Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) are two series at the very top of motorsport, with Le Mans being the pinnacle event of the latter. However, there is always a debate around which is faster: F1 or Le Mans cars?
Le Mans hypercars (LMH) are able to accelerate faster than F1 cars, which means they may win in a drag race. However, F1 cars are lighter and produce more downforce (and about 330 more horsepower), making them faster in corners and over a full lap.
It’s important to remember that these cars are designed for two very different forms of racing, with LMH (formerly LMP1) cars designed to race for many hours at a time. F1 cars on the other hand don’t race for longer than 90 minutes in most cases. But let’s take a closer look at the differences below.
How F1 & Le Mans Hypercars Differ
Formula 1 cars produce around 1,000 horsepower from a 1.6 litre turbo hybrid V6 engine. The power is put out straight into the rear axle of the rear-wheel drive powertrain. The cars only weigh around 800 kg (1,800 lbs) with a driver but no fuel on board. This gives F1 cars a power to weight ratio of about 1250 HP per ton (0.56 HP/lb).
The cars also feature an ERS and DRS system. The ERS is a system that converts some waste energy from the brakes and exhaust gases into electrical energy. This is then either sent to the rear wheels as additional power or to the battery to be used later. The combustion engine only produces around 850 HP on its own.
DRS is a system in the rear wing that allows a flap to lift up in order to reduce drag and allow for a higher top speed on the straights (in DRS zones). The DRS can increase the car’s top speed by around 10-12 kph (6.2-7.5 mph), before the flap closes once the brakes are applied in order to increase downforce for cornering.
The Le Mans prototype car has been top of the endurance racing class for years, although the LMP1 was replaced by the Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) in 2021. It gives engineers in endurance racing a bit more freedom to let their creativity loose. The total power output is capped at 520 kW (670 HP), but manufacturers have some freedom in terms of configuration and displacement.
Manufacturers can use hybrid systems if they want, and they can choose to have a front axle or all-wheel drive configuration, as long as they stay within the power output caps. On its own, the hybrid system is capped at 200 kW (268 HP). The car can weigh 1,030 kg (2,270 lbs), for a power to weight ratio of around 650 HP/ton, or 0.3 HP/lb.
It’s worth noting that the hybrid system can only kick in above certain speeds (around 75 mph/120 kph), meaning the LMH doesn’t see that much benefit in the acceleration department. This is so that those that don’t go the hybrid route aren’t left at a disadvantage out of the corners where all-wheel drive offers better traction.
The LMH car features a larger body than a Formula 1 car, including covered wheels and a fully enclosed cockpit. This gives the LMH car an aerodynamic advantage in the reduction of drag on the straights over a Formula 1 car, but it loses out in the corners due to the higher downforce levels in F1.
F1 vs LMH: The Stats Compared
|798 kg / 1,760 lbs
|1,030 kg / 2270 lbs
|210+ mph / 340+ kph
|210+ mph / 340+ kph
As you can see, on paper, the cars are quite similar in some regards. However, they are both designed for different purposes. LMH cars are endurance racers, so despite being really quick, they are meant to race over long distances.
This is in contrast to Formula 1 cars that race in more of a ‘sprint’ format, racing around 305 km (190 miles) at a time. Some Formula 1 cars don’t even make it that far, and many struggle with reliability issues. We need to bear that in mind when comparing these cars.
Starting with the engines, F1 car engines are far more powerful than those in LMH cars. F1 cars produce around 1,000 HP in total across the turbo hybrid power unit, while LMH cars are limited to 670 HP. That’s the same amount of power as a NASCAR car. But unlike Formula 1, LMH manufacturers have a decent amount of freedom when building their engines.
Formula 1 has strict rules that require all teams to use the same size of engines, although they come from 4 different manufacturers. In the World Endurance Championship, there is a bit more freedom in engine variety, and manufacturers can choose their engine configuration and displacement.
An F1 car can go from 0-60 in about 2.6 seconds, but the LMH car can do the same in about 2.5, if not faster (it’s hard to gauge these cars’ true acceleration). This is because of the fact that LMH cars have traction control while F1 cars don’t, so they can put their power down a lot faster and easier. Plus, they have extra weight pushing down on the wheels giving them better traction.
It is only when a Formula 1 car reaches around 60 mph (100 kph) that it really starts to move. This is because of the downforce starting to push the car into the ground, providing more grip.
It’s the cornering speeds that really make a difference between Formula 1 and LMH though. The sheer downforce that a Formula 1 car is able to produce when cornering means that it can corner at a much faster speed than an LMH car. Add on the fact that the F1 car is much lighter and nimbler, and you will find that it will obliterate an LMH car in corners.
The top speeds of the cars are relatively similar. Both can comfortably reach around 220 mph under the right conditions, but because of the fact that an LMH car can accelerate faster than an F1 car, the LMH will often win in a short drag race. But what about over the course of a lap?
F1 & LMH Cars On The Same Circuit
The best way to see which is fastest is to compare both cars at the same circuit. This will give us a good idea of which car is fastest overall, and where each is quicker or slower than the other. Luckily for us, the WEC and Formula 1 calendars have a few of circuits in common. Below I have compared F1, LMH, and the previous LMP1 race lap records to show the differences between the classes on the same tracks.
|Bahrain International Circuit
|Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
|Autodromo Nazionale di Monza
It’s worth noting above that the limited power output of the LMH cars means they are substantially slower than their LMP1 predecessors (which had 1000+ horsepower).
F1 vs LMH At Spa
Let’s take a closer look at a Spa lap to understand why these differences occur (as it’s the longest lap and therefore has the largest difference). Starting off the lap, the Formula 1 car pulls out a quick early lead as it is able to brake later and use its faster cornering speed through turn 1 and Eau Rouge. The LMH car is able to close the gap slightly down the long Kemmel straight, however it quickly drops back again through the following fast corners.
The Formula 1 car is able to build a big lead using the fast, high-downforce corners in order to eliminate the advantage that the LMH gains on the straights. By the time the LMH gets onto the long back straight, the F1 car is already at the Bus Stop chicane, the final corner of the lap.
The fast, flowing corners of the Spa track favor the F1 car, but Monza, with its longer straights (and shorter lap) sees a smaller but still significant difference. Bahrain is another track with long straights but also fast and tricky corners, and an F1 car is much faster around a lap there.
The ‘Illegal’ LMP1 car
In 2018, the Porsche LMP1 team redesigned their 919 Hybrid Prototype car. They made some improvements to the car, this time ignoring FIA rules. The car, driven by Neel Jani, went 0.7 seconds faster than Lewis Hamilton’s 2017 F1 pole position time of 1:42.553, setting a time of 1:41.770.
This was an incredible achievement for the Porsche team. It showed that without regulations in place, an LMP1 car could in fact beat a Formula 1 car. However, this lap time was soon beaten in F1 qualifying. The current fastest lap belongs to Lewis Hamilton, who set a pole time of 1:41.252 in 2020. Given the LMH cars are slower than their LMP1 predecessors, it’s unlikely we’ll see them beat F1 cars any time soon.
Formula 1 and LMH cars are both extremely fast and complex machines fitted with the latest automotive racing technology. The LMH car is able to accelerate much faster than an F1 car, and therefore would likely win a drag race between the two.
However, the F1 car is much quicker through fast corners with its incredibly light body and immense downforce-producing wings. This makes the Formula 1 car a clear winner across a full lap.
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