Flat-out action and an incomparable circuit: How can Le Mans inspire F1?

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Last weekend the world’s most famous endurance race, the Le Mans 24 Hours, celebrated 100 years since its first running.

A thrilling race-long battle between Toyota and Ferrari ended up with the Scuderia claiming their first overall victory in the race for over 50 years.

The event looks to be heading into a new golden age as the hypercar regulations have lured more manufacturers to the French town than it’s seen for many years. The likes of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have also admitted they would like to tackle the event one day. So what could Formula 1 learn from one of the biggest motorsport events in the world?

Respect the road

What makes Le Mans special isn’t the duration – it’s far from the only 24-hour race in the world – or even the roster of competitors. It’s the track.

The Circuit de la Sarthe is that rarest of things: A grand old circuit which has not only retained its character through the years while adapting to modern safety standards, but is arguably an improvement over the original.

There wasn’t much for drivers to do on early iterations of the track besides accelerate for minutes on end and hope their brakes would still work the next time they touched them.

Don’t expect to see F1 cars racing at La Sarthe
F1 can learn a lot from how successfully the Le Mans organisers have preserved the challenge of their track without completely neutering it. Yes, the interruption of the mighty Mulsanne straight by two chicanes in 1990 is regrettable. But at least these are flowing bends unlike, for example, Monza’s clumsy Rettifilo, and the straight remains one of the quickest sections of track outside of a superspeedway.

The La Sarthe circuit’s ultra-fast layout, which demands minimal downforce, is a vital part of Le Mans’ challenge and appeal. It remains hair-raisingly narrow through some of its quickest sections – so much so that the track doesn’t qualify for the FIA grade one licence necessary to hold F1 races.

It shows old tracks can be modernised more successfully than some F1 venues have been. The 2015 reworking of Mexico’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is a case in point: While the dauntingly fast Peraltada corner was never going to be suitable for modern F1 cars given its non-existent run-off, was it truly necessary to neuter almost every other corner as well? See also the ruining of the Hockenheimring, the tedious final sector at the revamped Fuji (it’s no coincidence F1 has since left both) and the infestation of asphalt run-offs at countless other tracks.

F1’s latest efforts have been better. Zandvoort was successfully brought up to modern standards with the intelligent use of banking. Elsewhere, F1’s unloved changes have been reversed such as at the Circuit de Catalunya this year. We may never see F1 racing at Le Mans, but the track serves as a brilliant example of the value of retaining classic venues.

Keith Collantine

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Keeping an eye out

As a multi-class event with both GT cars and hypercars sharing the 13 kilometre circuit at the same time for an entire 24 hours, traffic is a major concern for all drivers competing at Le Mans – just ask Kamui Kobayashi.

Le Mans 24 Hours, 2023
Drivers need help seeing what’s behind them
Yet despite the huge difference in speeds between the fastest and slowest cars on the track, accidents involving cars of varying classes happens less frequently than you might expect. While this is largely down to the exceptional discipline and professionalism of the over 100 drivers permitted to race at Le Mans, there are some tools used by the drivers in the endurance classic that F1 could likely benefit from too.

As GT drivers naturally have to spend a lot of time looking in their mirrors due to being passed multiple times a lap by much quicker cars, many GTE and GT3 spec racing cars now come with advanced driver warning and radar systems. Much like the reverse-facing cameras growing more and more popular on road cars, many GT cars feature large screens on the dash that show a permanent view directly behind the car in a view that is more convenient and often clearer than that offered by standard mirrors. Also, these systems regularly feature advanced warning lights to alert drivers that faster cars are approaching without them even needing to take their eyes off the road.

Formula 1 drivers still have to expend much of their brainpower on being aware of cars behind them and keeping out of the way of rivals. They are often forced to rely totally on their engineers who are themselves trying to determine whether or not a car they see on the track map is on a push lap, preparing to start one, or has backed off. The success they are having can be gauged by Pierre Gasly’s double penalty for impeding at the last race and Leclerc’s similar sanction at the previous round.

The slightly larger mirrors introduced this year appear to have made little difference for drivers to be aware of what is coming up behind them. A little Le Mans inspiration, whether in the form of a warning light system or even a permanent camera feed, could be one way of giving drivers an easier time out on the track.

Will Wood

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Flat-out action

There’s an immediate level of irony that a 24-hour race was more of a sprint race than many grands prix which rarely last more than two hours.

Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023
Managing tyre degradation is a big part of modern F1
But that’s by design, not coincidence. Improved reliability over the past decade has increasingly turned the top level of prototype sports car racing into flat-out sprints. New technology isn’t exactly the buzz word behind Le Mans anymore, so managing hybrid systems isn’t a point of learning either.

