The National Football League Super Bowl attracts the kind of viewing figures Formula One can only dream about getting in the USA. It set a new record last Sunday, and during its traditional half-time show over 118 million pairs of eyeballs were watching.
Advertising slots at this time command top-dollar prices. So Nissan’s commercial featuring its new LMP1 challenger, the GT-R LM NISMO, was a significant coup for the series it will compete in:
Mawkish pap? Absolutely. But pure gold for the World Endurance Championship – how many of those 118 million people will have been intrigued by the glimpses of the GT-R LM and turned to the web looking for more?
And for those who already have an interest in motor racing, the fourth manufacturer entrant to the WEC is a fascinating proposition which thumbs its nose at convention.
In pursuit of more effective aerodynamics its three-litre V6 engine is mounted at the front of the car and drives the front wheels. Its narrow rear tyres make for an unorthodox machine unlike any of its LMP1 rivals.
This underlined the point made by Nissan’s (since departed) executive vice-president Andy Palmer when the programme was announced last May: “LMP1 is not just an arms race – all our rivals in the class have taken different technical approaches and we will be doing the same.”
The phrase ‘just an arms race’ serves as a neat explanation for why Nissan chose to join Toyota, Porsche and Audi in the WEC over Formula One. Each of their cars has a different solution to WEC’s hybrid engine regulations, while those in F1 are straitjacketed into using the same V6 turbo configuration.
The Nissan “set social media alight”, in the words of FIA commission president Lindsay Owen-Jones. “But from an engineering perspective it also demonstrates that the new regulations have allowed a major motor manufacturer to come up with a solution to a set of rules that is very different from their rivals,” he added.
A good week for WEC got better on Thursday when the entry list for this year’s championship and the blue riband Le Mans 24 Hours were announced. The LMP1 class is now the largest in the field, and the total entry has expanded to 35 – almost twice as many as the meagre field of 18 currently expected for the first F1 race of the year.
Granted, this isn’t comparing apples with apples – the LMP1 entry numbers just 11, and other classes make up the rest of the field. Nonetheless, this is indicative of the health of the WEC, which has expanded beyond its previous maximum entry of 32 this year.
For all F1’s talk about ‘improving the show’ in recent years, those running the sport have failed to grasp that the most obvious way of ensuring more happens during a race is to have more competitors. A larger grid makes more noise too, addressing another recent bugbear.
In an episode which encapsulated the depths of dysfunction F1 is now plumbing, the chances of getting the grid up to at least 20 were dashed this week. Manor (formerly Marussia) were forbidden from entering the championship using the chassis they built for last season.
The days of F1’s regulations being stable enough for a team to use fundamentally the same chassis from one year to another are a thing of the past. As recently as 2003 McLaren came close to championship success using an evolution of its car from the previous season.
Manor professed surprise at the decision on the grounds that their previous application to the Strategy Group had already been addressed and they had made no further one since then. However their ‘non-application’ ended up on the table, it was then decided by a group of teams who were presented with the option of having to compete against another rival or potentially getting a share of the prize money which was owed to them.
It’s not hard to understand why any of the teams would take the money – particularly the one which did not attend testing this week due to a reported lack of funds. But what are those in charge of the sport doing allowing it to be run this way?
Meanwhile the WEC’s diverse grid booms and F1’s homogenised arms race dwindles.
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