Why F1 needs a feeder series for teams

Lucas di Grassi, Virgin, Hungaroring, 2010

New drivers can demonstrate their potential in GP2, but Duncan Stephen wants to know where the next generation of F1 teams is going to come from.

In the coming weeks the FIA is expected to announce the identity of Formula 1’s 13th team for 2011 – if indeed there is going to be one.

This outfit should join the three new teams that joined the grid this year. But the drive to bring new teams into Formula 1 for the first time since Toyota’s entry in 2002 has revealed a problem with the motor sport hierarchy – there is no way for potential constructors to prove that they belong in F1.

There is a well-established ladder that allows drivers to showcase their talents before reaching F1. You might even say the ladder is too congested, with series such as GP2, GP3, Formula Two, World Series by Renault and multiple Formula 3 series among others. They provide a proving ground for those looking to step up to F1.

The major problem is that almost all of these are single-spec series (the exception being Formula 3, which is dominated by Dallara and a handful of other suppliers). This is a relatively cost-effective way of going racing.

It works well for drivers as reduced costs means that these series are not just open to the cash-heavy but talent-light Sakon Yamamotos of tomorrow.

But there is no real way for potential F1 constructors to demonstrate that they have what it takes to step up to F1. While the the likes of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Nico H???lkenberg wowed the crowds and the F1 bosses when they raced in GP2, the evidence backing potential new constructors is a great deal more opaque.

Many were left scratching their heads last year when established operations like Lola and Prodrive were rebuffed by the FIA during the selection process for this season’s new teams. Meanwhile, USF1 were granted an entry – apparently on the basis of an impressive presentation but not a lot else.

The trouble with the new teams

It’s been painful watching the new teams make their faltering first steps into F1. No new team has tried to enter F1 since Toyota eight years ago. Lotus (in their new incarnation), Virgin and Hispania have all taken on a challenge that few have even attempted.

In this context, the new teams have done a fairly impressive job. While we have become accustomed to watching increasingly professional teams and tighter grids, in the context of the bigger pictures the new teams are actually doing well.

This has not stopped the jibes from some who suggest that they do not belong in F1. We have heard David Coulthard talking about “A class” and “B class” teams. Bernie Ecclestone recently said, “there are a couple of teams who really shouldn’t be there. They are a bit out of their depth at the moment.”

The problem is not a lack of ability on the part of the new teams. It is a lack of credentials. Yet on paper, all have the hallmarks of an experienced motor racing team.

Lotus is headed up by experienced technical director Mike Gascoyne, and emerged from the (admittedly embryonic) Litespeed F3 team. Virgin is run by Manor Motorsport, a well-established team that has achieved great success in lower formulae.

HRT was originally run by Adri??n Campos, who had been successful as a team owner in GP2, and is now headed up by ex-Jordan/Midland/Spyker/Force India man Colin Kolles.

But none of these teams had demonstrated their ability as a potential top-level constructor. As motor racing teams, they looked great on paper. As constructors, they lacked the hard evidence.

In the end, we must assume that the FIA had to look at what the potential teams had to say for themselves in their presentations and were left to guess which of the entries would be suitable for F1. Perhaps that is why USF1 fell by the wayside, and Campos had to be rescued at the last minute.

New teams driven by business, not sport

It would be useful if there could be some kind of feeder series for constructors, just as there are for drivers. Gone are the days when new teams could enter F1 relatively easily. F1 had effectively become a franchise system, with ten franchises. New teams did not emerge. Instead, existing teams changed hands from one rich businessman to another.

Red Bull may have first entered F1 in 2005, but its roots can be traced back to Stewart Grand Prix in 1997, via Jaguar. A team may only have been called Force India since 2008, but it has run as Jordan, Midland and Spyker since 1991.

Mercedes may have officially entered their first Formula 1 season since 1955 this year, but the team it bought can in fact be traced back to the 1960s via Brawn, Honda, BAR and Tyrrell.

