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F1 calendar clash with Le Mans in 2016 "an attack" on WEC

The scheduling of a Formula 1 race against Le Mans 24 Hours next year has been described as a "clear attack" on the World Endurance Championship, according to series boss Gerard Neveu

Neveu blamed F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone for the date conflict over the weekend of June 18/19 that comes against a backdrop of growing interest of current grand prix drivers in Le Mans following Nico Hulkenberg's victory with Porsche this year.

He described the clash of WEC events with five other grands prix as inevitable, but suggested that scheduling of the European Grand Prix - F1's inaugural race in Azerbaijan - on Le Mans weekend was deliberate.

"It's a clear attack on us and on this race," Neveu told Autosprint magazine of the F1 clash with Le Mans.

"Ecclestone never does anything nonchalantly."

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Neveu suggested the "FIA should have protected us better".

That is a reference to a gentleman's agreement between the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, the Le Mans organiser and WEC promoter, and the FIA that the weekend of the 24 Hours would be left free on the F1 calendar.

That agreement dates back to 2011, the year of the last clash between Le Mans and an F1 race, when the ACO was confirmed as the promoter of the re-born WEC for the following season.

Neveu added it would be the fans and drivers who would lose out.

"It is a shame because by doing this you take away the possibility of having F1 stars entering what still is the most important race in the world," he said.

"We could have had Hulkenberg and also other F1 drivers - motorsport fans are losing out."

ACO president Pierre Fillon expressed similar sentiments on the clash.

"I am not worried for Le Mans, but I am disappointed for the fans," he said.

"Because I think they liked seeing F1 drivers, like they used to in the old days."

The clash means that Hulkenberg will be unable to take up a place in Porsche's LMP1 line-up that was all but agreed, although the German manufacturer has said that it is willing to wait for an undisclosed period to see if there are any changes to the F1 calendar.

AUTOSPORT SAYS
Gary Watkins, special correspondent (@gazzasportscars)

The Le Mans 24 Hours takes place in June - world wars, civil unrest and quirks of the calendar apart - so I'm not entirely sure that an F1 race on the same day in a country with no motorsport heritage is going detract in any way from the great race, and the ACO agrees with me on that one.

ACO president Fillon says his disappointment at the clash with the Azerbaijan GP is one he feels for the fans, and I'm quite sure they would have quite liked to see a proper Formula 1 driver defending his Le Mans crown.

The days when a posse of F1 drivers would take in the 24 Hours are long gone, but there is more than circumstantial evidence of a possible return to such a state of affairs: we all know of Fernando Alonso's desire to take part in the race, but Hulkenberg's victory has also piqued the interest of others.

It would be wrong to say that the gentlemen's agreement between the FIA and the ACO has been broken, because the governing body doesn't set the F1 calendar, Ecclestone and Formula One Management do.

And that means there is something wrong with the governance of this sport.

Translation by Michele Lostia

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