Alesi fears sponsorship crisis in junior racing ranks

Former Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi fears a sponsor crisis in junior categories like Formula 2 could leave a raft of young drivers unable to finish their campaigns this year unless action is taken to help them

With the coronavirus pandemic set to leave a lasting financial impact on all levels of motor sport, Alesi is worried that there could be already short-term consequences that could disrupt the final stages of the 2020 season.

The French-Sicilian, whose son Giuliano is racing for HWA in F2 this year, says sponsors are already showing signs of getting cold feet - and that closed-door events and uncertainty over the calendar are not helping.

Speaking exclusively to Autosport, Alesi said about the season ahead: "It's going to be terrible. Terrible. Why? Because of course, you know in our category we pay for driving. You need to pay the teams and the price in F2 is very, very high. So most of us, most of the fathers, we have still to pay for it.

"In my case I am at the race track, I bring some sponsors, some partners to the F1 paddock, and they enjoy the weekend with Giuliano. In the meantime they watch the F1.

"But that is going to be over because this season everything [at the track] is going to be just drivers and the technical crew. So I'm facing some troubles already. The sponsors are not very happy to follow it, because they have no advantage to be on an F2 car and that is going to be very difficult."

He added: "This season, the drivers who already have some sponsorship, the sponsors pull out, they already sent the letters and said: 'okay bye bye, because you will have everything [the whole season] in two months.'

"In these two months time, all the sports around the world, they start at the same time. So, what will be the space for F2 when there is Champions League, the Italian football Serie A and then F1 and then sports car, and then GT all together? It is going to be difficult."

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Alesi hoped that motor racing's governing body the FIA, and F1's commercial rights holders Liberty, were aware of the troubles young drivers could face this year as it was particularly difficult in junior categories because drivers are so reliant on personal backers.

"The solution I don't have it," he said. "We have seen for F1 that there is a very strong group and especially Ross Brawn and Jean Todt, these people did everything in motorsport so they understand the mechanism.

"So they for sure know how to react. I hope it will be quick enough to save this season for the kids."

F2 and F3 series boss Bruno Michel admits that the situation will need some 'careful' attention because of the tough worldwide financial situation, but he remained hopeful that efforts could be made to see everyone through.

"You know, there always are problems with sponsors and drivers every season," he said. "I never had a season where everything is hunky dory and everybody has paid and everything is perfect.

"Probably this year is going to be a little bit more tricky. But as long as we have not really started racing, it's difficult [to predict]. From what I hear from the teams at the moment, there are no drivers that are not planning to come back, which is the most important thing.

"After that, how it is going to happen in terms of payments of budgets? We of course, will be extremely careful about the way we're dealing with the teams. We will try to understand exactly what the situations are."

Michel was also clear that it would be wrong to give sponsors an easy way to get cut price deals, because that could then hurt teams that need funding to go racing.

"I don't want some people to take that as an excuse to try to re-discuss their budgets with the teams, because that will not be fair either," he said.

"We need to find something that is fair for everybody: for the teams, for the drivers and for ourselves. We need to be careful this season, but I don't foresee a bigger problem than we've had in the past when we had some difficult seasons as well."

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