Archive: motorcycles

It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.

Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.

Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.

Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.

Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.

Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.

It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.

The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.

Thanks for entertaining us, Marco Simoncelli.

This is the second part of my two-part series looking at other motor racing series. Read the first part here.

Routes to F1

Entry-level series (yellow boxes)

These series are — as the heading suggests — ideal for those drivers who have just finished karting and are racing cars for the first time.

Formula Renault 2.0

The most popular entry-level series at the moment is Formula Renault. There are a number of major Formula Renault championships.

Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 is the most major of the Formula Renault 2.0 competitions, racing at a number of circuits around Europe. Robert Kubica, Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa (who won the series) all competed in this championship. Other winners of the series include Scott Speed and Pedro de la Rosa. 2005 victor Kamui Kobayashi is currently on the up in GP2.

Formula Renault 2.0 UK is another high-profile competition. Kimi Räikkönen was at the centre of a controversy when he — uniquely — made the leap from this competition directly to an F1 race seat! There was a debate as to whether or not he should have been awarded an FIA Super License. In the end the F1 Commission was convinced by his form, and it turned out to be the right decision.

A few years later Lewis Hamilton won this series, though he took a more conventional route to F1. Other notable names to have graduated from Formula Renault UK include Heikki Kovalainen and Pedro de la Rosa. British viewers can catch Formula Renault UK races on ITV4 as part of the channel’s BTCC coverage.

Formula Renault 2.0 Italia was a breeding ground for Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa. Other recent winners include Finnish promise Mika Mäki (currently doing well in F3 Euroseries), Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado and Kamui Kobayashi (who both currently compete in GP2).

Formula Renault 2.0 West European Cup is brand new for this season, but replaces the well-established Championnat de France Formula Renault 2.0, the history of which stretches back to 1971. The French series was graced by the presence of then-future French F1 drivers Alain Prost, Jacques Laffite, René Arnoux, Didier Pironi, Sébastien Bourdais, Olivier Panis and Franck Montagny.

However, the championship was highly France-centric. It is replaced by a more internationally-flavoured series encompassing Spain, Portugal and Belgium.

Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup replaced the old German and Dutch championships. Recent F1 drivers to have competed in German Formula Renault include Vitantonio Liuzzi, Chrisitan Klien, Scott Speed and Markus Winkelhock.

Formul’Academy Euro Series is a Formula Renault 1.6 championship, unlike the championships listed above which are all Formula Renault 2.0. Formerly known as Formule Campus Renault, this is, unsurprisingly, an entry-level series for those not quite ready to make the leap to 2.0. Sébastien Bourdais and Franck Montagny are among this competition’s former drivers.

Formula Ford

Formula Ford used to be a highly popular entry-level category but has been usurped somewhat in recent years. Formula Renault, Formula BMW and the relatively cost-effective Formula First / Formula Vee (no relation) are now more attractive for today’s entry-level drivers. However, many of today’s F1 drivers competed in Formula Ford in the past.

The Formula Ford Festival is an annual event where entrants from Formula Ford competitions around the world compete together. Among them were Kimi Räikkönen, Mark Webber and David Coulthard. But entry levels have declined sharply in recent years.

British Formula Ford is a good entry-level series for Brits. F1 drivers including David Coulthard, Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button (who was British Formula Ford champion in 1998) all took part. Non-Brits Mark Webber and Pedro de la Rosa also competed in this series.

Formula BMW

Formula BMW is a relatively recent invention, having been created by BMW in 2001. But it has quickly become a popular entry-level series. The German series, Formula BMW ADAC, has been particularly successful in cultivating German talent — Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Sebastian Vettel, Adrian Sutil and Christian Klien all raced in the series. Hopefuls Nico Hülkenberg and Christian Vietoris (who subsequently helped the German A1GP team to Championship victory) are also notable graduates.

However, the German series is no more as it has now merged with Formula BMW UK. The new series is called Formula BMW Europe. Most of these races are F1 support races this season.

