Slow LMP1s: you asked for it

Hazel Southwell
Jun 18, 2018 · 5 min read

We've seen a return to simple, bigger combustion engines at the top level of motorsport and everyone is furious about it. But I thought this was what you all wanted?

There's a Sky F1 indent at the minute that sends me into paraplysms of rage. It's Martin Brundle asking F1 drivers what should be done to fix the series’ current problems - nearly all of the, presumably selectively cut, soundbites say bigger, simpler engines and improved reliability (not correlating concepts by any means) and Brundle himself claims that V8, V10 and V12 engines are what cutting-edge hypercars use today.

Not sure what hypercars he's looking at but they're definitely not the cutting edge ones at that but anyway, the point is there's this whole accepted schtick that if we just went back to larger internal combustion engines and binned off all this hybrid hippie nonsense everything would be proper again and the cars would go faster and be cooler.

In 2018 (well, a bit before but for this super season) the World Endurance Championship addressed the lack of factory LMP1-H entries by introducing (or really, re-introducing and somewhat re-speccing) a privateer LMP1 category. It did away with the V6 of the factory efforts, as well as the MGU-H, MGU-K and energy store and used only a turbocharged V8 and relevant control electronics.

The idea was it made it possible to cheaply go racing in a category up from the comparatively limit (and technologically ageing) LMP2 and to attract more sponsorship and top level private teams. The sort of thing F1 is very much looking to sort out.

It was probably a mistake to call them LMP1 but it had only been one season since the last privateers were decently successful in the category and in theory Le Mans could have been won by ByKolles last year if they hadn't hit a cone early on. So the idea of privateer, combustion-only top level prototypes probably didn't seem as controversial to WEC as it's turned out to be.

The problem (which is not a real problem, in fact it is good not bad and there should be more of it) is that there's still one manufacturer left running LMP1-H cars. Which go faster. Which people think is very unfair because the privateers have a bigger engine so Toyota must be cheating.

Aside from various spurious attempts at forcing the difference to 0.5 of something (0.5 seconds, 0.5%, where has this figure come from) there's a fundamental misunderstanding here: the privateer P1s do not go as fast because they are not as good.

That doesn't mean the drivers aren't as good or the teams aren't making the absolute most of what they have, it's just that the cars do not have a hybrid recovery system so every bit of power that goes into the car is a flat energy loss, only expending the fuel and never extending it. When a combustion-only car storms up the Le Mans pit straight and then brakes into the curve of turn one, all the energy and fuel burnt through to accelerate turns to heat in the brakes - and is gone. When it gears up the torque to get up the hill to Dunlop, the heat the engine fires up disappears into the night as nothing, fumes out of the exhaust that don't move the car forwards.

That's how combustion engines work. Hybrid engines, on the other hand — especially the P1-Hs and now F1 cars — recover both the energy from braking and excess heat escaping through the exhaust as electrical charge and then redeploy it down the drive train as extra power. Which in a P1 amounts to about a 300bhp difference to the combustion-only cars, because non-hybrid engines are less efficient and cannot produce those power levels with the same or even considerably more fuel.

All of this got a bit twisted during the WEC prologue at Paul Ricard, where it looked like the non-hybrid cars were much closer to the hybrid cars than they actually are. Wait, no, it didn't at all - by the end of the test, the two Toyota cars were 3 and 5 seconds clear of the closest privateers. And at this point the cries of foul play started, that Toyota were cheating.

Then by the time we got to Spa, there was talk that the privateers were being held back so as not to show up Toyota. The fact that there was literally no way they were ever going to be as fast as the hybrids went unnoticed because we all, for some reason, refuse to acknowledge that hybrid technology extends the range and increases the power of cars.

Then come Le Mans everyone was in a furious tizz before we’d even started free practice as the privateer P1s were given a one-lap-shorter stint limit than the hybrids. Which is nuts, since the fact it was only one lap is a huge disadvatange to the full potential of the Toyota, given the incredible amount fuel range is extended by electrical recovery.

The privateer P1s were having to take on more fuel between each stint than the Toyotas, because they needed more to get round. Their fuel was being pumped faster and their cars were experiencing more of a fuel-weight-lightening advantage towards the end of stints than the Toyotas but the fundamental fact, that they could go less far on the fuel, remained true.

But that’s what we want, right? Refuelling, no fuel saving, simple petrol engine… Leaving aside the fact the Cosworth V8s are by no means simple nor possible to run in a prototype without complicated control electronics, this is what everyone’s been asking for, so how could it fall so short of the overcomplicated, unreliable, expensive Toyota?

Listen up, dudes: they have the best car. A complex car that down to the last lap of le Mans has a terrible failure record but you need to let go of this. Your petrol dream is less good - sorry, it can't compete and nothing else should be limited to try and make it.

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