Yesterday, I was reading some speculation over on /r/WEC, about what would happen in the wake of Audi’s withdrawal from the WEC, and what it would mean for LMP1. After all, there’s only two manufacturers left in the class, and Porsche has a lot more funding than Toyota. Not only that, but Peugeot pulled out in 2012 for budget reasons, and has said that they need cost caps to be put in place to rejoin the series. It wouldn’t take much for the class to collapse unless those cost caps were put in place - Toyota could get their win and decide to pull out, or Volkswagen could decide to scale back Porsche’s program to fund more relevant R&D.
A few people over there were speculating that an LMP1 collapse would essentially mean that DPi, a variant of LMP2 that removes the spec powertrain requirement, and allows manufacturers to produce bodywork that reflects their brand identity (although with the intent that there be no aero advantage to this bodywork), could replace LMP1. That got me thinking about how the DPi formula’s cost controls could actually be applied to save LMP1-H as a top-tier technological class, without unsustainable spending.
I think it’s worth looking at Formula E, the series Audi left for, as a model. Formula E is a tightly cost-capped series, with a spec chassis (similar to DPi and LMP2), spec bodywork (similar to LMP2), and spec battery. However, the manufacturers are basically free to do whatever they want to get that energy from the battery to the rear wheels (with the exception that all power must go through a single differential, no torque vectoring allowed) - the inverter (and software), motor, cooling system, gearbox, and rear suspension (because it mounts to the gearbox) are all free, as long as it’s kept within a (currently) 200 kW limit in qualifying and FanBoost (I believe regenerative braking is also 200 kW limit), and a 170 kW limit in normal race conditions. Of course, they have to stick to that cost cap, and somewhere I read a claim that a claim rule is how that cost cap is enforced - essentially, any team can request to purchase the unique components of a car from any other team, for the cost limit on those unique components. And, because of how the series is structured, any team could buy the unique components and use them on their own car. As I understand, Techeetah actually invoked that rule to be a customer of Renault for their powertrains this season. Because of this risk, you don’t want to lose money on your powertrains, and therefore, it’s a self-enforcing cost cap (as long as you’ve got some privateers in the series, anyway... which, Techeetah is the only privateer in Formula E now, but LMP would probably be another story).
There’s some parallels here with DPi - IIRC, DPi is designed to allow anyone’s powertrain to fit into anyone’s LMP2 chassis. So, my idea is, how about a “DPi-H” to act as LMP1-H? LMP2 chassis, manufacturer-specific bodywork for brand identity reasons only, have the ACO/IMSA/somebody provide a spec battery, and an engine formula similar in concept to DPi, but with the addition of a hybrid system. And, include a claim rule, to make the cost cap self-enforcing (and also provide a way for privateers to get their foot in the door with the latest and greatest machinery, in a way that, as demonstrated by Rebellion leaving LMP1-L for LMP2, and ByKolles’s joke of an LMP1-L entry, can’t be done today).
Now, you might say that the current aerodynamic and chassis development in LMP1-H is a point of differentiation for the automakers... but what does it really have to do with road cars? After all, the ACO’s message with the WEC is that their technology is road-relevant, but the aerodynamic and chassis development is all stuff that doesn’t work on the road, it’s purely about beating the other teams. So, have manufacturers focus on the powertrain - the stuff that’s easily marketed as road-relevant - and not worry about the rest.