The Circuit de la Sarthe Le Mans circuit in France hosts one of the biggest motorsport events in the world – the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s proved to be an extremely popular event, made even more exciting by the circuit. This leaves many fans wondering if F1 could ever race at Le Mans.
F1 could not race at Le Mans in its current state. The Circuit de la Sarthe is an FIA Grade 2 circuit, so it does not meet the basic requirements to host F1. Even though Formula 1 has enquired about racing there in the past, the organizers at Le Mans rejected the idea.
It is unlikely that we’ll see a Formula 1 race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in the near future. The only way it would happen is if the circuit was upgraded and the organizing committees could come to an agreement on hosting an F1 race. We take a closer look at these possibilities below.
Has F1 Ever Raced At Le Mans?
Formula 1 has raced at Le Mans, although not at the full Circuit de la Sarthe. The French Grand Prix in 1967 moved to the newly opened Bugatti Circuit. The Bugatti Circuit is inside the Circuit de la Sarthe, and so F1 has never raced at Le Mans in the way most people think of the track.
The Bugatti Circuit is a shorter layout of the Circuit de la Sarthe that uses some of the same elements. However, rather than being 8.4 miles long, the Bugatti Circuit’s layout is just 2.6 miles long, much better suited to Formula 1.
The race ended up being relatively “boring” and many of the drivers and fans complained about not enjoying the race at all. Formula 1 never returned to the Le Mans Bugatti circuit, meaning the series has only raced at the location once.
Why Doesn’t F1 Race At Le Mans?
Formula 1 doesn’t currently race at Le Mans as the circuit is an FIA Grade 2 track. For an F1 race to take place the circuit must be FIA Grade 1. The track is also famous for holding the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and changing the circuit to be suitable for F1 would upset teams, drivers and fans alike.
Formula 1 has enquired about racing at Le Mans in 2016, however the organizers of Le Mans, Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), rejected the idea right from the start. The ACO president Pierre Fillon said “I don’t think it would bring anything. “We would need to invest 18 million Euros and finance this investment via the ticket booths exclusively. At best we would be breaking even on such an event.”
The circuit needs major investment because it does not meet the requirements to host a Formula 1 race. The circuit needs to have an FIA Grade 1 rating in order to host an F1 race, but the Circuit de la Sarthe has an FIA Grade 2 ranking.
The most important factor when it comes to getting an FIA Grade 1 license on a racetrack is safety. Formula 1 cars are fastest cars on the planet when it comes to lap pace, and having a safe environment for them to race on the limit is crucial.
The Circuit de la Sarthe would need to build new barriers, add gravel traps in specific areas such as the faster corners, and also increase the width of the pit lane to suit Formula 1 cars. There are more changes that would be needed, but these changes alone are major enough and would require significant investment.
All of these changes, as the president of the ACO said, would cost the circuit around $20 million. They would need to make this money back through ticket sales alone without signing any contracts for more than one year, which would be highly unlikely.
Not Suited To Formula 1 Cars
The Circuit de la Sarthe is also not suited to Formula 1 cars. In order to host a Formula 1 race, a circuit cannot have a straight longer than 1.2 miles. This poses a problem for the Le Mans circuit that has a 3.7-mile straight, plus other straights that are more than 1.2 miles. (This ignores Baku’s 1.38-mile “straight” as it technically has a kink in it, even though it’s taken flat.)
The problem with these long straights is that Formula 1 cars are not designed to run at full throttle for that long. They are built almost as “sprint cars” and they are much better suited to shorter race tracks with high speed corners.
Long straights with heavy braking zones tend to put too much pressure on the gearbox, engine and brakes of Formula 1 cars. These parts are highly sensitive, and according to Formula 1 rules have to last for multiple races before being replaced.
One of the main reasons Formula 1 doesn’t race at Le Mans is the issue of money. Of course, the ACO would need to replace or upgrade several aspects of the Circuit de la Sarthe before it could even be considered to be added to the F1 calendar. These changes could cost up to $20 million.
However, this is not the only problem that the Le Mans circuit would have. They already pay huge amounts of money to make the 24 Hours of Le Mans happen, and it’s not guaranteed that they would be able to generate the same interest with F1.
Realistically, it simply doesn’t make sense for the Le Mans circuit to spend that amount of money to upgrade their circuit to Formula 1 standards when they already host one of the biggest motorsport events of the year.
Formula 1 also just had a bad experience at Le Mans, when it raced on the Bugatti Circuit in 1967. Even though it was a long time ago, Formula 1 seems to have created some bad blood between themselves and the Le Mans circuit. It’s difficult to shake the bad reception that the race got from fans and drivers alike.
The French Grand Prix returned to the calendar in various forms over the years, but the Le Mans circuit was never on the F1 calendar again. The fact that Formula 1 had approached Le Mans in 2016 showed that the sport itself is keen to return.
However, with the ACO rejecting it by stating that “it would add nothing,” it seems the change needs to come from the F1 side in order for a Le Mans race to be added to the Formula 1 calendar.
How Fast Would An F1 Car Lap Le Mans?
An F1 car would probably lap Le Mans in a time close to 2:52.540. However, this is just taking into account the average lap time differences across three races at different circuits in 2021, so there is no way to know how fast an F1 car would actually lap Le Mans without it actually happening.
A modern Formula 1 car has not lapped (at race pace) the Circuit de la Sarthe as of yet, making this a hypothetical situation. However, we can use simulators to get a more accurate representation of how fast a Formula 1 car would be able to lap the Le Mans circuit.
Firstly, we need to look at the difference between Formula 1 cars and Le Mans Prototype cars (the highest class of cars that race on the Le Mans circuit). The fastest Hypercar qualifying lap (formerly LMP1) at the Bahrain Circuit in 2021 was 1:47.049, while the F1 pole lap was 1:28.997.
