Toyota’s Sebastien Buemi and ex-Audi sports car driver Lucas di Grassi believe it’s time for LMP1 to move away from hybrid technology and adapt its regulations in order to be more attractive to manufacturers.
Porsche confirmed last Friday it would be ending its LMP1 program at the end of the year, leaving Toyota as the sole manufacturer racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s premier class for 2018.
The German marque will depart the series in order to prepare for a factory entry to Formula E for 2019, following in the footsteps of Audi, which made the same move at the end of last year.
The news has cast serious doubt on the future of the class despite new regulations being announced at Le Mans for 2020 pointing towards cost cutting and greater electric technology in the hope of attracting new manufacturers.
For di Grassi though, Formula E has already become the go-to place for manufacturers looking to tick those boxes, having been part of Audi’s efforts in both series in recent years.
“The automotive industry has to change, at least part of it, from combustion to electric. So why not create a series that promotes the technology of electric racing and electric technology overall?” di Grassi said.
“Of course the manufacturers take some time to understand the project and the series. The partners are strong, the media attention is there. They see the future being very clear: they have to switch to electric at a certain point. That’s why Formula E is so successful.
“For me, the WEC has a bright future, and especially Le Mans, but they have to adapt. Le Mans in my opinion would be the ultimate challenge for an electric car, to win a long-distance 24 hours over electric power.
“But they can continue with many different ways and they have to adapt, they have to lower the costs, they have to lower the complexity.
“For sure there will be room for GT racing, for LMP racing if the regulations are in the right way. I’m very glad that manufacturers are joining Formula E, but I think in the market there are enough manufacturers and racing opportunities for everyone.”
Buemi echoed di Grassi’s thoughts, noting how Formula E not only offered more future road relevance but also came at a much-reduced cost.
“In the WEC it’s very complex. You have to build your car from scratch, it’s going to cost a huge amount of money, and then the manufacturer always looks at the outcome of that,” Buemi said.
“I think the success of Formula E is also down to the regulations. You can enter it, you can have good exposure for not so much money now. It is the future because we promote electric powertrains and developments here to enter Formula E.
“In WEC, you need a huge team. In our [Formula E] team we have 30 people altogether. In WEC, you have no team in LMP1 with less than 300. It’s impossible. It also scares people to go into the championship.”
Buemi agreed that the regulations for LMP1 should be reviewed, suggesting that ditching hybrid systems may be a good resolution.
“Like Lucas said, they need to adapt the regulations,” Buemi said. “I think five years ago, everyone was thinking we need to be in hybrid cars. What they did was amazing.
“The regulations were really within its time, but now it’s… not outdated, but they need to think of something else to give it a new boost.”