Despite a lot of Safety Car periods early on, the final third of this year’s race was all about the drivers at the front pushing each other to the limit. When tyre-saving did come into account, as with Toyota’s Brendon Hartley, it was a decision weighed up against what could be gained from pushing the tyres to the limit rather than an immediate management exercise as it is in F1, and even its support series.

The on-the-limit driving eventually led to one of the two victory contenders making a race-losing mistake, which is rarely seen in F1. Before the days of Red Bull dominance, and wheel-to-wheel tussles between Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen, the last memorable occasion when the pace of one driver pressured another into a mistake was Sebastian Vettel’s slip-up while being chased by Hamilton at the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix.

Without an emphasis on technical complexity, it has become easier for teams to join Le Mans’ top class. And when there’s more cars, a mistake – particularly early in the race – now costs you more positions. The best thing about that last weekend was seeing how teams responded to such moment: telling their drivers to push.

This format isn’t just entertaining for fans, but in itself is part of the appeal to teams and manufacturers wanting to join and put on a show. F1 has already committed itself to half-hour sprint races, a concept that would seem ridiculous half a decade ago, so why not adjust grand prix lengths to enable flat-out racing if the series’ technological push and tyre configuration is not going to enable that under the current race format? IndyCar already varies lap counts in a way that it believes benefits the racing rather than sticking to a rigid length for every race.

However, talking about the quality of Le Mans’ competition this year has to be measured up against the impact the Balance of Performance changes made before the event, which arguably neutralised any kind of competitive advantage that Toyota had held. Without that contentious BoP ruling there may well have been no lead fight to speak of, though the flat-out battles behind would likely still have gone ahead.

Ida Wood

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The grand parade

Formula 1 and Le Mans are two completely different entities and unique forms of motorsport, and for me, both should remain that way.

Pre-race parade is part of the show at Le Mans
For a start, the differences between the two are staggering. World Endurance Championship races are much longer than F1 races, hence the term “endurance racing”, and the majority of races last six hours, bar Le Mans which is 24 hours. F1 races are far shorter with a cap on overrunning. One has 20 cars, one has 62. One has a single class, one has three (four if you include the ‘Garage 56’ entry).

Not just that, but many forget that Le Mans is part of the WEC calendar, of course, with added competitors, much like the Indianapolis 500 is just part of the IndyCar series. With a huge list of competitors, Le Mans is a spectacle in itself and should be treated as the jewel in the crown it is.

One key difference with Le Mans is Friday’s annual Grande Parade Des Pilotes through the historic streets of Le Mans. There is an argument this could be adopted by F1 and added to various race weekends such as Las Vegas and Miami. The trouble is, when would F1 be able to schedule such an event?

Of course, it’s fantastic for the fans – but F1 race weekends, in which there are 22 this season, start on a Thursday and end on a Sunday night. There is little wiggle room and the driver’s time is quite precious with media and sponsor commitments. Yes, they’re paid the big bucks for a reason, but the weekends are intense for everyone.

F1 is different. Some rounds like Monaco stand out, but I believe each race should be treated as an equal. Fans should get the same treatment wherever they decide to watch a race. It should not be determined by location outside of what the track is offering. For example, if you’re going to Monaco, by nature of the surroundings, that will be very different from a race like Austria.

I do not think F1 should focus on Le Mans for inspiration. Both should have their place and identity on the calendar and we should avoid homogenising. Let’s enjoy them for what they are, unique in their own right.

Claire Cottingham

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Alessandro Pier Guidi/James Calado/Antonio Giovinazzi, #51 Ferrari 499P, Le Mans 24 Hours, 2023

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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23 comments on “Flat-out action and an incomparable circuit: How can Le Mans inspire F1?”

  1. As long as Liberty don’t take the view that Bernie used that have, and see Le Mans as a ‘threat’ to F1 and deliberately schedule races on the same day to stop drivers crossing over like Hulk did in 2015.

    It’s a great way of showcasing just how good F1-standard drivers are.

    It was always that way in the past that F1 drivers did Le Man, it can be that way in the future.

    All Liberty have to do is work with the AOC to keep that weekend free and both series will benefit.

    1. Nothing wrong with F1 & LM24h sharing a weekend per se if the F1 event is the Canadian GP that never directly clashed on their many shared weekends over the years due to the time difference.
      Besides, active F1 drivers have rarely participated anyway, so largely irrelevant & I doubt anyone will do so anytime soon.

  2. The rules were changed days before the event. The race direction was terrible.

    Plenty of lessons to be learned, mostly in the what not to do department.

    1. RandomMallard
      13th June 2023, 16:02


      The rules were changed days before the event. The race direction was terrible.

      I completely agree that these are not desirable characteristics to have, but F1 is well ahead of the WEC on both of these…

      Rules changed days before the race? Yep, the new sprint rules in Baku.