The fastest Hypercar lap at Portimao in Portugal in 2021 was 1:31.006, while F1’s pole lap was just 1:19.865. Finally, the fastest lap at Monza for the Hypercars was 1:35.899, but pole in F1 (normal qualifying, not the Sprint race) was 1:19.555.
A Good Guess
Doing the math, that works out to be an average difference of 15.38% in F1’s favor. Taking the fastest “Hyperpole” time from 2021’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, 3:23.900, we can estimate that an F1 car would lap the Circuit de la Sarthe about 15.38% faster, for a time of 2:52.540.
The only way that we would get a true representation of a Formula 1 car’s lap time around the Circuit de la Sarthe is if a real one is sent around the track. A simulator can come close and give you a good estimation, but nothing is as representative as the real thing.
Fernando Alonso did drive the Alpine F1 car around the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2021, but this was nowhere near a racing lap. Even the two time world champion and Le Mans winner himself said the circuit is too fast and too narrow for modern F1 cars.
Which F1 Drivers Have Won Le Mans?
Le Mans is one of the biggest motorsport events of the year, along with the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s every driver’s dream to win all three of these incredible events, known as the Triple Crown. However, there aren’t many who are able to achieve it. Only one driver – Graham Hill – has ever managed the feat.
There have been many Formula 1 drivers who have tried their hand at Le Mans. However, just because you’re a fantastic Formula 1 driver doesn’t mean that you’ll have a good time at Le Mans! There are a lot of different factors that go into it, and it’s a whole new challenge.
This is exactly why many Formula 1 drivers try their luck at winning Le Mans. It has become more popular in the modern day sport, as drivers who don’t do particularly well in F1, or take a sabbatical, quickly move to find themselves a new racing seat.
All the Formula 1 drivers who have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans are:
- Louis Rosier – 1 win (1951)
- Peter Walker – 1 win (1951)
- Peter Whitehead – 1 win (1951)
- Hermann Lang – 1 win (1952)
- Tony Rolt – 1 win (1953)
- Duncan Hamilton – 1 win (1953)
- Jose Froilan Gonzalez – 1 win (1954)
- Maurice Trintignant – 1 win (1954)
- Mike Hawthorn – 1 win (1955)
- Ivor Bueb – 2 wins (1955, 1957)
- Ron Flockhart – 2 wins (1956, 1957)
- Phil Hill – 3 wins (1958, 1961, 1962)
- Olivier Gendebien – 4 wins (1958, 1960, 1961, 1962)
- Carroll Shelby – 1 win (1959)
- Roy Salvadori – 1 win (1959)
- Ludovico Scarfiotti – 1 win (1963)
- Lorenzo Bandini – 1 win (1963)
- Nino Vaccarella – 1 win (1964)
- Masten Gregory – 1 win (1965)
- Jochen Rindt – 1 win (1965)
- Bruce McLaren – 1 win (1966)
- Chris Amon – 1 win (1966)
- Dan Gurney – 1 win (1967)
- Pedro Rodriguez – 1 win (1968)
- Lucien Bianchi – 1 win (1968)
- Jackie Oliver – 1 win (1969)
- Jacky Ickx – 6 wins (1969, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1982)
- Richard Attwood – 1 win (1970)
- Helmut Marko – 1 win (1971)
- Gijs van Lennep – 2 wins (1971, 1976)
- Henri Pescarolo – 4 wins (1972, 1973, 1974, 1984)
- Graham Hill – 1 win (1972)
- Gerard Larrousse – 2 wins (1973, 1974)
- Derek Bell – 5 wins (1975, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987)
- Didier Pironi – 1 win (1978)
- Vern Schuppan – 1 win (1983)
- Paolo Barilla – 1 win (1985)
- Hans-Joachim Stuck – 2 wins (1986, 1987)
- Lan Lammers – 1 win (1988)
- Johnny Dumfries – 1 win (1988)
- Jochen Mass – 1 win (1989)
- Martin Brundle – 1 win (1990)
- Volker Weidler – 1 win (1991)
- Bertrand Gachot – 1 win (1991)
- Johnny Herbert – 1 win (1991)
- Derek Warwick – 1 win (1992)
- Yannick Dalmas – 4 wins (1992, 1994, 1995, 1999)
- Mark Blundell – 1 win (1992)
- Geoff Brabham – 1 win (1993)
- Mauro Baldi – 1 win (1994)
- JJ Lehto – 2 wins (1995, 2005)
- Alexander Wurz – 1 win (1996)
- Stefan Johansson – 1 win (1997)
- Michele Alboreto – 1 win (1997)
- Allan McNish – 2 wins 1998, 2008)
- Pierluigi Martini – 1 win (1999)
- Emanuele Pirro – 5 wins (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007)
- David Brabham – 1 win (2009)
- Mark Gene – 1 win (2009)
- Andre Lotterer – 3 wins (2011, 2012, 2014)
- Nico Hulkenberg – 1 win (2015)
- Brendon Hartley – 2 wins (2017, 2020)
- Sebastian Buemi – 3 wins (2018, 2019, 2020)
- Kazuki Nakajima – 3 wins (2018, 2019, 2020)
- Fernando Alonso – 2 wins (2018, 2019)
- Kamui Kobayashi – 1 win (2021)
Drivers in bold are Formula 1 World Champions, drivers in Italics are Formula 1 race winners, and the others are drivers who have participated in Formula 1 and won Le Mans.
Formula 1 could race at Le Mans if the circuit was upgraded to FIA Grade 1. However, this doesn’t look likely any time soon, and we’re therefore unlikely to see F1 race at the Circuit de la Sarthe any time soon either. F1 did race at the Bugatti Circuit in 1967 (not the full Le Mans circuit).