FIA Endurance Committee President Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones has admitted there’s no “absolute timeframe” for the arrival of new LMP1 manufacturers, although stressing there are ongoing talks and potential projects in the pipeline.
The top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship will be reduced to two manufacturers next year, for the first time since 2013, following Audi’s exit from prototype racing.
While automakers, such as BMW, have indicated interest in joining LMP1 with fuel-cell technology, Owen-Jones said they will not accelerate the introduction of new technologies to just ensure additional cars on the grid.
“Some manufacturers say, ‘The day you move to such-and-such technology, we will be there.’ Can you accelerate that? Not necessarily because I think new technology takes the time they take before they become realistic,” Owen-Jones said.
“Even if you would like to have a new manufacturer… it would sound nice but if it would make all your present manufacturers totally uncomfortable and face them with a huge cliff of expenditures to get there, I don’t think that would be a good idea either.
“That would be throwing away what you have for something new that you don’t have.
“I think there are people that will join the train when the train naturally moves on to something else. But that will happen when it happen.”
An updated set of the current LMP1 regulations is due out for 2018, set to feature an additional 10MJ hybrid subclass and the option of up to three hybrid systems per car, and is likely to see a minimum three-year commitment.
That means new technology, such as hydrogen power, would not be introduced until the next wave of regulations in 2021 or 2022 at the earliest.
“Short-term, we’re trying to keep this as open as possible and not making it over complicated,” Owen-Jones said. “Longer-term, of course, in order to stay exciting and relevant, this championship will move forward with new technologies.”
Owen-Jones downplayed suggestions that the current costs is acting as a roadblock for LMP1 manufacturers.
“I think we should be careful not to make that conclusion just because one manufacturer left the championship for reasons which, I think, have absolutely nothing to do with the annual budget,” he said.
“I think it’s a good moment to revise what we think is reasonable because in order to attract new people that’s probably a slightly different definition.
“But I don’t think this championship, to be technically challenging and interesting to manufacturers, has to be dissuasively expensive to do it.
“For some people it was [too expensive] but my suspension is that it will be lessoned.”
One of the possible solutions could be to encourage manufacturer participation in the LMP1 non-hybrid subclass, which is currently reserved for privateer teams only.
However, Owen-Jones said no decision has been taken.
“Those of you that have long memories like I do, back in the old days, manufacturers could, while not yet ready to be at the top… Porsche for example many years ran in the two-liter class and dominated it in the ’60s,” he said. “There was a class, which was a step up for new and future entrants.
“Yeah, you could ask yourself the question, ‘What would the equivalent today might be of the entry [level] class for manufacturers, but without the ambition of overall victory but getting involved, learning the discipline and making the step, as a reasonable expenditure?’
“Maybe there is an opportunity of that sort. I think it’s a question mark at this point but it’s a good question.”
WEC CEO Gerard Neveu, meanwhile, confirmed they’re in talks with Peugeot, but for a LMP1 hybrid solution.
“We still have discussions with other manufacturers that are interested in entering in the WEC,” Neveu said. “We are working very closely.
“The President of the Endurance Commission and the President of the ACO are working together in order to provide the best condition, as it was planned before the announcement of Audi… As in any case it was the plan, to guarantee the best future for this championship.
“If the way is to make some delay for the technical regulations or some adjustments… they are all working together.
“But the spirit of the Endurance Commission and the FIA WEC is always a compromise and discussion between all of the different main actors. It means at this moment, people are staying around the table and are working on it.”