Le Mans: Why the LMP1 class is dead

The results of the 2017 Le Mans endurance series have proved one thing: the LMP1 class is in dire need of resuscitation.

When one looks at the multiple series that share the track at Le Mans, they would be forgiven for believing that the top-tier class dominates the track. In theory, it should. But if the history of Motorsports has shown us anything, it’s that theory and execution are miles apart. The results of the 2017 Le Mans event only go to further signify that.

While Porsche managed to place their 919 Hybrid at the top upon the succession of the event, they were the only LMP1 class car to be seen in the top seven. The second-nearest was Toyota Gazoo’s TS050 Hybrid in 9th place. “But what of the remainder of the LMP1 cars?” one might ask. Well, they all got to enjoy early retirements – with only the second of the Porsche LMP1 cars clocking up past the 300-lap mark with 318 laps. The second highest on the LMP1 line-up: the Lopez/Kunimoto/Lapierre Toyota managed to clock 160 laps before giving up the ghost, and the third Toyota Gazoo car of Conway/Kobayashi/Sarrazin was close behind with only 154 laps to its name.

The disaster finish for the LMP1 class has shown one thing: there are severe problems with the hybrid’s reliability. Hybrid powertrains have been pushed in recent years as the bridge between traditional combustion engines and fully-electric ones, but their reliability out on the racetrack has shown that their performance is far from what is to be expected.

Neither Porsche nor Toyota have offered any clear answers to the problems their LMP1 cars had suffered, but ORECA President Hugues de Chaunac was the first out of the gate to slam the class for being “too complicated” – the reason he believes is behind the lack of reliability in the cars:

“I think probably that at this level it’s probably too complicated of a car. It’s important for us to reduce all this technology a little for something which is less complicated.” – Hugues de Chaunac

It’s important to note that de Chaunac called for a reduction in complexity, but not a reduction in performance. It is entirely possible that the woes the LMP1 class has been suffering is down to the overcomplicated systems. Then again, one would suppose that when you’re at the top level of performance in a race of attrition, the most focus would be given to creating a stable system whose variables and points of failure are limited to the smallest degree possible.

In reality, the LMP1 class will most likely not be phased out. What we’re looking at is a warning sign for teams to take a step back and another stab at the hybrid formula. Because if they don’t, the coming years won’t be kind to a “top-level” class that can’t manage to finish the Le Mans race.