The FIA was “stupid” to schedule Le Mans and the F1` race in Baku on the same day, the former winner of the 24 hour event – Hans-Joachim Stuck – tells motorsport.com. There are a number of reasons why the Formula One commercial rights holder would favour this but the FIA should be the protector of both events and many believe should have refused Ecclestone’s demands for the clash.
Sportscar racing’s popularity is on the rise for a number of reasons. The circuit owners can make a profit on a WEC event, because their hosting fees charged by the series are way lower than F1. There will be nine races in 2016 with the recent addition of Mexico, which is the most for any endurance series of world championship status since the demise of the World Sportscar Championship at the end of 1992.
In 2015, Porsche recruited Niko Hulkenberg as one of their three drivers for a third LMP1 car and he competed at the Six hours of Spa in Belgium and famously won the 24 hour classic at Le Mans – along with team mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. This win created significant interest amongst drivers from other series as Stuck reveals, “now other guys are like, ‘How was it? What’s it like to drive?’
“I’ve spoken to couple of guys and they are much more interested in these forms of racing – and this I like, because in my day, I drove in three or four different racing series – Formula 1, Formula 2, touring cars. Then we see now how stupid you can be to put Le Mans on the same weekend as [a Grand Prix]. How stupid it must have been for FIA to do so. This for sure does not help.”
The president of the FIA, Jean Todt, explained their alleged difficulty: “Organizing the calendar is a very tricky job because you have 21 races in Formula 1, 10 races in Formula E, 10 races in World Endurance and 14 [world championship] rallies,” said Todt. “To make one calendar without any conflict is not possible.
These comparisons are somewhat disingenuous, even if only for the fact that Formula E races are predominantly on a Saturday. In fact the FIA previously regulated against Le Mans clashing with F1 grand prix following Ecclestone bizarre suggestion he may bring back the French GP on the same weekend as Le Mans. A statement from Paris asserted, “In order to preserve the historic date of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which this year celebrated its 90th edition, the date of June 14/15 2014 has been retained to ensure that a F1 GP is not hosted the same weekend.”
The last clash of Le Mans with a Formula One weekend was in 2011.
So was the clash between Le Mans in 2016 and the inaugural race in Baku really unavoidable as Jean Todt says?
The F1 calendar around that time looks like this.
- June 12 – Canada
- June 19 – Azerbaijan (Baku)
- July 3 – Austria
The back to backing of Baku with Montreal has already led to criticism that traveling this distance in this time will create difficulties for certain parts of the paddock. This will mean at least two flight changes for many across almost 9000km. Clearly back to backing the Austrian GP with Buku makes a little more sense.
However, whenever there are races where issues of human rights in the host country present a danger of dominating the F1 reporting, Bernie Ecclestone has previous form of this scheduling.
In 2012, the year after the F1 race was cancelled in Bahrain, the race was scheduled immediately following the Chinese GP. The inaugural race in Russia was also a potential banana skin for Formula One’s PR machine and this was arranged the weekend immediately following the 2014 Japanese GP. So given the atrocious human rights record of the Baku government – it should be no surprise Ecclestone wants to make it as difficult for the F1 journalists to have time for any excursions or time for some ‘investigative’ journalism before the on track action consumes their attention.
The facile explanation given by Jean Todt regarding scheduling difficulties for F1 and Le Mans is one matter, however, the real question of interest is what did Ecclestone have to do to persuade the FIA president to agree to the clash of Le Mans and 2016 European GP?