With apologies that this analysis is not as deep as usual, but nevertheless some thoughts that you may not have read elsewhere.
1) LMP1 just gets better and better
Even if the on-track racing may not have provided the same phenomenal spectacle that was seen at last year’s Silverstone Six Hours, this year’s crop of LMP1 Hybrid racers proved that the march of progress is relentless indeed. Despite a 7.5% reduction in fuel use, Toyota, Audi and Porsche all lapped quicker than last year’s best lap.
Best Lap Times:
2016: Porsche: 1m 40.303s / Audi: 1m 40.461s / Toyota: 1m 40.657s
2015: Audi: 1m 40.836s / Porsche: 1m 42.012s / Toyota: 1m 42.209s
Percentage improvement: Porsche: 1.7% / Audi: 0.4% / Toyota: 1.5%
2016: Porsche: 293.5 kph / Audi: 294.3kph / Toyota: 296.7 kph
2015: Porsche: 300.0 kph / Audi: 274.1kph / Toyota: 282.7 kph
Percentage improvement: Porsche: -2.2% / Audi: 7.4% / Toyota: 5.0%
Setup for Silverstone is of course a compromise, with its mixture of straights, fast sweeps and slow corners coming, annoyingly, in every sector. But the data would seem to show that Audi’s balance was about right, whereas Porsche could have perhaps sacrificed a little downforce for a higher top speed – possibly with the benefit of a better average lap time. Perhaps that was the difference between the number one and the number two cars: it was very noticeable in the first phase of the race that the Webber / Hartley car was substantially quicker than that of Dumas / Lieb / Jani, although no explanation for the difference was forthcoming from any official Porsche sources.
It should also be said that, despite the expectations – and despite the result which allowed a Rebellion to be classified in a podium position – reliability among the manufacturer hybrids was good. Porsche lost one car due to driver error and Toyota one due to a puncture. In the end, neither Audi was classified but it is not unreasonable to expect the team to be able easily to address the issue which caused the excessive wear to the skid block that led to the exclusion of the car.
As far as the problem that struck the other Audi R18 e-tron quattro - leaving it stranded in the middle of the track at the Loop as the Full Course Yellow was implemented, I am told that this was caused by ‘human error’, rather than mechanical frailty, so in some ways, the designers, engineers and test teams can be satisfied that their winter travails have been worth the effort.
2) The pecking order
My analysis of the times from the Prologue at Paul Ricard suggested that the times would be close at Silverstone and the best laps shown above reflect that to an extent. In the race itself, the difference in the average of the best 20% of green race laps between the Lotterer/Fässler/Tréluyer Audi and the Dumas/Lieb/Jani Porsche was less than a tenth of a second (the Audi being marginally quicker). The Toyota of Conway/Kobayashi/Sarrazin was around seven-tenths of a second slower in third place on the road. However, as I have already mentioned, the average lap times of the two Porsches in the first portion of the race were 0.66s different, whereas the two Audis were less than a tenth apart and the two Toyotas were separated by just three-tenths of a second.
There certainly seemed to be a difference in the suitability of the tyre compounds being used. Although Porsche, Audi and Toyota all use Michelin rubber, they all have different compounds available to them, and it would seem that Audi lost time in the opening stint on the wrong compound. Toyota made better use of their tyre allocation than Audi or Porsche and saved time in the pits by not changing tyres at every stop. Audi’s pit stops were not as slick as they should have been - in the first two stops, Lotterer and Fässler lost more than twenty seconds to Dumas and Jani.
A fact often forgotten is the turnover of staff that takes place within the teams: many of the tyre-changers at Audi were doing so for the first time in anger during the Silverstone weekend, and Audi’s hard-won reputation for efficiency in the pits needs to be addressed, in my opinion. Arguably, there were various points through the race when strategic mistakes were made by all of the leading teams - surely with a race under their belts, Spa will be better for everyone.
So is Audi really ahead of Porsche? I think not. The evidence from Silverstone isn’t conclusive. Is Toyota really behind? Possibly, but a look at the top speeds shows that the Japanese marque was 10km/h quicker down Silverstone’s big straights: surely that will negate any disadvantage in France in June? Sector times from Spa-Francorchamps –which provide a good indication of performance in slow, medium and high-speed configuration – will be telling.
3) The LMP2 class is good
Silverstone had greater strength in depth in the baby prototype class than we have ever seen. While we have become used to GT cars providing entertainment when attention wanders from the overall lead, LMP2 has taken over that role.
The difference in average lap times across the top four finishers was less than half a second – the RGR Morand Liger, the ESM Ligier, the G-Drive Oreca and the Signatech Alpine. That’s more than the difference between the two LMP1 Porsche 919s.
Ten of the eleven starters made it to the finish – and five of them spent less time in the pits than the ‘winning’ Audi, so there’s not much wrong with either the teams or the robustness of the cars. This year will be the swan-song for the current breed of LMP2, before the new regulations in 2017 – enjoy it while you can!
4) The balance of GTE-Pro needs fixing
If there was a disappointment at Silverstone, it was the GTE-Pro class. The AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird led every single lap of the race – almost unheard of in GTE races in 2015. The best Ferrari lap (by Bruni in the no. 51) was more than a second quicker than the best lap of any non-Ferrari (Darren Turner in the no. 95 Aston Martin).
The average lap times tell the same story: the Ferraris were 1.3% quicker than the best that Aston or Porsche could manage, and 1.8% faster than the Fords. Moreover, the AF Corse cars spent less time re-fuelling and went further between stops.
The fact that the Bruni/Calado Ferrari was able to recover to finish second, despite a three-minute penalty pit stop was further evidence of the Maranello superiority. The World Endurance Committee will consider adjustments ahead of the 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps: I cannot imagine that they will not act.
5) ELMS is good
The four-hour ELMS race on Saturday afternoon featured a 44-car grid, 19 of which were in the LMP3 class. Compare this with 30 cars that started the 2015 edition of this race, with just five LMP3 cars. Three different P2 manufacturers in the top three places overall. Harry Tincknell, in the winning G-Drive Gibson, having somewhat blotted his copybook on the opening lap, drove superbly to hand the car over to Simon Dolan in a winning position. Giedo van der Garde, in his final stint was also mighty, setting the car’s fastest lap of the race on the final lap - whether that is a good thing or not is left to the reader to decide!
A one-two result for United Autosports in LMP3 demonstrates that serious engagement garners results – it will be interesting to see how long it is until the team arrives in LMP2. At which point the class can justify its claim as a feeder category.
What about you? Were you at Silverstone? What did you think? If you watched it from home, did you enjoy the coverage? Do you agree with any of these musings? Let me know in the box below!