Published on May 7th, 2013 | by FZanier0
Balance of Performance Anyone?
Let’s make it clear right from the beginning: I’m not a fan of Balance of Performance and will never be. Years ago I was discussing the topic with Italian gentleman driver Gianni Giudici, and to explain his own view on the matter the flamboyant entrepreneur emerged with a pretty lively image: “BoP is the same as you hitting my wife in the face with a shovel, just because she’s prettier than yours”. As simplistic as it is, I share his view, even if I’m not married.
In my ideal world the most talented drivers would never get penalized for being quick (I hate GP2’s reversed grid), and the best cars wouldn’t get ballast or any other limitation in order to allow others to catch up.
Still, I understand that we live in the real world, and that big championships actually need to attract manufacturers. Balance of Performance is a great tool in that sense: it’s like telling them that as far as they’ll show up with a decent car, the sanctioning body will do the rest making sure that they don’t get embarassed.
Fair enough, but then where’s the limit? What does happen when BoP goes too far? Can rules that have been designed to level the field become unfair?
Sure they can, and I would say that so far the 2013 World Endurance Championship is providing us with a good example of that in the GTE class. Take your time to look at the sheet below. It’s the first BoP of issued by the FIA for the season. Published in March, it ruled the first two rounds of the WEC and could still be in place for the Le Mans 24 Hours if it won’t be amended. The document lists the eligible cars for the class and the various performance-influencing features, showing both the base figures and the adjusted ones.
The key areas are Weight (a lighter car is quicker and more nimble), Restrictors size (the bigger it is, the higher the engine output) and Wing height from the roof (a higher wing is more efficient because it works in better air, as roof interference with the flow is reduced). Reading through the data, one thing is soon evident: while every other manufacturer had to hail both plus and minuses, Aston Martin Racing emerged as the happy bunnies of the lot: their Prodrive-designed Vantage GTE got a huge weight discount (-40 kg), a big increase in restrictor size (+1.4 mm) and a slightly bigger fuel tank to cope with the heavier consumption caused by the increase in power. Furthermore, they were allowed to run their rear wing 10 cms higher than the base position, hence being able to attain the same downforce levels with less wing angle and thus less drag.
It’s a win-win situation, especially compared to Ferrari: the 458 got a minimal weight help (10 kilos) but nothing restrictor-wise, besides carrying less fuel (-5 litres). More importantly, the guys in red were asked to lower their rear wing by 10 cms from the base position, making it a full 20 cms lower compared to the Aston’s, a much less convenient configuration.
Things are a bit better for Porsche: the new 991 is allowed to run lighter (-35 kg) and with a bit more power (+0.7 mm for restrictors), but its rear wing placement is exactly the same as Ferrari’s, leaving the Vantage with a distinct aerodynamic edge.
Predictably, the outcome of this “balance” was a clean sweep by Aston Martin Racing in the WEC opening round at Silverstone as the Vantage took both GTE-PRO and GTE-AM honors. The factory supported efforts by Ferrari (AF Corse) and Porsche (Manthey) proved to be no match for the winning Aston driven by Turner-Mucke-Senna, that took the flag with a stunning 1 lap margin on Kobayashi-Vilander on the first 458. The AM class was even better for the Gulf-liveried Brits, the gap between the winning Aston and the competition reaching the 3 laps mark.
Ferrari managed to turn the tide in Spa, as Bruni and Fisichella won the race even after serving two drive-through penalties. Anyway, the Vantage boasted another strong performance with Senna-Makowiecki-Bell crossing the line just 9s adrift and still looking much more consistent than Porsche.
With the Le Mans 24 Hours (where Corvette will join the fray too) approaching fast, it’s hard not to think that the power and aero advantage currently granted to Aston Martin Racing by the BoP is making them the favourites for a class win at the French hi-speed track, something that I’m sure would delight CEO Ulrich Bez in the year that marks the make’s 100th anniversary. But should that matter to the FIA?
In the end the relevant question is the following: would the Vantage GTE even be a podium contender with a fairer approach to Balance of Performance from the Endurance Commission? Frankly it doesn’ seem like so. Is it fair to put them in the position to win Le Mans or has BoP gone too far? That’s for you to discuss.
P.S. News of this morning tell that Toyota has asked a redress of the LMP1 BoP, otherwise they won’t be able to challenge Audi for the win. You see, Balance of Performance just makes everybody unhappy, why don’t we get rid of it?
May 22nd Update: FIA has just announced a tweak of the BoP for Le Mans: the GTE-PRO Aston Martins will carry 10 kilos more for the 24 Hours. While I don’t think it’s enough to make the fight a fair one, it’s still better than nothing. Good news for Porsche too, as they will be allowed to increase the size of their restrictors by 0.3 mm on both their GTE-PRO and GTE-AM entries.