So it goes for every “new” team that has entered F1 this past decade, with the exception of Toyota. The chief reason for this is cost. For anyone looking to enter F1, it is simply easier to buy an existing team than go through the pain of building one from scratch.

As such, F1 was running the risk of becoming stale. The decision for a new team to enter motorsport’s top level was always about cold business, not sporting success. While the FIA’s attempts to bring fresh blood into the sport should be applauded, the way they have gone about it has done little to improve the situation.

No matter how well this year’s new teams have done, there will always be scepticism. The question can always be asked: why USF1, but not Lola? Why HRT, but not Prodrive? Why Virgin, but not Epsilon Euskadi?

The problem: costs of course

Some kind of system where potential constructors can flex their muscles in a lower formula would help sort out the wheat from the chaff, just as GP2 does for drivers. Of course, the costs of such a series would be astronomical. In the past, Formula 2 and F3000 provided great scope for competition between chassis manufacturers. But in these cost-conscious times, GP2 is viewed as being more viable.

Moreover, this structure could be harming upcoming drivers as much it harms potential constructors. Lucas Di Grassi has complained that GP2 provided little scope for him to develop the skills needed for him to carry out development work.

Nonetheless, the current system of feeder series is rightly regarded as doing an excellent job of developing the F1 drivers of tomorrow. Unfortunately for wannabe constructors, the motorsport hierarchy has probably never been less effective at helping new teams make the step up to F1.

F1’s new teams

Image (C) Virgin Racing

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72 comments on Why F1 needs a feeder series for teams

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  1. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 12th August 2010, 10:26

    Maybe a feeder serie with the likes of the new indycar rules. A base wich teams can build their aero kit around?
    Could be very interessting I think!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 12th August 2010, 11:28

      It can be an interesting route to take for wannabe constructors and it will make Dallara improve on their cars as well (having competition).
      It might help teams to get some experience of developing a car before using this experience in F1 (as new teams or partnering with GP2 teams or other racing operations).
      And companies the like of Reynard, Lola and Swift as well as a lot of sportscar builders could have a try at building up their renome in (sub)top level open wheels competition

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 12th August 2010, 21:09

      The new Indycar rules was exactly what came to my mind. Something like the new GP2 car, but with certain parts open to development. I think a budget cap would also make sense there, even if it doesn’t in F1.

  2. sojcarter said on 12th August 2010, 10:31

    Has anyone seen the new Inday car format to take shape in 2012, where the teams are given a spec-chassis(from Dallara) but then are given reasonable room for a reasonable cost to develop their own aerodynamic bodywork to improve the cars performance?

    I think this would be a brilliant way for other feeder series to develop their own racing teams, with a potential to step up for F1. This way, not only are costs kept low and drivers given relatvely competitive cars to keep the racing intense, but it also allows for teams to increase their experience of actually developing their own cars like they would have to do in F1 (although on a far grander scale.) It also allows for the drivers to hone thier development skills as their teams bring new body parts to the car.

    I really feel that the Indycar format of 2012 is a great template for a feeder series for teams.

    • damonsmedley said on 12th August 2010, 11:15

      But then everyone would be starting up Formula 1 teams. Still, the idea doesn’t sound too bad although the “stock” chassis would have to be updated every year to keep up with developments, and who is there to do that?

    • UneedAFinn2Win said on 12th August 2010, 12:24

      Essentially the 2012 Indycar chassis idea IS largely in practice (outside the costcap that is) in Formula 1 today because the engine is a V8, so the length of the back of the car is determined and the monocoque (or safety cell) must be built to FIA standards, so the middle of the car is unchangeable. The manufacture of these items is up to the individual teams, but you really don’t have room to change these bits.
      Other aspects of the car are also highly regulated by the rules (and the competitors), hence the current palaver on the RB6

    • This is what effectively what currently happens in Formula 3 – most teams buy a chassis from Dallara and then develop it. The top teams like Carlin and ART (and Manor, at one point) undertake windtunnel work and make their own parts. This benefits both driver and team, who have to learn how to work together to realise the benefits of any changes. The same sort of thing happened in Formula 3000 before it became a single chassis series.

