Zak Brown, Andreas Seidl, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2019

McLaren: F1 cost cap gives WEC hypercar opportunity

2019 F1 Season

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McLaren boss Zak Brown and sporting director Gil de Ferran have said the 2021 F1 cost cap could make an opportunity to restructure their racing programme, as the F1 cost cap and WEC hypercar introduction coincide.

Speaking at Le Mans, the McLaren leaders said that they were strongly interested in a potential hypercar programme, following the announcement of regulations which Aston Martin and Toyota have already signed up to.

Zak Brown clarified that a hypercar entry would not replace or in itself impact their Formula One programme.

“It would have nothing to do with our Formula One team but it would run by our racing group, led by Gil and a bespoke team would be set up to run it. So it would be in collaboration with automotive, run by racing but would not disrupt our Formula One activities.”

However, both Brown and De Ferran said that the coming F1 cost cap – which is confirmed for 2021, the same year that the hypercar class is introduced to WEC –

Brown said “I think it’s all part of the analysis of how would we do it, when would we do it. Budget cap comes in 2021, the soonest we’d be ready here is 2021 so there’s a – as you move to restructure your organisation, that’s opportune timing.

“I think it’s a positive that these dynamics are going on in F1 at the same time that we’re considering WEC.”

De Ferran said that there could be direct internal transfers from the Formula One team, prompted by the budget cap and 2021 rules,

“It is never easy to put a whole team of people together. There’s a lot of operational considerations. Hopefully on the Formula One rules, in 2021 it’s a whole new world in terms of the regulations over there so there might be an opportunity to deploy people inside McLaren in a different way.”

Brown said that a hypercar entry would have to be financially independent, not only operationally separate from Formula One.

“We would run everything independently, not only technically but fiscally so one isn’t going to pull on the other and if we do this, we’re not going to do this – so everything has to stand on its own two feet.”

De Ferran said that any F1 changes would be driven by the 2021 rules, not by other racing programmes – but that synergies were possible across the series.

“Obviously there is a big shift in rules in 2021 and we’ve been – even last year – doing a lot of planning coming into that phase so all of these considerations, be it WEC or Indycar or any other programme we are looking into and that we haven’t made a final decision on takes all of this into account.

“We have to make sure the Formula One programme stays as competitive as it can be – and every other programme. But there’s an aspect that can provide synergies between the programmes for personnel, technologies and so on.”

Asked if there was a possibility of current or former Formula One drivers moving to hypercar programmes, as several (Oliver Turvey, Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne) have current WEC experience, De Ferran said it was a possibility.

“I think we would be looking towards having the best possible driver lineup. If that includes some of our Formula One drivers that would be great.”

Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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24 comments on “McLaren: F1 cost cap gives WEC hypercar opportunity”

  1. Whoever is chosen to head up the WEC organization under Gil might want to have a chat with Bob Fernley first. Just saying…

    McLaren in F1 have greatly impressed me this year. Maybe they ought to solidify their position here before spreading their wings? I get that Zak wants to bring his approach of consolidating all motorsport media under one banner to the motorsport arena as well, by have a presence in multiple series under the McLaren banner.

    Also, is there as much credit in running the WEC with a supplier’s engine? I’d always thought the ‘endurance’ aspect of WEC was heavily focused on the engine (yes, the suspension and powertrain also get a workout, but it’s the engine that dominates the talk). I’m not a WEC follower, so I could be off base here.

    They’ve got a point that the budget cap will free up money and personnel. However, I think that’d be a relatively small amount. Per Dieter’s article they had a budget of $220 million in 2018, which is $45 m above the cap. However, there are exclusions to the cap like marketing expenses, drivers salaries, top 3 salaries, etc., which means the budget cap won’t free up vast swathes of money, it’d be in the order of few tens of millions.

    I’d also think that there is an element of Zak managing the board/shareholders expectations: “No, your investment in 2021 can’t reduce because of F1’s budget cap, because we’re expanding to other series. Look, more advertising opportunities!”.

    1. @phylyp, there have been a number of individuals questioning whether Zak Brown is potentially being too ambitious and risks overcommitting to too many different areas. Right now, it would leave the team with a lot of different commitments – Formula 1, IndyCar (both in the role of a supplier and as a competitor), GT3 customer programmes, rumours of a possible GTE entry and now a “hypercar” entry as well, plus also acting as a component supplier to Formula E as well.

      As you note, the budget of the team means that savings from the cost cap probably aren’t going to be massive once you add in the salaries and marketing expenses that are excluded from the cost cap. Zak has indicated here that McLaren might also draw on some of the resources and expertise of the wider McLaren Group here, but overall I’d agree that the cost cap seems unlikely to free up that much income or personnel for such a project.

