And not a moment too soon – the last thing we needed was another Indy ’05 or, much worse, the GPMA’s stated threat of a ‘Grand Prix World Championship’ breakaway series actually becoming true.
The threat of the GPWC is dead for the time being – and it brings back the memory of another rival to Formula One that bit the dust.
Premier 1 GP – a doomed attempt to set up a rival series to Formula One by fusing motor racing with football.
No, I’m not making it up…
Premier 1 Grand Prix was born in August 2000. Its backers included millionaire Elizabeth Evans and her associate Colin Sullivan (who together in 1997 had tried to buy Silverstone circuit), former Football Association chief Graham Kelly and other ‘experts’.
The plan was for 26 cars with identical chassis and engines to race in a twelve round championship, with eleven events in Europe and one in South America. So far, so straightforward.
But here was the twist:
Each of the teams was to be run as a franchise of a major European football club. At one time or another the organisers claimed discussion were nearing completion with big names like Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Two years later, Premier 1 GP had signed contracts with just six clubs. Admittedly these included the likes of Chelsea, Benfica, Feyenoord and Anderlecht.
But Olympique Lyon and Leeds United were not the kind of mighty giga-clubs Premier 1 had in mind.
The Leeds deal was announced on September 23rd, 2001. During half time in the Leeds United – Derby County Premier league fixture a car (that looked an awful lot like an old Benetton chassis) was duly wheeled out in Leeds colours with Yorkshireman Darren Manning announced as the driver. Meanwhile the club was on the brink of a financial crisis that would drop them out of the English Premier league.
The team list wasn’t the only thing that failed to materialise. An engine deal with John Judd was claimed but never happened. The chassis were originally coming form Dallara, but in October 2001 they switched to Reynard.
The organisers made hopeful claims of luring Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill out of retirement to race with the promise of up to Â£180,000 prize money per weekend.
Eventually a calendar was produced running from July to November 2002, with the first race (match?) following on from the end of that year’s football World Cup. The series was even granted provisional approval by the FIA’s World Motor Sports Council.
But to no great surprise news came of the ‘postponement’ of the championship to 2003. This in fact proved the end of Premier 1 GP, though not before a few snotty editorials had been written in the motor sport press about how horrid it would be for football-style hooliganism to be imported to motor racing.
Premier 1 was a crude idea at best and I don’t expect many shed a tear over its passing. But some of its ideas had merit, as has been shown by the emergence of new single-seater series bearing the hallmarks of Premier 1:
Pitting drivers against each other in identical equipment, neutralising the importance of technical development and placing the onus entirely on the driver – this is exactly what Grand Prix Masters and A1 Grand Prix are all about.
Though it remains to be seen whether these can succeed in the long term they have – to use a metaphor from the other kind of football – picked up Premier 1′s ball and run with it.
Happily, no one has tried to create an unnatural motorsport-football hybrid since. I mean, would you try to cross golf with cricket? Or rugby and swimming?