When A1 Grand Prix first began in 2005 its organisers played down claims it might be a rival to Formula 1.
With substantially less powerful cars and a roster consisting largely of inexperienced drivers, it wasn’t likely to lure viewers away from motor racing’s top flight.
But signs are that could be about to change this year, as the championship prepares for its fourth season with a new, more powerful, Ferrari-designed, sponsor-friendly car.
The handsome new racer, based on Ferrari’s crushingly dominant F2004 of 2004, sheds the ugliness of its predecessor.
It packs much more of a punch as well. A1’s previous V8 Zytek units did their job and were commendably reliable, but for the championship to attract top-flight talent it clearly needed a more challenging machine.
A1 isn’t just moving closer to F1 in terms of power, it also wants to lure major sponsors to the series as well.
Just a few days after Frank Williams complained advertising space would be reduced by 25% because of the 2009 aerodynamics regulations cutting wing sizes, A1 Grand Prix put out a press release boasting the bodywork on its cars had been enlarged to allow sponsors’ logos to be displayed more fully.
F1 specified a minimum size of engine covers a few years ago for commercial reasons. But now teams are extending their engine covers far beyond the where the rules require to act as flow conditioners for the rear wing.
A1GP chief commercial officer Scott Hollingsworth said:
With all the cars being identical we have flexibility to make sure we deliver our promises to both our sponsors and fans. This enlarged engine cover allows a much higher profile position, while delivering the on track performance we demand. We are working hard to make sure our commercial partners get the most out of their association with A1GP.
The image above shows the car as it was originally designed. The picture below shows the revised look of the car.
Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone have often been accused of protecting Formula 1 from other championships – a charge former A1GP boss Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum directed at Mosley. I think it is becoming clear the World Cup of Motorsport sees itself increasingly as a rival to F1.