      The article you link to indicate McLaren had a technical team of about 680 people, and we know Abiteboul has talked about how the cost cap is likely to limit headcounts to about 600-650 people. That suggests that we could be talking about a workforce of between 30-80 people, but if McLaren were expanding into those extra markets, how many of those would then be free for a WEC project?

      Similarly, would there be that much left over in terms of income to fund the project? The ACO has previously indicated that they were aiming to cut costs for the “hypercar” category to about $20-30 million a year – if we take into account the excluded costs and those other commitments, I’m not sure whether any possible savings from the cost cap would stretch that far.

      As for the question of the prominence of the engines, that is perhaps a harder question to answer – the manufacturer entries into the WEC have, for several decades now, tended to build both the engines and the chassis they are used in together.

      That said, there is an example from reasonably recently, which was the Nissan GTR-LM project. The VRX30A might carry Nissan branding – it is still sold under the Nismo name – but that was mostly developed by Cosworth instead (they were commissioned by Nissan). Most people didn’t even seem to realise it wasn’t a Nissan built engine – OK, Nissan kept silent on that point and, with the wider failings of that project, that probably was the least of concerns, but it didn’t really seem to have any impact on how they were viewed.

      To some extent, whilst there might have been more interest in the engines in the past, that does seem to have slipped away due to the Balance of Performance regulations. It’s significantly cut into the importance of the engines, since they are now adjusted with fuel flow rates or boost pressure limits to make them less of a performance differentiator – even a basic question, such as whether to go for a diesel or petrol car, doesn’t really matter now given that the BoP regs are supposed to bring them into line anyway (though, in reality, that didn’t work out that well in practise).

      There is also the aspect that the ACO has talked about having a “regulated power curve”, suggesting that they’re going to be much more heavily involved in regulating the entire torque curve of the cars – they already adopt that approach in the GTE class, where they have sometimes given explicit limits on the exact boost pressures that engines could use to explicitly limit the power output of certain cars at certain rpm, but it sounds as if that is going to be extended into the “hypercar” class and subject to even greater scrutiny now.

      1. anon – thank you – as always – for a very educational comment. The part about how tightly the BoP is focusing on engine behaviour was something I wasn’t aware of previously.

        1. @phylyp, I’m glad that you found that post informative.

          With regards to the engines, part of the focus of the BoP on the engines seems to be because the ACO has found, from simulator testing and on track data, that adjusting the engine output has more impact on adjusting the performance of the cars than using ballast.

          Ballast is still used in the GTE classes on occasion, but because it can slightly impact on the weight distribution and therefore the overall handling balance, it tends to have a less predictable impact – some drivers might be quite significantly impacted, whilst for others it might have a fairly small impact. The possibility of slightly changing the weight distribution means it is more sensitive to the type of car that penalty is being applied to i.e. front engined or mid engined, which makes balancing it out more difficult.

          As discussed, that can get very precise – for example, the ACO ruled a few years ago that Ford had to slightly reduce the boost pressure of the engines up to about 5,000rpm, if I recall well, but were then allowed to use a higher boost pressure above that limit so as to bring the acceleration of their car closer to that of the other GTE cars.

          Ballast has also been used on occasion in the LMP1 category, but because of the higher variability, that is why adjustments to engine performance tend to be preferred. That has generally been in the form of adjustments to the restrictor size or the fuel flow, partially because normally aspirated engines were fairly common (such as the Gibson engine), but also partially because the ACO had agreed with Toyota that the hybrid cars would have certain built in advantages, such as being able to run a longer stint than the privateers.

          That, in itself, has also proven contentious, as the ACO has also had a policy of explicitly limiting the maximum number of laps that a team can do during a stint – that has applied to both the LMP1 category, where the privateers are not allowed to run as long a stint as Toyota is allowed to, and also to the GTE categories.

          For Le Mans, the GTE cars are not allowed to run a stint of more than 14 laps in green flag conditions – slightly more flexible than last year, where it was a hard cap of 14 laps, whilst for the LMP1 category, I believe that the privateers are capped at 10 laps and Toyota at 11 laps per stint. If anybody did try to run longer, that is an instant one minute stop and go penalty.

          1. Thank you, anon, very informative. And the level of specificity in the engine BoP (i.e. targeting specific engines/manufactures) makes F1 look like an unregulated free-for-all in comparison!

      2. The closer WEC rules and hypercars converge the more participation becomes ‘free’ in thats it development/PR/budget that can draw from their commercial road cars – esp if they direct rivals take part

    2. @phylyp But that spare $10M could be enough to kick start the project whilst looking for further investment – also if it means he doesn’t have let people go, it means he’s less likely to risk losing talent to the competition, which would be a double-blow.

      1. @justrhysism – fair enough, those are good points.

