After seeing Audi Sport’s abrupt departure from the LMP1-H field at the end of last season, the FIA will be doing whatever it can to encourage new manufacturers into the LMP1 field of the World Endurance Championship and keep Toyota and Porsche in the sport. However, reports today have shown that if the FIA were to change the LMP1 regulations to scale back the scope of hybrid technology Toyota would most likely leave the sport.
Pascal Vasselon, Toyota Motorsport GmbH’s technical director, explained to Autosport that Toyota’s desire to develop energy-retrieval systems in a racing environment is the only reason they participate in WEC. To remove that aspect of the LMP1 cars would lead to them departing from endurance racing in the WEC.
“The main reason for Toyota to participate in the WEC is to develop technology and specifically hybrid technology,” Vasselon said to Autosport. “So it would be nearly impossible for Toyota to accept a step backwards. Developing hybrid technology is the raison d’etre of the programme.”
Vasselon went on to say that, even though Toyota’s contract in the WEC runs out at the end of 2017, the Japanese team has no intentions of stepping away from endurance racing in LMP1.
The comments from Vasselon have come off the back of the rule freeze in LMP1 until 2019 and the imminent beginning of proceedings to discuss new rules that would be applied for the 2020 season. It is clear from the loss of Audi that the FIA and WEC promoter, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, will be looking at ways to reduce the cost of LMP1 so that new manufacturers join and grown the LMP1 field. Hybrid technology is expensive to develop, manufacture and run so it will clearly be a point of focus for cost-reduction.
ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil has stated that nothing has yet been agreed or decided on the 2020 regulation change and that all options for reducing costs will be discussed at length before any decisions are made.
Peugeot appears to fall on the other side of the argument to Toyota. They have already made it clear they are interested in joining the LMP1 field but will only do so if there is major cost-reduction. Peugeot is known to be in favour of reducing the scope of hybrid technology.
Reducing the scope of the hybrid technology could cover an array of things. These could include cutting the number of energy-retrieval systems from two systems to one onboard each car and restricting the amount of hybrid energy that is allowed to be deployed each lap.
Although Peugeot has expressed interested in a hybrid-reduction, Vasselon has made it clear that the task of rule changes will include the involvement of Toyota and Porsche. Their aim is to “find a solution where everyone can find a level where they want to compete and still have close competition.” From this statement, it could be concluded that the ACO are planning on keeping the LMP1 field in subdivisions, as it is now. Toyota could still race hybrid powered LMP1 cars, whilst Peugeot could join and run a non-hybrid LMP1 car in a sub-category like the current privateer LMP1 cars.
It has already been seen that a few ideas are being put into place this year to try and encourage more manufacturers into the LMP1 field for 2018 onwards. Some of these changes are and increased per-lap fuel allowance and the removal of limitations on the number of engines and aerodynamic configurations that can be used each season.
A new regulation allowing a third hybrid system to be installed in the cars is due to come into force for the 2018 season. This would mean a new 10 megajoules class, above the current 8 megajoules class of the LMP1-H cars, would also be created for next year. New manufacturers could still race in the 8 megajoules class, making it easier for new teams to join the field.