Retired world champion Nico Rosberg wanted to see Fernando Alonso as his replacement at Mercedes this year. Rosberg, who called time on his F1 career after winning last year’s world title, said: “OK, because I’m now a fan, and on that side of the fence, it’s very easy to respond. Everyone says [they’d like to see] Alonso and I say it too, because there would be fireworks with Hamilton. As a fan it would be nice, but for the team it wouldn’t work.”
Imay not make many friends with this column, but I can’t help but be disappointed with this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship entry list.
I love the WEC, and have been around it since its rebirth in 2012, but I find this year’s entry both lacking and troubling.
Yes, everybody expected just two manufacturers in LMP1 with Audi pulling out. That’s nothing new in endurance racing. I came into this sport as a professional journalist during the days of Audi v Peugeot, and when the WEC began it only had Audi and Toyota before the golden era of 2014 when both Porsche and Nissan (OK, Nissan was rubbish, but at least it was there...) came knocking.
But what’s missing this year is a compelling support cast. In the days of Audi v Peugeot the racing was always backed up by a healthy privateer entry. Look at 2009, beneath the works teams you had Pescarolos, ORECAS, Ginetta-zyteks and Creations all fighting it out and set to benefit if any of the big players hit trouble. It provided a great subplot.
This year, if one of the four remaining ‘big player’ cars hits trouble, we’ve got a single Bykolles to look for. A car running in a class of one, and a car that’s barely set the stage alight in its past campaigns. That’s pretty depressing, and makes the entry feel threadbare.
Sure, it’s got Robert Kubica and Oliver Webb in it, two great drivers, but their year is essentially going to be reduced to a grand track day.
Things are changing in privateer LMP1 though, with Ginetta set to come in all guns blazing in 2018. That can’t happen soon enough if you ask me.
I also have concerns about LMP2. Back in 2015 a good friend of mine said to me in the La Sarthe media centre: “Have you seen these new rules? They’ll make LMP2 basically a single-make category. It rips the heart and soul out of what is a great formula.”
Two years on and he’s right. Look at the entry – 10 cars (disappointing in itself), all of which are the same, just in different colours, or with Alpine stickers and a different name...
This isn’t what LMP2 was supposed to be. The ACO had to act to cut costs, and decided limiting chassis supply was the way to do that. Why?
The ACO wanted to cut out the expensive one-off or small-time manufacturers to stop costs creeping up. But they offered variety, and it’s not like those entries ran off and dominated anyway.
Ligier has been at the front in recent years, and that’s a company with a business model based around selling cars in great volume, but at low cost.
The result of the limitation is that ORECA – the first brand to run a 2017 car – has gotten the jump and dominates the entry. I have no doubt that P2 will still provide great racing, but the lack of variety and teams does act as a turn-off.
Let’s hope this year’s WEC season is a transitional one, and we’ll see the competitors come flooding back soon. Because, in my mind, they need to.
Variety in privateer LMP1S supported Le Mans