  2. I think this would be fantastic. I’d love to see McLaren establish themselves in both WEC and Indycar, with the cost cap actually making it possible for them to do that. Really excited for 2021 WEC tbh.

    1. I’d love to see them run IndyCar full time (& Ferrari & Merc), but sadly I think the embarassing debacle last month has them scared to go back.

    2. @Hugh, you make a good point about WEC & Indycar: both have huge marquee events (Indy 500 & LeMans 24 hr), but are village fairs/side shows for the rest of the year playing out to enthusiasts only. Do the numbers stack up for the year-long programmes, or does a WEC manufacturer enter for Le Mans and then let customers slog through the rest of the calendar? The 1 off Indy500 didn’t work out too well for McLaren this year, but they were hoisted by their own petard/hubris.

      1. That was an issue that Dr Ullrich had been complaining about before Audi pulled out of the WEC – especially when the 12 Hours of Sebring fell off the calendar for a long period of time, as that was the only race that was remotely close to the prestige of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

        The problem was that the 24 Hours of Le Mans sucked in a lot of resources – I believe the former head of VW’s motorsport division reckoned at least 70% of Audi’s LMP1 budget went just on Le Mans – and made it disproportionately expensive to compete in that single race.

        However, with the ACO having introduced ever tighter restrictions on testing, there is no real benefit in just competing at Le Mans, since you’d then end up with an underdeveloped car – it basically pushes you into competing in those races in order to get the data you needed to develop your cars, even if the remaining races on the WEC calendar struggle to generate a fraction of the interest that there is in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

        It’s why most teams think of the 6 Hours of Spa, which is usually the race before Le Mans, as an extended test session for Le Mans rather than a race in its own right. It also kind of pushes the WEC into a bit of a difficult position, where the race that is of most importance is the most expensive to compete in, whilst the other races are necessary for the development of the car but don’t really enhance the prestige of the calendar or add that much in terms of revenue.

        IndyCar does have something of a similar issue, although not quite as extreme as I believe the races in St Petersburg and Long Beach, whilst still some way off the Indy 500, have at least some prestige in their own right. Now, in the case of the Indy 500, there is indeed a tradition of smaller independent teams competing just at that race, or for larger teams to run an extra car just for the Indy 500, sometimes in partnership with a satellite team – for example, there is one independent called Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which has raced just at the Indy 500 for several years now.

        The issue, though, is doing that is also likely to mean your success at the Indy 500 will be limited. It might be OK for a small independent team, where the start money and a little bit of sponsorship may be sufficient, but for an outfit like McLaren, it’d probably only work if you could work in partnership with one of the major teams – working with Andretti helped McLaren hugely in 2017, and that is probably the sort of situation where you could possibly have a successful crack at Indianapolis without running a full season.

  3. Red Bull with Valkyrie is already in… McLaren almost in… Now we need Mercedes’ AMG One hypercar and Ferrari’s SF90 Stradale… And we will call it F1-Endurance))

    1. Let’s shorten it to Formula Endurance. FE, in short ;)

  4. Might be important to note that McLaren won the 2018 Monaco GP. According to the latest Netflix Adam Sandler movie. The winning McLaren was driven by a Fernando-impressionist. A coincidence?

    No. All part of Zak’s grand plan. Fictional win on the silver screen is like a real win on Sunday. I predict that with the right cinematography, McLaren can win any fictional series of their choosing.

    1. @jimmi-cynic – LOL :)
      OT, but is Murder Mystery any good, or is it typical Sandler fare?

      1. If you can skip the Sandler parts, the scenery is quite pretty. ;-)

  5. Zak Brown says…

    bla bla bla bla…

    His treatment of Bob Fernley was appalling.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    1. You were aware that the Bob Fernley contract with McLaren was only for the 2019 Indy 500. Once the car and driver failed to qualify, his contract was over. Stop getting your knickers in a twist.

      1. Did Mr BlaBla say one word about Bob before, during or after the event? Do you reckon Fernley was the one making the fuss about the car being painted the wrong shade of orange, which delayed the set up for a week? We won’t get a word out of Bob over the McLaren mess, because he had to sign a confidentially clause, otherwise….

  6. McLaren – Jack of all trades, master of none.

  7. As mclaren are in the business of selling cars, having one of them compete in the WEC makes complete sense.

  8. If there is a “Cost Cap” or some form of budget limitation in F1, then the expectation is there will be whining and cries of breaking the rules by pushing development costs, be it mechanical, aero or controls systems over to another racing series. What is learned in one can be applied to another.
    Seems surprising then that McLaren is almost boasting that the F1 $$$ cap will work to their advantage with spill-over between series. Yes it will happen, but you would think they should be planning for the complaining, not outlining the advantages they will accrue.
    Maybe Honda will develop a WEC car and have a prototype pounding around their test track in Japan. Oh yes, the power unit is just like the F1 system.

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