WEC: A day out at Silverstone

Recently I have seen a number of articles saying manufacturers are preferring WEC to F1. Mark Webber seems to be enjoying himself as well having left Red Bull in 2013. So I thought I would go and see what the fuss is about.

WEC is the World Endurance Championship and features seven 6 hour long races, along with the Le Mans 24 Hours Race. It features cars of radically different speeds, with LMP1 prototypes going faster than 200mph on the same track as cars like Ferrari 458s slower in top speed, cornering and accelerating. Due to the lengths of the races, teams comprise three drivers who take turns at the wheel. The goal is rarely top speed but efficiency and endurance over the race distance.

The first race of 2015 was held at Silverstone on 12 April and I went along. The first thing that struck me was the value for money that the race provides. In 2009 we paid £125 per ticket for general admission to the British Grand Prix. Now the minimum is £155 and neither of these prices will allow you into a grandstand. In addition, parking costs extra at £50 per car. For the WEC for £35 you got 6 hours of racing, free parking and a roving grandstand seat so that you could sit anywhere.

On showing up, you get the feeling that this is charging what the series’ can get away with. Silverstone was not packed for the WEC. The organisers have quoted a figure of 45,000 spectators across three days compares to 120,000 spectators on race day for Formula One. So, the cars may be immensely impressive but the series lacks the support of F1, however, the WEC has only existed in its current guise since 2012 and is growing year on year.

Any race that features pit stops can make it confusing as to what is going on, this is especially true in an endurance race, however, it also applies to F1. It is up to you to make sure you know who is winning and have some idea of the strategies at play. We did not plan for this and got confused as to what was happening until we went and sat in the main grandstand with its decent PA system and TV screen. Unlike F1, in which a race will usually be done in a quarter of the time, this is not a race that requires your full attention. People walked around, enjoyed the fantastic track and its facilities and experienced what was on offer. Everything was much more open than at an F1 race. The paddock was completely open, a couple of teams allowed you into their pit boxes while the race was on. It was quite possible with a general admission ticket to walk amongst team mechanics, drivers and celebrities something that you would not dream of at an F1 event.

To me, it does not seem correct to compare F1 and WEC. Yes, they are both racing series that race on similar circuits at similar speeds. However, F1 historically was about speed and excitement, WEC is about endurance and efficiency. F1 seems to have gotten confused recently, it is trying to do what the WEC is doing with its fuel limits and tyre management. That is to its detriment. F1 needs to go back to being about blistering speed and pushing the limit, leave the WEC to provide the endurance challenge.

To me, the technology in the WEC is more relevant, I can see why it would appeal to manufacturers more than F1. It is more open to its fans, it costs less to watch and allows far greater access. Would I go to another WEC race to watch these marvels weaving amongst the slower cars again? Absolutely. Would I go to an F1 race right now? No, it does not appeal.