wanted a huge activation. It was important for them to be there. It was a major event, which is was not the case during the last two years. All the journalists who visit the place knew that very well.”
Could we visit another circuit in China in the future, or is Shanghai the only option?
“At this moment the only circuit I know is Shanghai, but maybe there will be new ones in the future. But the only circuit that could work for the WEC now is Shanghai because it is Grade 1 and needs to have a certain level of safety.”
And there are no four-hour races now?
“You’re right. We have different lengths of races still, six, eight, 1000 miles and 24 Hours. Not four now after discussing with the teams. The place where we set up four-hour races like Silverstone left them frustrated with the length of the races. We have to pay attention to the fans and local people.
“At Silverstone, we have a four hour (ELMS) race on Sunday now, so we finish earlier so that people can get home at a better time after the race. That is the culture now.
That’s why we have switched to six hours for Silverstone and switched the day and we are racing on Saturday, you will have ELMS Qualifying in the morning then the FIA WEC race, then support races and the ELMS race on Sunday.
“It was a clear choice. It will finish at like seven o’clock, just before darkness.”
Are you concerned about a loss of media coverage because it’s the same weekend as the Monza F1 race?
“The reason is that we are on Saturday is so that on Sunday we can let the massive UK fan community watch the (F1) race on TV. We looked at how we can grow this event. It has huge potential, but for the past three years, we’ve had a similar number of fans. This is why we have made the change.
“We also want to make sure it’s all over earlier on Sunday (when the ELMS will host a four-hour race). If you look at MotoGP weekend, at 3:30 on Sunday it’s done. They finish early so people can leave and get home by a reasonable time. As we have a long race, if we start at 8 a.m. it doesn’t make sense, it’s too early.
“We want a celebration. We want to set up an enthusiastic meeting, maybe a concert or something on Saturday night?”
The deals with Monza and Kyalami are they long term?
“You know the way we always do it, we feel that there is a future when all the partners are happy. So always any deal we’re doing anywhere is one plus something. So we do one year, we see if we are happy all together in the paddock.
“So if the paddock is happy, if the local organiser is happy if the business model is working well if everybody is happy it’s easy for us to renew for two or three years. If not, we always keep an exit door for both sides.”
How long have you been considering Kyalami?
“Before (the circuit was revamped), it wasn’t possible to race there. We’ve been looking at racing there for many years.
“My colleagues at Porsche told me to pay attention because it’s a good place. I had a chance to visit it a few weeks ago with my friend Stephane Ratel (at the IGTC finale) and everyone was happy with the circuit. It’s a place with character, history and incredible track design.”
Could we go to nine races in the future?
“A few months ago we were in a very weak position you know, with the sudden departure of Porsche and Audi in LMP1. It was fragile. We tried to maintain the structure of the calendar to make sure the paddock is ok.
“If we had nine races in the championship, it has to be with the support of the majority of the teams. Now is not the right time. Maybe if you have four, five, six, Hypercar manufacturers in 2022/23 then you consider it.”
How are the preparations going for CoTA?
“Very well. We chose CoTA because Bobby Epstein made all the facilities to welcome us, with a friendly attitude. We also know the place well, it’s easy to set up. We have local staff we work well with. They know the WEC well, we know CoTA so it’s very easy to set up.”
How will the pre-season test work, what will the format be?
“It will be a session on Monday and a session on Tuesday. Very similar (to Barcelona), we are working on it. It’s a collective free test for everybody. The hypercars will run a lot in the summer, but this is a chance to see them head-to-head.”
How important was it to have it so close to the season opener?
“You need to give the teams more time to be ready on time. After Le Mans, they have to recover and work for the following season. To do something in mid-August was not logical. It was a wish from the paddock.”
And what about putting Monza as the second round of the season?
“Clearly regarding the entrance of the hypercar category, you have to consider that this is already a very short period for the cars to be on time. So I think that if we provide teams four weeks after the first race in Silverstone, they will be able to work again on their cars in the main factory and send it off for the next one.
“We like the idea to make the Italian teams and drivers in the paddock happy. There are a lot of fans in Italy, if you remember the huge crowd for the Prologue test in 2017. It’s the perfect place for sports cars with a storied history.”
Sebring is back for a third season. What’s the current situation with the contract for that race?
“We are back, and for the future (beyond 2021) we will see how it works. I think everyone is happy. ‘Super Sebring’ is very special, and it’s an amazing place. We have to give all our energy to deliver a good race for the fans.
“If we did well in 2019 we can expect more fans in 2020, if we do well in 2020, we can expect even more in 2021.”