Friday, 15 December 2017

A look back at the 2017 World Endurance Championship

It has been called the end of an era: 2017 will signal the end of the traditional, calendar-driven World Endurance Championship. In future we will need to refer to the Champions as the “2018-2019 winners”, just as we do in football, I suppose. And if the stars align, then there is no reason to suppose that in a few years’ time we will not think anything special of it.

Theoretically, football has a clear ‘season’, in which Premiership matches start in August, and run through to May, but fans will not find it difficult to find matches in the remaining two months of the year. The idea of a year-round season is not unfamiliar to followers of football, as well as other sports.

I just feel that the WEC is losing something, somehow. At the very least, the gains are completely cosmetic and rather artificial. It all smacks a little of moving deck-chairs. What is unclear (to me) is whether we are aboard a sinking ship.

There are two elements to the matter. First, as I have mentioned before, is the move to a championship that ends with the Le Mans 24-hour race. We’ve had 85 Grands Prix d’Endurance, none of which have been the final round of any championship – why the need to make it so now? Second, why do we have to get there via the so-called ‘super-season’ that will incorporate two 24-hour races at Le Mans? I am all for innovation, but I wonder if a couple of non-championship races might have served the purpose better? Or what about a revival of the ‘Coupe Biennale’ concept to score points at Le Mans?

In 1962, the South African GP (for formula one cars) was held in December (29th), and was the final round of the championship for 1962; whereas in 1965 and 1968, it was held in January (on New Year’s Day, to be precise, with practice and qualifying in the previous year) and counted towards the World Drivers’ Championships for 1965 and 1968, respectively. The next championship race of the 1968 season was in Spain on 12th May, meaning that there was more than five months separating the first and second rounds of the season. Considering the final round was on 3rd November in Mexico, 1968 was indeed a long season.

In this context, it all seems rather arbitrary, especially considering that the “super-season” will consist of eight rounds, compared to this season’s nine… inevitably, one is tempted to suspect some other motivation is at work. I fail to see how, in this case, less is more.

But enough of the politics. I have always tended to focus more on individual performances in specific races, rather than on championships. So I am sure that once we get underway with racing in the WEC again next year at Spa-Francorchamps, my enthusiasm will be boiling. In any case, change will surely be a good thing – one of my carps of recent seasons has been the homogeneity of it all.

And I digress. The intention of this post was to look back on the 2017 season, with some numbers which may not have been published elsewhere. In the spirit of change, I thought that a look at the number of racing kilometres covered by the leading cars during the season might be interesting.
Car No. Car Distance
1 Porsche 919 Hybrid 12,429.6kms
2 Porsche 919 Hybrid 13,092.9kms
7 Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 9,981.4kms
8 Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 13,020.5kms

In terms of race distance completed by each driver in LMP1, the results (at least the top ten) were:
Car No. Car Driver Distance %age
8 Toyota Sébastien Buemi 5,197.2kms 39.9%
2 Porsche Brendon Hartley 4,762.8kms 36.4%
2 Porsche Timo Bernhard 4,616.8kms 35.3%
1 Porsche Nick Tandy 4,480.6kms 36.0%
8 Toyota Kazuki Nakajima 4,351.9kms 33.4%
1 Porsche Neel Jani 4,188.4kms 33.7%
7 Toyota Mike Conway 4,026.1kms 40.3%
1 Porsche André Lotterer 3,760.6kms 30.3%
2 Porsche Earl Bamber 3,713.3kms 28.4%
8 Toyota Anthony Davidson 3,311.6kms 25.4%

The final column (%age), is simply the distance that the named driver raced, as a percentage of the total distance completed by that driver’s car. This is interesting, as it shows how each manufacturer may have favoured certain drivers over others, or it shows who had the luck of the draw, or maybe it is an indication of how pushy some drivers are!

Since most of the GTE-Pro teams consisted of two-driver teams, there are some slightly more impressive figures if you look at that class, although this does put into perspective the distance driven by Buemi - and the performance differential between LMP1 and GTE, if you consider the time spent at the wheel.

Here, then, are the top ten drivers, in terms of race distance completed during the season:
Driver Car Distance Time
Frédéric Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR 5,759.7kms 33h 36m
Alessandro Pier Guidi Ferrari 488 GTE 5,431.7kms 31h 49m
Davide Rigon Ferrari 488 GTE 5,242.9kms 31h 19m
Sébastien Buemi Toyota TS050-Hybrid 5,197.2kms 26h 40m
James Calado Ferrari 488 GTE 5,189.6kms 30h 59m
Sam Bird Ferrari 488 GTE 5,076.3kms 29h 07m
Nikki Thiim Aston Martin Vantage 4,999.7kms 29h 39m
Andy Priaulx Ford GT 4,996.9kms 30h 02m
Olivier Pla Ford GT 4,880.4kms 28h 55m
Marco Sørensen Aston Martin Vantage 4,862.2kms 29h 08m

Some readers might be tempted (as I was) to divide the distance driven by the time spent at the wheel, in order to calculate average speed, and to get some kind of performance ranking. I shirked away from this calculation, on the grounds that, although the time spent driving excludes time spent in the pits (as well as time spent during the red flag periods in Japan), it does not take into account safety car periods, full course yellows or Slow Zones.

Don’t forget that none of these numbers take account of time spent driving the car in practice or qualifying - this is purely the distance actually raced. It is sobering (at this time of year) to consider that Sébastien Buemi spent just over three working days racing at nearly 200km/h for the distance (by road) from Paris to Dakar!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul, I'm curious, what do you think the other motivations might be behind an 8-race super-season?
    I tend to agree with the sentiment, especially about the homogeneity of the WEC. Some different length races would be very welcome.