      The problem is that, by its very nature, this sort of series is much more expensive than a single chassis series where the spec of the cars is tightly controlled. GP3 and Forumla 2 are both cheaper than F3, making them more attractive to drivers without huge budgets.

      Another problem is that virtually all drivers in the lower formulas pay for their drives through sponsorship of some kind. If Manor doesn’t deliver the goods then they’ll go to Carlin, who might.

      And it isn’t unknown for teams themselves to switch chassis manufacturer mid-season if their drivers will it. Even a healthy, multi-chassis formula can collapse very quickly if one chassis manufacturer proves dominant. Dallara’s F3 near-monopoly would vanish very quickly if Lola or Mygale produced a car that was a second a lap faster.

      British F3 became Formula Dallara in the space of a few months after the Dallara F393 was launched and destroyed the opposition, despite a previously strong contest between Ralt and Reynard. A similar thing happened in Formula Renault 2.0 not long before it became a spec series.

      Experience limited to spec series is clearly a problem for aspirant F1 teams, but it’s not the only issue. Any sort of feeder series that puts an emphasis on team-led technical innovation and chassis development also has to deliver value for money for the driver and his sponsors, and also provide close racing for the public. It’s a tough balancing act.

      • Some great points here.

        Developing a car is an expensive undertaking; the challenge of a constructor’s development series would be for teams to find the necessary funds to design and produce their own cars. If this series doesn’t receive significant enough exposure for sponsors/pay drivers to justify participating, then they will not sign up and the series fails.

    • f1yankee said on 12th August 2010, 14:48

      i think the new indycar rules are a big mistake. a few teams will invest in developing their own aero, just to find someone else’s package is superior and available at a fraction of the cost. everyone will end up with the one best oval package and the one best road course package, especially since the price is fixed. what a huge waste of time.

      • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 12th August 2010, 21:12

        The idea of a stock chassis that they can develop makes sense to me. The part that doesn’t is that they have to then sell their aero kit to any other team that wants it. That kind of defeats the purpose of developing in the first place.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 12th August 2010, 10:34

    The problem is always money. Sponsors count for the vast majority of a team’s budget, but no sponsor is going to want to be associated with a team when there is a chance they won’t make it into Formula 1. And when the grid is 100% full, what happens to the feeder series? The obvious intention behind the expansion of the grid is to get to the point where there can be thirteen full-time teams. The only way a feeder series would work is if they were constantly coming and going. Sure, you could swap the bottom two Formula 1 teams with the top two feeder teams at the end of the year, but how would those new teams get experience in Formula 1 when, at best, they can hope to be racing every other year? And it’s not like you could revive pre-qualifying, because again, no sponsor would want to be involve with a team if there was a chance they would not appear in the race.

    • GeeMac said on 12th August 2010, 11:08

      “And when the grid is 100% full, what happens to the feeder series?”

      The same applies to drivers. Look at Romain Grosjean.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 12th August 2010, 13:46

        So all the other teams just die out and go somewhere else? That sounds just wasteful. They invest all that money in a feeder team, then one of them gets promoted and everyone else just closes shop? In order to make a feeder series work, you’d need a decent-sized grid. It wouldn’t work with jsut two or three teams. But when one or two are promoted, the rest have nowhere else to go, making the entire exercise pointless.

        • J.A. Brown said on 14th August 2010, 11:08

          You could have teams/constructors in both F1 and one or more feeder series at a time, like Virgin/Manor are doing right now, and I believe Tyrrell, Lotus etc. used to in the past.

