Last weekend saw a massive anti-climax in the world of Formula One as the return of the European Grand Prix proved to be a relatively boring race compared to the last 3 races of the championship. Meanwhile many were instead focusing their weekend’s around the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans which saw one of the most memorable finishes in recent years.
So Le Mans got me thinking – we’ve had three big 24 hour Endurance races this year and all of them have been historical, exciting and nail biting in their own way.
Firstly, the 24 at Daytona saw Rene Rast grab a win in an Audi R8 LMS after having to coast around the last lap. Corvette had a drag race to the finish line – being separated by less than a tenth. Whilst Pipo Derani of Brazil emerged as a driver to watch as he won the prototype category for Tequila Patron ESM.
The 24 Hours of the Nurburgring saw the introduction of the new BMW M6 and Mercedes AMG GT cars which caused the older Audi R8 LMS to struggle. Just hours into the race mayhem began as rain and hail pelted the track and saw many drivers into the barriers. In the end a last lap move from the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT saw it win the toughest of all 24 hour races by just 5 seconds. Mercedes dominated, finishing 1, 2, 3, 4.
Then came the historic 24 Heures du Mans – the most anticipated race of the 3. As it unfolded, Porsche and Toyota were in the hunt whilst the Audi’s struggled. When the Porsche #1 hit troubles and dropped a whopping 39 laps to the leaders – things began to look really good for Toyota. Their #6 car led the charge for most of the race and with around 6 hours to go the lead changed to the #5 car of Formula One “been-there-done-that’s”, Anthony Davidson, Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. The Toyota lead was always comfortable and continued all the way to the last lap.
But it wouldn’t continue to the last lap. Hearts sunk when Kaz Nakajima pulled the car over to the side of the pit straight and stopped on track with engine issues with just 4 minutes on the clock. Toyota came within one lap of a historic Le Mans win – only to have it ripped away and eventually excluded from the results for not being able to complete the last lap in under 8 minutes. Porsche took their 18th overall victory at Le Mans and this race will be one that will always be remembered as Toyota’s.
So what can Formula One learn from this? Despite exciting Grand Prix’s in Spain, Monaco and Canada – it still feels like its the sort of racing we need to always have – not just when Mercedes screw up or Red Bull do really well.
Firstly, Formula One needs to be a little more team orientated. This was highlighted severely in the European Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton furiously tried to get his car out of the wrong engine mode which cost him precious points. Had there not been strict radio rules – which have been introduced in an attempt to make drivers rely less on the engineers – Hamilton would have fixed the problem straight away with direction from his engineer, Pete Bonnington. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and it ended up simmering a battle between Lewis Hamilton and the two Ferrari’s, something we had all been itching for.
Secondly, Strategy needs to be minimized and wheel to wheel needs to maximize. The World Endurance Championship has seen some incredible wheel-to-wheel action in its brief history, Fuji and Nurburgring in 2015 and Spa 2016 stick out especially. A lot of this wheel-to-wheel in Endurance racing is down to the fact that these guys don’t have to worry about dirty air in the way Formula One does. They also have less dramatic tires which means they aren’t conservative. These guys are always properly going for it – and that’s what makes it so good.
Thirdly, performance convergence. In every class of the World Endurance Championship – any car can win. Porsche, Audi and Toyota have all had chances to win in 2016 so far, and all but Toyota have grabbed it with two hands. This has made for much more interesting racing. But many think to make performance equal – teams need equal machinery. But in LMP1 the Porsche is fast, but unreliable, Toyota is fast in a straight line, built with Le Mans in mind, whilst the Audi balances pace with reliability. All unique features and it is the same in F1 – except the gaps between teams are bigger – meaning a McLaren cannot win. What it needs is to see McLaren, Williams, Renault, Sauber, Manor and Force India become potential race winners – whilst keeping their own unique aspects to their cars.
I hope the unexciting European Grand Prix was simply a one-off and Formula One will continue to be exciting on its own – but there is no lying when it comes to whether or not Formula One is at its best. 2017 should be a step in the right direction, and lets hope for better racing and more exciting races like Daytona, Nurburgring and Le Mans in the future of Formula One.