Did Ferrari’s driver inconsistency cost them the WEC title? Toyota thinks so!

In a surprising post-race statement, Toyota’s technical director, Pascal Vasselon, opined that Ferrari’s inconsistent driver performance was a significant factor in their underwhelming performance at the Fuji round of the World Endurance Championship.

Having successfully clinched the 2023 manufacturers’ title with an impressive 1-2 finish on home soil, Toyota effectively navigated a tough challenge from Porsche. Ferrari, however, saw both its 499Ps finishing a lap down in fourth and fifth positions. This performance marked the Prancing Horse’s most lackluster display since their ascent to the WEC’s top class this year.

Vasselon’s observations were based on the impressive pace shown by Antonio Fuoco in the #50 Ferrari LMH, especially during the race’s last two hours. The 27-year-old managed to overtake Alessandro Pier Guidi in the sibling #51 car, subsequently establishing a 21-second lead. “Considering the lap times, the difference between the manufacturers is marginal,” Vasselon shared with reporters. “However, in terms of consistent performance, I feel we have an edge.”

Such results at Fuji have made Ferrari’s pursuit of the drivers’ title increasingly challenging. The team from the #51 car, consisting of Pier Guidi, James Calado, and Antonio Giovinazzi, now lags 31 points behind the leading #8 Toyota trio. Only a maximum of 39 points are up for grabs in the Bahrain season’s climax. Meanwhile, the #50 car’s team is five points further behind.

Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota’s driver and team principal, seconded Vasselon’s sentiments. Highlighting the importance of quickly adapting to varying conditions, he stated, “The race’s result hinged on prompt adaptability. Our drivers’ cumulative experience provides us with a distinct advantage in this aspect.”

Toyota’s consistent driver performance has been a recurrent theme throughout the season, with Vasselon noting that all six of their drivers maintained a uniform output. Both Kobayashi and Ryo Hirakawa, due to their familiarity with the Fuji track from their Super Formula stints, had an added edge. Kobayashi’s pole position win by six-tenths and his ultimate race victory by 39 seconds attest to this. Similarly, Hirakawa’s skill was evident as he swiftly overtook Porsche’s 963 of Kevin Estre.

Commenting on the exceptional performance of the #7 car, Vasselon remarked, “It’s the unique ‘Kamui effect’.” Highlighting the pivotal role of track familiarity, he added, “Drivers familiar with this circuit tend to outpace others. Ryo’s rapid overtaking, compared to Jose’s more prolonged effort, is a testament to this.”

Overall, while Ferrari may reflect on its drivers’ variability, Toyota’s consistent performance continues to set them apart in the WEC.