The ambitious plans behind the A1GP revival
If it all goes to plan, a fresh take on the A1GP theme will be launched in December 2024, providing drivers with a new opportunity to race powerful single-seaters.
The original series, which was launched in 2005, was generally regarded as successful. It attracted good teams and talented drivers – Nico Hulkenberg used it as a key stepping stone to Formula 1 – and the concept of nations battling each other was popular with fans.
However it didn’t work out in commercial terms, and the whole thing collapsed in 2009. Initial attempts to revive it with the existing cars proved unsuccessful, and the new project shares nothing with the original other than the name and the overall concept.
While it’s easy to be sceptical, the plan has to be taken seriously because of the man behind it. Sir Keith Mills was a key player in the organisation of the London 2012 Olympics, and his other sporting projects have included an America’s Cup programme, something that required F1 levels of commitment.
His Origin Sports Group has identified A1GP as its next venture, and to get it up and running has hired Marcin Budkowski, the de facto team principal of Alpine in 2021, to oversee it.
Prior to going to Enstone, Budkowski had stints with Ferrari and McLaren, as well as a spell working with the FIA. His experience and contacts make him well placed to put together such a project.
“The challenge is great,” he tells Autosport. “I actually think it's an idea that has a lot of merit.
“It's an exciting project, but also for me, it's a great challenge to start something from scratch and build from zero. So I think the combination was what decided me to get involved in this.
"Origin is a sports rights, marketing and events group, so they're always on the lookout for new opportunities. One of the guys came across this opportunity, did some market analysis on the motorsports market, built a business plan around it, and it all made sense.
"Origin has very successful ventures and sailing and golf. They are very experienced and very serious people. And Sir Keith Mills wouldn't put his name to this project if it wasn't serious and very solid in terms of its foundations.”
Former Alpine executive Marcin Budkowski is leading the new enterprise
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Budkowski stresses that the new A1GP has nothing to do with the original series, other than using its name, which still has a certain amount of goodwill attached to it.
"It's a revival of the concept, really,” he says. “It's not a revival of the A1 GP championship, it's a new championship, but using the same concept.
"Origin bought the rights to A1GP and the World Cup of Motorsports that became available last year. So we have the rights and the trademarks.
“We're still using the old logo, but there will be there will be a rebranding. It's temporary.”
Mills and his Origin organisation provide solid foundations, but they need substantial investment in order to get the project off the ground. Setting up a new category from scratch, and manufacturing all the cars, won’t be cheap.
"We're out on the markets fundraising at the moment for a fairly significant amount of money,” says Budkowski. “We'll set up an organisation and a championship, build the cars, organise the logistics etcetera. Everything needs to be accounted for.
“These discussions are extremely positive and extremely well advanced. And our objective is to close the fundraising by the summer and start moving forward. In our effort to make strong foundations for a commercially sustainable championship we will progress the next steps once we have secured all the funding we need.
“But all I can say is at this stage it's very positive. It's advanced significantly, and we’re optimistic about securing all the funds that we need.”
Budkowski says there’s no shortage of potential partners, stating that "a lot of people have expressed interest". However, the obvious question is does a revival of A1GP make commercial sense for Origin or indeed anyone else?
A1GP has been dormant since 2009 when Adam Carroll won its last race for Team Ireland
Photo by: A1GP
It failed commercially last time around, and the list of similar one-make ventures that hit the financial rocks includes the likes of Superleague Formula, Grand Prix Masters, and more recently the W Series.
"It's difficult for me to comment on the other series,” says Budkowski. “Because I don't know their economic model, their business plan, I don't know how solid their backing was.
“We've done extensive research and background checks on the original A1GP. And what is clear is that from a consumer product point of view it was drawing pretty good crowds. It was venue dependent, but the fans were coming to watch it, and enjoyed it. And the TV numbers were very respectable. It benefited from good coverage.
“But there were a number of flaws in the commercial model. I don't want to use strong words, but it wasn't all very clean and bulletproof, in terms of the financial part. We're building something from scratch and on solid foundations.”
So what lessons have been learned from the original A1GP’s failure?
“The commercial model of the teams and of the various stakeholders wasn't good enough,” says Budkowski.
“And as happens often in motorsport, you have teams that are commercially unsustainable, because they don't have enough money to actually operate, or because the business model of a team is just not strong enough and solid enough. And teams start to fail.
“And then you don't have enough cars on the grid. And then the broadcaster is not happy, or the spectators are not happy, because the show is not good enough. And you start losing venues or you start losing eyeballs, and the whole thing starts to collapse.
"In the construction of our financial model we've put a lot of effort and a lot of thinking into building a model that is extremely sustainable commercially, for the teams, for the venues, for the promoters, for everybody involved.
A1GP wants to introduce franchises in the future to ensure the health of its teams
Photo by: A1GP
“We're having a number of discussions with venues and promoters already. The model we're presenting them is extremely interesting, at a fraction of the cost or what is necessary to run an F1 event, and it will be the same for the team model. One of the pillars of what we're building is commercial sustainability of all the players involved.”
The plan is for the teams to evolve into franchises, although that won’t be the case until the series has found its feet.
“We're targeting 20 countries with two drivers per country,” says Budkowski. “We have a fairly innovative model for the way the championship will operate. The race weekend format is very innovative as well, and very different to everything that's currently being seen.
“The model would be that the teams will be centrally run. And that's really because we need a championship that has strong teams that are not at the risk of collapsing, and not showing up at the next race.
“And so we will take it on ourselves to build the teams, to operate them, to recruit drivers, to find the sponsors and so on. And the objective is after two or three years, once the championship is stable and healthy, and hopefully successful, then there will be an opportunity to buy the team franchises and to operate the individual teams.”
So what of the technical package? No details have been finalised as yet, although former F1 technical director Mike Gascoyne is involved, suggesting that his company could lead the design process. The idea is for it to be a spec series “a little bit above F2, Indycar kind of level of performance”.
The new A1GP hopes to race at FIA Grade 2 tracks to open up the circuits available to the series.
“We are talking to a number of suppliers, aero consultancies, single seater car makers, engine manufacturers and so on," Budkowski says. "And the emphasis will be on having a car that is very drivable, fun to drive, a very stable platform, with very good characteristics, so the drivers can really push and can really enjoy driving these cars.
Rebooted A1GP plans to have IndyCar levels of performance from its new cars
Photo by: A1GP
“We're really passionate about creating a championship where the racing is really good, and the drivers enjoy racing these cars and push them to the limit. With equal cars that are interesting to drive, and with a good level of drivers, we'll tick all these boxes.”
The fact that the series is starting from scratch allows green issues to be addressed, Budkowski adding: “We are putting a strong focus on environmental sustainability as well, with a calendar designed to minimise the freight and logistics requirements that are the first contributor to the carbon footprint of motorsport, and by committing to run 100% sustainable fuels from the get go.
“But also through various aspects of car design and operation, so at the end we have a much lower environmental impact than any of the other major categories in existence.”
As noted each country will have two drivers, with a mix of experience and youth, including “people who race in F1 or who have raced in top level motorsport championships”. Budkowski won’t say exactly how that will work, but he hints that both would participate on a given race weekend.
If all goes to plan the first event will take place in around 18 months, with an initial focus on races in the European winter. However, the timing is flexible.
A1GP's success will depend on a number of factors, not least appetite from fans and investors.
But the original A1GP suggested there was an appetite for a series based on national teams, with Budkowski hoping to “really offer an alternative to some of the other championships” and “to appeal to the traditional motorsport fan base, but also to people who enjoy sports and enjoy supporting their nation”.
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