Countdown to A1

In 1950 the Formula One World Championship was invented. And we looked upon it and we saw that it was good. And then we asked, ?????ǣbut what shall we do during the winter??????? Happily, in 2005, it seems we finally have an answer. The A1 Grand Prix series – the ?????ǣWorld Cup of Motorsport?????? – is exactly what we were looking for.

At least 23 countries will be represented in the 12-race series, which starts next week (September 25th) and runs until April 2006. The geographical reach of the series is more equitable and less Euro-centric than Formula One, with substantially better representation of Asian countries: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Pakistan all have teams, and race venues include Malaysia, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.

Wayr, no doubt, of Bernie Ecclestone’s protectiveness of all things F1, A1GP founder Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum has gone out of his way to ensure that A1GP offers a uniquely different, yet highly appealing alternative.

The season takes place almost exclusively during the F1 off-season – except, it must be said, the hotly-anticipated curtain-raiser at Brands Hatch with coincides with what will surely be the F1 title-decider at Interlagos.

Unlike F1, the cars are identical to ensure drives have parity of equipment. The cars are devoid of ‘gizmos’ such as traction control and automatic gears which remove control from the drivers. And the outlandishly sculpted cars, with their exaggerated curves, are purportedly designed to encourage overtaking – but we will only find that out for sure during the first race.

It is a shame that Ron Walker, the Australia Grand Prix organiser who is firmly in Ecclestone’s pocket, has brought a churlish legal action against A1 for use of the term ‘Grand Prix’ in Australia, even though the phrase is regularly used in athletics, swimming and other sports. Walker would be better advised to back off and instead invest some thought in improving his tedious Melbourne park circuit

F1 fans should welcome A1GP. By putting country and driver competition first we have another benchmark on which to judge the qualities of the leading drivers of the day. In time we may hope that active F1 drivers can join the series, though that may prove a pipe dream.

It gives many drivers the chance to prove their skills on a world stage and gives new countries and new venues a taste of proper motor sport – something that Formula One is finding ever more difficult to do as the calendar becomes increasingly packed.

Perhaps most importantly, A1GP could show Formula One a way out of its current difficulties. It can demonstrate that a world class series does not need teams with NASA-size budgets and that the public appreciates it when the drivers are made accessible to them on race day. And, while F1 remains the pinnacle of motor sport and demonstrates the greatest car-driver packages, an A1 champion can justly claim to be a world-leading driver entirely in their own right.

We wish A1 Grand Prix every success, and wait with bated breath for the first race.

  • For detailed analysis of every A1GP race and team make sure you check our new site a1fanatic.co.uk

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