I will turn my attention to the Italian and Belgian Grands Prix later this week. But over the past couple of days a lot more information has come out on the new Formula Two series. It has got me thinking.
I was one of many who was really sceptical about the Formula Two idea when it was first announced by Max Mosley. It was clearly a move in the strategic political wrangling between Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone — just another Max Mosley vanity project.
The FIA’s insistence that a Formula Two car would only cost around €250,000 seemed infeasibly optimistic. But the plans look a lot more solid now that it has been announced that the cars will be supplied by Jonathan Palmer’s MotorSport Vision company. The cars will be designed by WilliamsF1 (yes, that WilliamsF1), and the engines will be turbocharged 1.8 litre Audis. Although it is not yet clear who will manufacture the chassis, the firm aim is to keep costs to below $350,000 (at current exchange rates, very close to the original target).
MotorSport Vision will also own the commercial rights to the series. MSV knows its stuff as it already owns the commercial rights in addition to being the promoter and organiser of British Superbikes. The FIA hasn’t chosen a bunch of dummies to run Formula Two.
Initial reports seemed to be written on the assumption that Formula Two would replace the already established Formula Palmer Audi. However, according to Grandprix.com, Jonathan Palmer is still committed to expanding Formula Palmer Audi in addition to Formula Two.
Meanwhile, GP2 — clearly the most well-established second-tier motor racing category in Europe — will continue unaffected. GP2 already has the F1 support slot, so Formula Two will instead support the World Touring Car Championship with a possibility of supporting some races in the Le Mans Series and DTM, with a few standalone races chucked in for good measure.
This news surrounding Formula Two does make me wonder though. Are there now too many lower-category racing series?
For all the doom and gloom about costs in Formula 1, motor racing as a whole appears to be booming. In recent years a handful of series with big ambitions have all been set up. I can’t think of any that have disappeared to make way for them. These new series are all more or less competing with each other, finding more and more ludicrous “unique selling points” in order to justify their existence.
Just last month Superleague Formula held its first race. Superleague is probably the strangest of the lot. Each car represents a football team. The cars’ liveries are based on the football club’s colours. Instead of drivers and teams scoring points on the racetrack, football teams do. Huh?!
It’s not an original idea. A few years ago someone else came up with Premier 1 Grand Prix which was fundamentally the same idea. But that never came off the ground. In fairness to Superleague, they have at least got their championship going. There are also some impressively big names involved. There are some cute associations too. For instance, the AS Roma car is run by the Fisichella Motor Sport team — Giancarlo Fisichella being a Roma supporter.
However, I doubt what Superleague can really achieve. It lacks a really, really big name like Manchester United. Grandprix.com has also been disparaging about the quality of the drivers involved. The most famous driver in the field is the embarrassed F1 reject Antônio Pizzonia who will race for Corinthians when it doesn’t clash with his glittering career in Stock Car Brasil.
The chance for any crossover appeal is surely also limited. A mickey mouse series like this certainly won’t get my interested in football. And I have spoken to a friend of mine who is an avid Glasgow Rangers supporter who is just perplexed by the whole idea. He only cars about Rangers winning on the football pitch, not on the racetrack.
Another relatively new series along similar lines is A1 Grand Prix. It might have a name like that cowboy plumber’s firm, but A1GP markets itself as the “World Cup of Motorsport”. Again, teams and drivers don’t score points. Instead, nations do.
Like Superleague, the driving standard does not seem too high. The only drivers to have made the leap from A1GP to F1 in the past are Scott Speed and Nelsinho Piquet. It’s not exactly the champions’ hall of fame.
At first I thought A1GP was a silly concept, and I still think in many ways it is. But to its credit, whenever I have caught highlights of the races it has looked pretty exciting. The series seems to grow more and more every year. For the coming season they have pulled off a major coup by clinching a deal with Ferrari to supply chassis and engines. A1GP has made a big name for itself in the space a few years and looks set to stay.
Increasingly, Formula 1 drivers are emerging from the World Series by Renault. Its first incarnation was as a relatively modest series centred in Spain. Over the years it has grown and grown until it has become a convincingly European series. Part of the prize of winning the championship is to have a test drive with the Renault F1 team. Six of its nine champions have also had careers in F1, sometimes in the following year. Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica have been two notable beneficiaries of the Renault F1 test.
GP2 is also a relatively new series, although it was built on the foundations of Formula 3000 and has and advantage because it is essentially Bernie Ecclestone’s pet project. This means that all of the races have a ready-made audience in an F1 support slot. The racing is great and plenty of promising drivers have come through the ranks including Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock.
Rumour has it that next year will see the inception of GP3. The series is said to be a re-branding of International Formula Master, which currently supports the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Formula Master was itself only invented in 2007 and was envisaged as a competitor to Formula 3.
GP3 even has a logo that looks very similar to the GP2 logo. It seems a foregone conclusion that any GP3 Series would run as a Formula 1 support event.
The Formula 1 package is already pretty full up, never mind motor racing as a whole. In addition to Formula 1 and GP2, the Porsche Supercup is a well-established part of the F1 weekend. However, as a supercar race as part of a package of open-wheel racing, it sticks out like a sore thumb. If any series gets the heave-ho for GP3 (which you imagine would have to happen), it is surely the Porsche Supercup.
It’s worth remembering that F1 already had a new support series in 2007. Formula BMW Europe has supported several F1 races this year. This series is yet another new invention, although it is a merger of Formula BMW UK and Formula BMW ADAC. Now instead of being an entry-level series with cars tootling around small national circuits, Formula BMW Europe is now an impressive international series that is held on Formula 1 circuits.
If this all comes together, Bernie Ecclestone would have quite an interesting little portfolio. Formula 1, GP2, GP3 and Formula BMW Europe. Those are four pretty distinctive categories with a clear hierarchy. Makes you wonder — maybe it is only a matter of time until Formula BMW Europe is rebranded as GP4.
With so many lower-level series now, I can’t help but wonder if it’s all a bit much. Are there really enough credible drivers to keep so many high-profile international series going? What is the unique selling point of each of these series?
I thought Formula Two would never be able to carve itself a niche. But the FIA has already come up with a pretty good justification of its existence:
The objective is to make top-level international single-seater racing available to drivers who at present have difficulty in raising enough money to demonstrate their talent… [C]ompetitors from countries which do not yet have an established motor racing structure will find it easier to progress.
The FIA will also award Super Licenses to drivers competing in the Formula Two championship. If the FIA decides to stop awarding Super Licenses to GP2 drivers, they could well successfully swipe the rug from underneath GP2′s and Bernie Ecclestone’s feet. Whatever, I find it difficult to believe that there is space for quite this many “second tier” series.
Update: I don’t believe it! I have just written this post and I have already learnt about yet another new racing series called A2GP, with A3GP possibly also in the pipeline. I mean really!