      Terrible race direction? I don’t really know where to start. The last few laps in Australia is probably as good a place as any.

      I think both series are as bad as each other to be honest.

      1. Sprint rules were voted in by the teams and they don’t affect say, how much extra weight a car has to carry. WEC was much worse in this regard

        1. @yaru I’m pretty sure that RandomMallard never implied that the differences you list did not exist. He merely pointed out that a short notice rule change did occur, which is a relevant response to @proesterchen.

  3. Great observations from Ida Wood on the tyres; imagine being able to push for three Le Mans stints (easily more time than a GP). Pirelli has been a huge factor in making F1 races dull, and it’s good to see it called out.

    @proesterchen is right that the race directing was bad. There were numerous collisions under yellow. Whether due to bad signalling, bad conduct or whatever is ultimately irrelevant; it should never happen. Worse: it happened in 2021 as well, and like that time, nobody was penalized for it this year. The first and third safety cars were also questionable, both at the time and all the more so in light of the lengthy barrier repair on Sunday morning that was handled with a local slow zone. All three safety cars lasted far too long. By the nine hour marl a full three hours had not seen any racing. Combining the safety cars into one was a good idea, because the three seperate ones had a huge impact on previous races, but Freitas’ inability to sort this out quickly was a big damper on the first half of the race.

    1. On the tyres – Michelin/Goodyear aren’t working magic, and Pirelli aren’t responsible for F1’s problems and poor choices.
      Michelin and Goodyear are simply making harder, slower, more durable tyres, because they are allowed to and because that suits the characteristics of the series they are being used in. Let’s not forget that those tyres are also capable of being used from ambient temperature without pre-warming….

      If comparable tyres were used in F1, all the drivers would complain they don’t make enough traction and they need to be replaced with something ‘better’ (softer and grippier) – which inevitably wear faster and suffer more thermal stress.

      If F1 were prepared to go substantially slower (particularly via substantially decreased downforce) they would automatically have better tyres without even changing anything about the actual rubber at all.
      What the F1 teams are asking the tyres to do is the bulk of the problem – if it is actually a problem….

    2. Pirelli has been a huge factor in making F1 races dull, and it’s good to see it called out.

      Have they? Or is Pirelli blamed for delivering a product according to the flawed whishes of the customer? Because from what I understand, F1 wants tyres that degrade. We can blame Pirelli al we like but if the desires from F1 don’t change we will end up with the same sort of tyres regardless of what tyre manufacturer we get.

      1. Clearly haven’t got the hang of the quoting yet, but I think you understand my point

    3. While a part of it is definitely on F1 for wanting to force teams to make pitstops, Pirelli also doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing with their F1 tyres. Which is weird because they produce some of the best road tyres.

      But a quick Google search for F1 and degradation turns up all sorts of articles, usually pre-season, of Pirelli claiming that they were on top of their three main issues: degradation, narrow operating windows and no proper performance/durability balance that simply means teams will always try to run the softest tyre as long as possible. Yet these things continue to come up every season.

      Ahead of the the 2021 season, the FIA’s Nikolas Tomazis even explicitly said: “We want to have tyres that enable people to fight each other without degrading or only giving a short interval for the person attacking to attack [due to overheating].” Three years on, and that still perfectly describes the Pirelli tyres.

      1. Pirelli are making a product to a given mandate – teams are then modifying and operating their cars in such a manner as to exceed those tyres. The tyres improve each and every time (for some teams, at least) but the bar is raised with it and the cars’ performance also increases.
        It’s a vicious circle with no end, and Pirelli keeps getting the blame for it.
        Literally the only thing they can do to avoid this attitude is to exit F1, and pass the burden on to another manufacturer.

        Strangely enough, no other manufacturer wants to enter this circle under these conditions….
        I wonder why that could be….?

      2. MichaelN

        MIchelIn ;-) already stated they don’t want to be in F1 due to F1 requests.

  4. It’s such an apples and oranges comparison, it’s very difficult to compare the two. Perhaps comparing a Monaco or Silverstone against a Le Mans, or compare WEC against F1 in general. This year’s Le Mans was also particularly close and exciting – there have been many boring events of late (have watched it for more than 20 years now)

    Of the points listed above, the two most significant overlaps worth discussing are likely technology/BOP, and tire design/wear.

    BOP has been litigated to death in F1, is it a constructor series or driver series? While it’s a constructor series, there will be dominant teams, and handicapping them has always proven an unpopular idea. Top-tier WEC classes have had Toyota “dominating” for years due to cost of entry / lack of entrants, and they’re just the latest in a series of dominant performances (Porsche, Audi, even Peugeot). Hypercar has finally encouraged more entrants by lowering the development costs, but under strict BOP rules. GTE has historically been far more interesting, likely again due to the very strict BOP. Given it’s impossible to reign in aero “performance” on an F1 car, managing power/energy output via BOP is the only likely path F1 could take, with the consequences that have been discussed ad nauseum in the past.

