Hybrid or not?
I wasn’t at the six hour WEC race at Spa, but I have spoken to a few folk that were, and I have the data from the race from Al Kamel Systems. Because of the unsettled weather, and the absence of Toyota, it is very difficult to draw any conclusions about what was going on at Audi, but the consensus seems to be that the non-hybrids seemed to be at an advantage when it was dry, whereas they seemed to suffer more of a handicap when the track was wetter.
There are two big questions to which I would like to know answers though: First, how close to their true potential were the Audis running? And second, which car has the greater potential: the hybrid or the non-hybrid?
The trouble is that I see no way of getting answers to these questions, as the relevant people at the Ingolstadt marque who know would be perfectly justified in not telling anyone.
Let me make it absolutely clear - I do not believe that the drivers, engineers and mechanics at Audi were not giving their absolute all during the six hour race at Spa (and during qualifying beforehand). But I do believe that, if circumstances had been different, there were things that could have been done which would have made faster lap times possible from both the R18 ultra and the R18 e-tron quattro.
Of course, when we get to Le Mans, it will be a very different situation. Will it though? It saddens me that none of the reports coming from Toyota fills me with much hope that the Japanese challenge will amount to very much. I hope that their announcement that they will attempt to lead the race on pace was inspired by bravado rather than a strategic approach. The car is bound still to be fragile, especially bearing in mind the rumours that are emerging to the effect that following its accident, a fairly major re-work of the design has taken place. What it needs to do, though, is to finish the race. To me that means that they should be reducing their pace to one at which they think they can achieve reliability. If that means it can’t keep up with the Audis, then fine. But pushing is courting disaster, especially against an adversary such as Audi.
Everyone I have spoken to at Audi (and regular readers will know that I talk a lot to Audi people) has expressed disappointment: (a) that Toyota wasn’t at Spa and (b) that the challenge has not been more mighty. While it would be foolish to be complacent about Le Mans, Audi really only has to compete against the event itself.
More than knowing the answers to those Audi questions, I would like to know the answers to some Toyota questions. Why only plan to have one car for the season? As someone pointed out last year - Toyota would be putting themselves at a disadvantage immediately by compromising the amount of data that it is possible to gather from the races they do compete in.
I have not been in the TMG facility at Cologne, but surely it must have the potential to work at a more productive rate than has so far been evidenced? The incremental costs of approaching the season in a more committed fashion are not that great, compared to the overall outlay of competing in the first place. There would seem, to my mind, to be a serious risk that they don’t even get two cars to the start line at Le Mans. In some ways, it must be an indication of just how expensive it is to compete at the highest level these days, if the incremental cost of “doing it properly” becomes prohibitive.
Look at the situation at Audi. With the best will in the world, it is not necessary to run four cars, surely? What about the expense of that? Running two hybrids and a single non-hybrid for reference would surely be adequate. Audi sees the incremental cost of the fourth car as a worthy investment. Going into the 2013 season, it will be Audi that has the most data about running a hybrid in the WEC.
And a final question to ponder: What will happen in 2014? New regulations are already drafted, manufacturers are already evaluating designs. Where is the money for that coming from? Maybe, just maybe, that’s where Toyota’s budgets are focussed, while Audi is using up its allocation before the reins from the VW point of view are taken up by Porsche.