Sports cars and touring cars (green boxes)

Drivers taking a detour from the established route to F1 are often to be found racing sports cars of some form or another. In fact, almost half of the F1 drivers of the past five years have raced sports cars at some point during their careers.

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (merged from Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft and the International Touring Car Championship) is a popular touring car championship centred around Germany. Giancarlo Fisichella, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya all competed in DTM in its former guise prior to competing in F1.

Nowadays DTM is more commonly a destination for former F1 drivers such as Ralf Schumacher, Jean Alesi and Mika Häkkinen. However, the odd youngster has been known still to use DTM as a stepping stone towards a higher category — most notably Christijan Albers (who has since returned to DTM).

The World Touring Car Championship is another common patch for former F1 drivers. A notable driver to recently take this path is Tiago Montiero. Felipe Massa competed in the WTCC’s predecessor, the European Touring Car Championship, on his way to F1.

The British Touring Car Championship is hugely popular among viewers in the UK, but is far removed from the flow of talent to and from F1.

The annual 24 Hours of Le Mans event is considered to be one of motor racing’s crown jewels along with the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. Many future and former F1 drivers compete in the event. The competition has inspired the successful American Le Mans Series which in turn inspired the European-based Le Mans Series.

The FIA GT Championship was a stepping stone in Mark Webber’s career towards F1, but is more likely to be inhabited by former F1 drivers. Super GT is a GT series based in Japan. Kazuki Nakajima and Adrian Sutil both raced in this championship prior to F1. Porsche Supercup races are often F1 support races. Timo Glock and Nelsinho Piquet have competed in this series in the past.

Nascar (purple box)

Although F1 may be considered to be the highest level of motor racing in the world, this may not be the case in the USA. There, the most popular form of motor sport is Nascar, a stock car series. Some ex-F1 drivers and former hopefuls currently race there.

There are three major levels of Nascar: the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. Former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya currently races in the Sprint Cup. But thanks to the wide differences between Nascar and F1, and the sniffy attitude the F1 community takes towards Nascar, the chances of any Nascar drivers making the leap to F1 are very slim.

IndyCar (cyan box)

Closer to F1 is IndyCar (which this year merged with the troubled Champ Car). Like F1, this is an open-wheel, open-cockpit series that to the untrained eye may look very similar to Formula 1. Many drivers have made the transition from IndyCar / Champ Car to F1 over the years (as you can see in Keith’s comprehensive series).

However, in recent years the American open-wheel scene became less competitive due to the IRL / Cart split (hence the two names for the sport) and drivers making the leap from there to F1 has become less common. However, current Toro Rosso driver Sébastien Bourdais used to race in Champ Car. An IndyCar grid can often contain many former F1 drivers.

Other major motor racing series (not on the diagram)

The series mentioned so far in this article cover all of the major series that are closely related to F1. Of course, there are other major disciplines that have only the most tangential of relationships to F1.

Motorcycles

MotoGP is the premier motorcycle racing championship. It is the motorcycle equivalent of F1. Superbikes are more like the two-wheeled equivalent of touring cars, as the bikes are tuned versions of road-legal bikes.

It goes without saying that the skills needed for success on two wheels are vastly different to those needed on four. However, this doesn’t stop the more excitable journalists from imagining MotoGP riders making the switch to F1. From time to time MotoGP riders test Formula 1 cars, but this is for publicity reasons more than anything else.

Rallying

Rally cars are modified road-legal vehicles that typically run on point-to-point stages rather than circuits. The biggest rally series is the World Rally Championship. Due to the variety and difficulty of the conditions that rally drivers have to face, they can arguably claim to be the best drivers in the world. WRC is currently dominated by Sébastien Loeb who has won the WRC championship for four years running.

Again, the skills required are vastly different to F1. I can think of only one F1–WRC crossover in recent years. Stéphane Sarrazin competed in one F1 race in 1999 and has entered some WRC events as a tarmac specialist.