    Tires, well, aren’t we all sick of artificially degrading tires in F1? I personally think it’s time to abandon that experiment, since the teams have all come to the conclusion they’ll just manage tires and push them as long as possible, instead of going flat out to generate the type of hard push we saw this year at Le Mans. Losing the artificial degradation would lose some of the pit stop “strategy” and result in less “overtakes”, though I argue it would lead to more driving errors when everyone is forced to push flat out for 100% of the race.

    1. Nobody will ever push for an entire F1 race. They don’t even carry enough fuel to do so even if there were some magical tyres that could withstand that sustained level of punishment.
      And making pitstops less attractive is the last thing F1 needs. There needs to be more variables, not less. It’s not so much about overtakes – it’s more about uncertainty, jeopardy and how much of a chance there is for any kind of change throughout each event.

      Teams manage everything, all the time. Computers have enabled it and unfettered communication/instruction to the drivers simply reinforces and refines it.
      The same goes on in FE (and every other series, of course) where they now control their energy use to finish every race within 0.1% of their allowance.
      Is that exciting to anyone? Really? Everyone knows the teams have it under control.

    2. I heard a lot of complains this season that tires are too strong while others are saying it’s too weak. Which is it?

      Not to mention the upcoming new tires are getting even stronger come Silverstone this season.

  5. Mr Marc connell
    13th June 2023, 14:40

    This is going to sound incredibly stupid. Seeing the Nascar race was really nice. It allowed a different discipline sport enter the series. I wonder if f1 could enter the race? Like enter a spare car that is modified race an entire 24hr. Drivers basically do 2 hours non stop. A driver change every 2 hours might seem good? Even if they change the halo to a screen for safety reasons. Adding lights to the f1 cars shouldn’t be to difficult.

    I’d love to see this attempted.

  6. How has nobody (apparently) had the idea of feeding the rearview camera into F1 drivers’ steering wheel screens instead of using mirrors, until this article?!

    1. Yes I have wondered that as well. I remember years and years ago, a privateer F1 entry (German I think) had a large rear vision mirror on a stalk in front of the cockpit for the driver to get 180 degree rear vision.

      You could do the same with a camera and with the screen mounted into the halo. Or perhaps even a transparent heads up display like a fighter jet?

      One area where F1 is sadly lacking.

    2. The drivers were in favour of this after the lower rear wings were introduced in 2017, and you can find various articles from 2017 and 2018 about this.

      In classic FIA fashion, they then spent years ‘discussing it’.

      Late 2022, the FIA’s Tombazis said: “It’s got three issues that need to be resolved. One is that there’s not much space for a TV screen in the cockpit. Second, it’s used sometimes in closed cockpit cars which have rather dark conditions inside, you can see if you put your phone in sunlight, you don’t want the drivers squinting to see if they can see something. So there’s that. Then, the third thing is that there’s a time of adaptation of your focus from one distance to another distance, which we’re also a bit concerned and we need to evaluate carefully.”

  7. Le Mans is part of the old fashioned view of sport that it should be a test of endurance and sell newspapers as it is a significant event worth reporting on. It’s like the Tour de France, 6 day cycling events, Test Cricket, the “Majors” of golf, tennis etc, the Olympics, even the Indy 500. All date back a century or more. Participation was traditionally an amateur hobby. Any excitement is not guaranteed and only emerge from the competition.

    F1 is part of a more modern view that each sporting event should be repeatable and carried out multiple times around the world. Ultimately it would be made for TV and advertising on TV Basically maximising the appeal to as many people as possible and making participation a full time profession. Manageable durations taking part regularly increases the action and excitement but it should not be gimmicky. When F1 started it was more of the old style but became modernised. Examples of other sports would be the massive commercial success of football in most of the world, and pretty much all championship / ranking based sports

    Ultra modern sport is bite size compared to existing sports using any means necessary to ensure excitement and is aimed at producing shareable, branded moments for the internet age. Big examples are MMA/ UFC, T20/Hundred/T10 cricket, eSports and every racing series that reduces race lengths, adds sprint races etc.

    F1 needs to stay in its lane , not trying to be awkwardly down with the kids too much and at the same time not turning into its parents. The lane it’s is probably the best for business and for fans.

  8. Formula 1 should reduce the number of races on its calendar, whether by rotating venues every year or focusing on historic ones. And then, they should work on increasing the value of each weekend, like how Claire suggested. This would be much more interesting for the fans and also increase the exclusivity of each F1 Grand Prix.

    1. If Liberty decided to reduce the calendar, the “historic venues” you apparently value so highly would be the first to be dropped.

      A clear case of be careful what you wish for.

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