Superleague Formula takes aim at F1

PSV Eindhoven, Superleague Formula 2007 | SLFOpen-wheel single-seater racing is, for me, the most exciting sport on the planet. Formula 1, GP2, Champ Car World Series, Indy Racing League, World Series by Renault, A1 Grand Prix, GP Masters – I’ve watched them all.

It’s not often that a new racing formula comes along. And it’s even rarer that, when one does, my first thought is, “I really hope that idea bombs.”

But that’s exactly how I feel about Superleague Formula.

I know I’m being unkind, even unreasonable. There’s plenty about the concept to admire.

The championship aims to start in August next year with a field of 20 identical cars. There will be a ??????1m victory prize at each round, and each event will have two one-hour races. So far, so good.

Calendar details are on the thin side at the moment but in the first year the season will run from August to November with races in Britain, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy. They want a 17-race series in 2009.

The car is a tasty prospect – powered by a 4.5 litre V12 engine reputedly putting out 750hp. That’s in F1 territory. The Elan Motorsports-designed chassis is a slender and attractive creation.

The problem is, they’re painting the cars in the colours of football teams. Yes, it’s that old idea again.

Superleague Formula is the off Premier 1 GP concept of 2001 dusted off for a second stab at the market. The idea is you paint the cars in the colour of football strips and try to get the clubs’ fans to come along and watch.

Interestingly if you search Superleague Formula’s website for ‘Premier 1′ you get no results…

And here’s my problem: motor racing has done just fine for over a century without needing to leech off the popularity of other sports – so why should it have to now?

There are plenty of great racing series in Europe and the rest of the world that deserve more exposure – GP2, World Series by Renault (the latter doesn’t even get live TV coverage in the UK) – and it would be a terrible shame if they were put further in the shade by this naff gimmick.

Football saturation is endemic in the UK and throughout Europe. The season has just started again and suddenly the sports pages have turned into the football pages – it’s like nothing else exists.

I don’t hate football, I’m just not interested in it and get tired of it being rammed down my throat. I hate the thought of motor racing, my favourite sport, being cynically exploited as yet another cash cow for football.

And I’m not the only one. Superleague Formula’s blog has messages of support and criticism in roughly equal measure from visitors.

Borussia Dortmund, Superleague Formula, 2007When I wrote about this on Maximum Motorsport a comment apparently from one of the Superleague Formula organisers said the series would “offer [football] clubs an opportunity to give something back to their fans.” Except they’re not because admission will be charged for. So by ‘giving something back to their fans’ what they actually mean is ‘trying to fleece more money from football fans’.

If Superleague Formula dropped the soccer gimmick and instead ran a competitive, high-power series for drivers looking to make it into F1, that ran in the F1 off-season, I’d be all in favour.

But I don’t care for cynical marketing exercises like this. Premier 1 GP collapsed without ever staging a race. Right now if the same happened to Superleague Formula I don’t think many people would care.

Photos: Superleague Formula

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7 comments on Superleague Formula takes aim at F1

  1. Pardon me for repeating the same comment as last time:

    Motorsport at this level is very, very expensive. I don’t see what the football teams will gain from it.

    It’s not that I think most motorsport teams run in the red or should run in the red, but I get the impression that the ownerships in virtually every level of racing will keep the racing going until it drives them to bankruptcy and beyond, and I don’t forsee a single football team’s board taking a similar attitude.

  2. I suspect it is not football fans that they are really interested in snaring, but the recent batch of Football Sugar-Daddies: Abramovich, Gaydamak, Shinawatra et al.

    These are men, happy to pump money in to sport without need for financial return, so long as it boosts their status in the West.

  3. Robert McKay said on 19th August 2007, 16:12

    I’m inclined to agree. I can understand the attempt to diversify and market yourself as something different, especially in the crowded single-seater open wheel racing series ladder below F1. You’ve got A1GP trying to be about countries, you’ve got GP2 trying to be about “F1 stars of the future”, you’ve got WSR (not quite sure if they have a marketing “angle”: might explain their lack of presence in relative terms), GP Masters is “F1 seniors”, you’ve got GP2 Asia coming along…they all need a way of distinguishing themselves and trying to coexist rather than compete.

    But the concept of “F1 meets football” is naff. The motorracing fans aren’t going to be overjoyed at football encroaching on their territory, and the football fans will be spending so much time supporting their football teams that the crossover doesn’t work. I think the fans most likely to be interested are, ironically, those who fall between the camps, i.e. like a bit of racing, but are attracted by easily recognisable names like AC Milan rather than, say, Super Nova or Carlin Motorsports.

    I think it will get off the ground, but as A1 GP has proven getting off the ground and becoming commercial successes are a bit different.

    The other irony is that I’m sure there’s a couple of teams in there that must’ve been bitten by the Premier 1 GP failure. Didn’t Anderlecht intend to do that one?

  4. It would only make sense if they put football players in the driving seats. After all, F1 teams quite often kick a football around in their spare moments, don’t they? And they tell me that Michael Schumacher was good enough to have been a professional footballer. Who knows? Maybe the next Lewis Hamilton will be a spotty-faced kid who started out as the star striker for Birmingham City…

    Come to think of it, nah, they’d only be spitting in the helmets. :D

  5. I would be surprised if this “Superleague” survives, if it manages to kick off at all.

    But I had the same feeling about the A1 “World Cup Of Motorsports” and it is still around

  6. Adam D said on 1st September 2008, 0:52

    Intresting post, i watched the first race of Superleague today – cudn’t watch the 2nd as i was needed at work – and the concept behind it as ur saying is gr8.

    I do like their idea of qualifying and how its done, it wudn’t work in F1 and nor would i want to see it in F1, but this isn’t F1 so i dont hav a problem with the way cars battle each other for time in the quarter, semi and then final.

    Its good for drivers in getting a name, but i dont think really football needs it. Football is my favourite sport with Motorsport/Cricket both being joint second. Football fans arn’t going to watch a Motorsport series when their team is on, regardless whether its cheaper or not. tickets brought will be those by locals and rich guys not the average football fan. Teams like Liverpool, B Dortmund and Corinthians dont need a motorsport competition to get noticed worldwide. Teams like Basel and Anderlecht on the other hand might.

    Overall i did enjoy watching the first race, the lead commentator (who was young and i hadn’t herd’ve b4) did a gr8 job with his m/sport knowledge as well as football. Overall its a good concept but one that i dont think was really needed (by football and the sport), but if it throws up exciting races and gets some drivers having fun and getting noticed then im all for it.

  7. Campbell said on 4th October 2008, 14:37

    i am inclined to disagree with the negative comments aimed towards superleague formula. i have a great friend racing in this series and was fortunate enough to be at the nurburgring round…it was one hell of a weekend. i am primarily a football fan with motorsport being my second love but with what the SF management have provided us here is an opportunity for me to enjoy both in one foul swoop! i can agree that there are many great series out there, none however showing off a car as impressive as this (the sound is incredible)… but how many of them are big spectator events?? a couple of thousand a weekend… ‘wow’. Despite ‘officially’ charging for entry to the races i know for a fact that thousands of tickets are given away free to football fans… if bringing football teams into motorsport encourages big crowds then i’m right behind it. Ultimately all i can say is give this series a chance, its been exciting so far and is giving young drivers like my friend (craig dolby)an opportunity to prove his worth in a fast car against big names (there are 2 former F1 drivers competing this year). i firmly believe that this kind of series could/will spawn the type of calibre drivers F1 needs for the future.

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