How quick would F1 lap at Le Mans?

Allan McNish, Le Mans 24 Hours, Audi, 2008, 2, 470150

The Le Mans 24 Hours is underway at the 13.6km (8.4m) Circuit de la Sarthe. It’s an unusual track, dominated by the huge Mulsanne straight, and then looping back to the start/finish straight via a succession of straights and high-speed corners.

In terms of size it has no equal in Formula 1 – the next longest track (Spa-Francorchamps) is similar in character but half the length (7km).

Formula has never raced on the circuit and probably couldn’t. So how long would an F1 car take to lap it? Could it do a sub-three minute time? Let’s make an educated guess…

The leading cars in the Le Mans 24 Hours this year are Audi’s R10 and Peugeot’s 908. Both race in the Europe-wide Le Mans series and this year have already raced on three circuits that are on the F1 calendar.

By comparing their pole position times with the best times seen in F1 qualifying (which usually occur in Q2 when the cars use low fuel) we can get an idea of the approximate difference in performance between F1 and LMS cars:

Circuit Formula 1 Le Mans Series Difference
Spa-Francorchamps 1’45.070 (’07) 1’58.069 (’08) +12.37%
Monza 1’21.356 (’07) 1’31.875 (’08) +12.43%
Circuit de Catalunya 1’20.584 (’08) 1’31.875 (’08) +14.01%
Le Mans ? 3’18.513 (’08) ?

Comparing this year’s LMS qualifying times with last year’s F1 LMS times at Spa and Monza we get a very similar percentage difference in performance: the LMS cars are 12.4% slower, give or take 0.03%

Spa and Monza are also two of the fastest circuits on the Formula 1 calendar and are probably a better guide of lap times at the Circuit de la Sarthe than the Circuit de Catalunya, where the ratio of corners to straights is higher.

The LMS pole time at Catalunya this year was a fraction over 14% slower than the best time in F1 qualifying.

Stephane Sarrazin’s pole position time for Peugeot at Le Mans this year was a 3’18.513. Based on the difference between the F1 and LMS times at Catalunya this year, the projected fastest lap time by an F1 car would be 2’54.118.

However I think the gap between F1 and LMS cars would be wider at Catalunya than at Spa, Monza and the Circuit de la Sarthe. But even using the conservative difference of 12.4%, the F1 car would still be comfortably under the three minute mark.

Of course, this is an entirely hypothetical and crude mathematical assessment. Many things could influence differences in the time: track conditions, weather conditions and so on.

The only way to find out for sure would be for someone to take a modern F1 car out there. Unfortunately Formula 1 has only ever raced the short and unloved Bugatti circuit at Le Mans in 1967.

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20 comments on How quick would F1 lap at Le Mans?

  1. cyanide said on 14th June 2008, 17:51

    Depends on the top speed of LMS cars, I think. Besides, Circuit de la Sarthe is mostly made up of really fast corners which could probably be taken at about 65%-75% throttle in the current F1 cars, without any real tuning. I’d bet at somewhere around 1:45-48.

  2. cyanide said on 14th June 2008, 17:56

    Apologies, I meant 2:45-48. I haven’t been drinking a lot, I promise :)

    • Georges said on 12th March 2013, 15:45

      I highly doubt. The best f1 lap times are set by high downforce figures which results to massive decrease in top speed. Le Mans is a very fast track. If you go all out top speed in F1, in case the gearbox doesn’t explode, it would still be slower than the LMP1. So LMP1 wins. Much like Group C was better than F1 in Nordschleife.

  3. Scootin159 said on 14th June 2008, 18:16

    In Grand Tourismo 4 (not a perfect analogy, but not too bad), the LMS cars are actually faster at Sarthe – largely due to the top speed difference. Of course, I’m not sure what wing configuration the GT4 F1 car is designed for, but even with the minimum downforce allowed the LMS cars have 20-30mph advantage in top speed.

  4. With the grip of F1 cars nowadays, I’d say it would take 2:30-35.

  5. Missouri Mike said on 14th June 2008, 19:18

    Scootin159, I wonder if the top speed advantage you speak of would be negated somewhat in real life, since the F1 crews would be able to adjust not only downforce but also gear ratios. Mulsanne is no longer 6km long of course, but even with it split into three sections, does any current F1 venue offer such long straights?

    I think this is a job for Clarkson, May, and Hammond to tackle. One of you Brits needs to call up the folks at Top Gear and get them to send the Stig out on a fact-finding research project for us. We must know!

  6. Rabi said on 14th June 2008, 19:30

    Yeah send them into compete LMES 24 hours next year with a F1 car. They’ve got the experience in endurance racing and I’d love to see chief designer/mechanic/engineer/catering supplies/pitstop crew Steve again on our screens :)

  7. Sush said on 14th June 2008, 20:18

    Scootin, games are always a poor mark for assessment comparative to real life, and GT4 is even worse for it considering its 6% faster for excitement purpose.

  8. A Singh said on 15th June 2008, 12:27

    With Bernie complaining constantly about Magny Cours, I don’t understand why the F1 cars can’t go to Le Mans. It is simply fantastic tack and the Paris street race is never going to happen.

  9. The Bugatti Circuit isn’t bad, it just isn’t great either. Frankly, it was ahead of its time by being a series of straights with hairpins of varying degrees at the end of each one.

    I don’t see the real big circuit seeing action more than once a year, there’s people living in those houses along the Mulsanne, aren’t there? Brands Hatch has the same sort of problems with its locals.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th June 2008, 9:33

    Love the idea of a three-minute lap in F1 though :-)

  11. I would say that an F1 car isn’t really suited to this circuit so though I think it would be faster (on a single lap) than an LMP1 it wouldn’t be by as much as the other circuits you mentioned. Manly as there are only a couple of big stops which is where the F1 car would be good. And for the F1 car to reach a good speed down the Mulsane straight it would need a setup which wouldn’t suite it round the twisty bits.

    Would be fascinating to see the true difference though, they need to arrange a demo run at some point.

  12. Very interesting comparison and something that I had been wondering about. Well done :)

  13. Kershan said on 14th June 2009, 7:58

    I think the dirvers would hate it too. I think it was Ralf Schumacher who said that he used to feel like nodding off on the old Hockenheim straights. Le Mans would be the same, probably. Ther could be some noce slipstreaming, mind you.

  14. James said on 13th June 2011, 14:59

    Hi I also like the comparison. Though I think the difference between a F1 car and the Peugeot 908 (year 2008)reduces as the speed of the track raises. Mind you if the 13.6 km track would be covered in 3 minutes the average speed would be 272 Km/h. In case of 2 minutes and 30 seconds it would be 326 km/h.

    I think it would be capable to go below 3 minutes with a modern F1 car. I would like to see it too!

  15. realhustler said on 27th September 2011, 11:09

    Hi guys,

    I see people talking about GT4, but why not try this out in GT5 ? I will try at home, I did already some runs in the Red Bull X 2010, but this is really really fast.

    The Gran Turismo GT is also very quick but I do not know the times, I will try it out, and also with the Ferrari F1.

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