Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum believes he has spotted a gap in the motorsport market, and he may well be right. His A1GP series, due to launch this September, will be of great interest to F1 fans.
Maktoum’s vision is of a ‘World Cup of Motorsport’ which will compete during the F1 off-season, principally in Asian nations where the climate is more favourable. Any country can apply for a team franchise and run the car in their nation’s colours with local drivers. 23 of the 30 available franchises have already been taken up.
The cars will be identical in specification and designed not only for speed, but for close racing as well. In terms of power output they will most likely be slightly slower than the new GP2 cars (that will replace Formula 3000 this year). Given the timing of the season it could well prove an additional place to see aspiring Formula One drivers in action.
Indeed, the entire concept of A1GP is geared towards creating genuine racing action, not through artificial devices such as weight penalties and reverse grids, but through taking every opportunity to level the playing field on all areas except for driver ability.
A1GP are therefore placing a substantial stake on the gamble that good quality racing and obvious national interest will make for high viewing figures. To maximise potential interest, race weekends will feature two races – a 15-20 minute qualifying race and a 35-40 minute main event, rather like the Deustche Tourenwagen Masters that has become so popular in Europe in recent years.
The series has attracted substantial interest from UK motorsport fans, so much so that the opening round of the series at Brands Hatch has been moved back a week to September 25th to better accommodate the race-going public.
But popularity among fans of other sports is critical and it is here that A1GP looks vulnerable, certainly in the UK. It is being broadcast by Sky Sports, not renowned for motorsports coverage of any depth or quality. It does not yet have a terrestrial broadcaster, making it utterly inaccessible to the majority of the British population. And in September it will be right up against the start of the Premiership football season, something Sky typically show much greater enthusiasm for.
What also remains to be seen is just how spectacular the action will be. Certainly the cars look the business (if perhaps a little contrived) but if they can run together in close proximity and actually exchange positions once in a while, they should win converts. The organisers should be cautious of assuming that identical cars automatically creates close racing, however – the latter years of F3000 surely prove that is not a given.
What is refreshing about A1GP is that it has been conceived with fairness and accessibility in mind. No aggregated qualifying, no complex engine and tyre rules and, perhaps best of all, no refuelling. It will be fascinating to see the series kick off and it might even give the F1 establishment a few things to think about.