"Too many formulas, too little money," a familiar cry from karting to GP2. World Series by Renault, Formula Masters and British Formula 3 are part of the picture that has suffered depleted entries and late-season cut-price deals being the norm except for the top teams. But the warning signs are there. Who knows how long the economic gloom that surrounds us will be with us. And 2010 will bring Bernie Ecclestone's GP3, more competition. Something will have to give.
AUTOSPORT last month spoke to a panel of who's who of British Formula 3, and they set out to do a selling job explaining the virtues and advantages of their programme. They very much relied on tradition, the fact they have a lot of testing time, a plentiful supply of tyres and that the drivers have the opportunity of working with engineers on an individual basis so involving them in the set-up and development over a good range of circuits.
But what wasn't said was that it is accepted that drivers are generally developing at a younger age, because of the karting programmes they have invariably been involved in, which means that if one avails oneself of all the testing time, GCSEs and A-levels suffer.
The debut of the JPH1 Formula 2 car at Brands Hatch
Only if you can afford a competitive team is the engineering experience likely to be of full value. The races attract limited crowds and, apart from the media attention in this country, attracts very little else. So the exposure that a young driver requires with the sort of budgets involved is not there.
With a full testing programme, you would need £600,000 to get a top team position, plus the money to fund your living expenses, transport etc. Deals with some teams may take you to £450,000, but I was even told about national team programmes at £350,000, which all adds up to a very expensive formula.
If you look at the teams, it is easy to see who has been able to buy the best seats, and if we look at results sheets you will see that talent has had to rely to a large extent on programmes such as Red Bull and the Racing Steps Foundation to get to the top.
Don't get me wrong, I like the concept of Formula 3, the team structure and the development work which is allowed. But I think they have to seriously review their cost base. I, as a father having had a son in karting, BMW, Renault and for two races in Formula 3, am surprised that F3 didn't see this problem coming and has not used the National Class as a feeder in a more serious manner. It could call on the major teams to fill a couple of cars working to a fixed budget that could be £200,000 or less, and award a meaningful prize of a scholarship into the Championship Class for the winner.
But the focus of a lot of attention by the F3 panel was on Formula 2 - the Max Mosley-inspired, Jonathan Palmer-run series is obviously seen as a threat to the traditional team structure. It is an ambitious project which will obviously have to prove itself, but what does it offer?
Eight events and 16 races run in conjunction with the World Touring Car Championship, which attracts good crowds and each race with full Eurosport TV coverage. A superb selection of circuits, Valencia, Brno, Spa, Brands Hatch, Donington, Oschersleben, Imola and Barcelona. An entirely new car designed by Williams with the latest Formula 1 safety features, driver adjustable front wing and roll bar and a 400bhp Audi 1800 turbo-charged engine with 450bhp for limited periods on the boost button.
To the winner, a test drive with the Williams Formula 1 team, to the top three the opportunity to have an FIA Superlicence. The budget, with insurance pool money is £230,000. All of which adds up to why it has attracted talent from World Series, GP2, Renault, Formula 3 with 24 seats filled and a waiting list.
Steven Kane testing the JPH1 Formula 2 car at Snetterton
The doubters will say "what about the limited time in the car?" Two days at Snetterton and one at Silverstone before off to Valencia for the first race. Yes that is a point and those drivers who have had extensive experience in F3, or particularly World Series, will start off with a clear advantage. But I wouldn't expect it to stay that way as the season progresses.
One engineer for three cars, again we will have to see how that works but you have to take into account a car that is standardised in set-up for all drivers for the start of practice, and that the driver can make adjustments to both front wing and front roll bar. Other adjustments within a range set by the chief engineer will also be available.
One engineer for three cars and the rotation of engineers meeting to meeting will ensure that all information is pooled so you should in theory not have any major discrepancies in performance developing.
We live in changing times. We have to see whether the even playing field that Max Mosley and Jonathan Palmer envisage for Formula 2 will allow the talented and intelligent drivers to come through and at a realistic budget.
A lot will be up to Palmer and his team. What he has achieved with MotorSport Vision and the upgrade of the British circuits is impressive. He has competed at the highest level and we now need to see whether experience gained over the years with Palmer Audi can help to restore the position that Formula 2 once had of being the stepping stone to Formula One.
John Surtees was writing in response to Formula 3: Fighting talk
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