    • DGR-F1 said on 12th August 2010, 13:37

      ‘And it’s not like you could revive pre-qualifying…’ – Well, there will be, sort of, once we have the 107% rule again.
      I don’t necessarily think its a lack of suitable feeder series for the teams themselves, but the lack of a structure to the whole motorsport business, as each racing series is set up independently, and although the FIA is supposed to be in overall control, they haven’t seen it their business to help teams cross between the series, even though it does happen from time to time (and some teams compete in more than one series).
      I think it ought to be possible to organise a kind of ‘league table’ of racing series and allow the teams that can to jump between them if they are able to (depending on sponsorship etc).
      As others have said, the trouble with F1 is the lead-in time required to develop a car and become a serious contender. In a way this could be put forward as an arguement for ‘customer cars’, so that in the first year they use a predeveloped chassis (maybe from the previous F1 season?) or a ‘spec’ chassis, but after that they have to develop their own.
      That way, an existing team can move into F1, bringing its fan base, sponsors and maybe drivers too, but once it has got established, and not dropped out under the 107% rule, it will be seen as just another team.
      I do agree with Bernie etc that there are some teams that shouldn’t survive until next year, but unless he or someone else comes up with a definite system to draw a line and say ‘if you are below it you aren’t coming back’, there will be no way to replace them without a lot of bickering.
      Also, if the FIA really got tough and suspended a team for half a season or more, it would be a great way to invite new team to replace them and see how they fare (and maybe not invite the other one back?).
      On the other hand, the top 3 or 4 teams in GP2 should automatically be invited to join F1 at the end of every season, replacing the teams which have dropped out of F1, and then the top teams from GP3 can move to GP2.
      If something like this is used in every feeder series, all the way down to Formula BMW, Formula Ford and Formula V, it might encourage teams to move up.
      We need to find out how the likes of Eddie Jordan and Frank Williams were able to move from the lower series, and make it easier…

  4. Christian said on 12th August 2010, 10:34

    Really enjoyed reading that. Awesome stuff. Thanks Duncan.

    I’m really pleased to see new teams entering the sport. There’s no doubt the 13th team next season will need more support and a better helping hand from F1 than the new teams received this season.

  5. Hamish said on 12th August 2010, 10:57

    F1 = money. And all honesty I feel it should.

    The problem exists in that as the three new teams have showcased, getting up to speed to being somewhat competitive. Sure, no one expects a team to be winning straight out of the blocks but its a detriment to potential entrants knowing they are going to be lagging by 4-7 seconds – good luck finding sponsorship.

    Lets be honest, for a team to be able to compete in F1 they will need a sizeable budget. Given most teams have already started in next years editions the new team is already going to be behind the eight ball. Yes, they can start building like everyone else but no team is going to commit the amount of cash, time and manpower required for F1 unless its an absolute certainty they will be on the grid in that big sandpit come March 2011.

    I think rules and privileges should be available for those entering the sport – 1) to encourage those new teams that it is worth entering and they stand the chance of being a going concern past 2 years, and 2) to get them up to speed. By this is mean the selection process should be dealt with much earlier and those new teams should be able to test as much as they want to up until when the new teams start 2011 testing, then they fall in line with the rules that everyone else adheres to.

    A feeder series, I’m not a fan of. I think the last thing we need is another series as I feel talent is lost through the current state of affairs in single seater racing.

    As I said yesterday the road to F1 should be a road of natural progression and natural ability.

    Be gone with the pyramid of talent. Bring back the ladder.

  6. RSWF1 said on 12th August 2010, 11:06

    Why not a feeder series, based on the fundamental design rules of F1, using the engines from the F1 cars, with a capped budget per team. The constructers champion of the feeder series takes the place of the last placed team in the F1’s previous years constructers championship.

    • Don Mateo said on 12th August 2010, 13:18

      I wondered about this as well. If the feeder series used a spec car, but built to F1 regulations (like HRT’s Dallara this year), you could even allow the newly promoted team to continue using the spec car for their first season in the top flight. The problem is that they would most likely finish bottom and be relagated straight away, thus there would never be any stability at the bottom.

      • Mike said on 13th August 2010, 6:21

        Sort of like the English premier league?

        I can’t see why, they can’t “tax” the teams with the highest budgets, and use that money to support teams with less budget, I don’t think losing $5mil will hurt Ferrari to badly, but it would help HRT immensely.

        It would be a better solution to the budget cap, yet it would still , even just slightly, even out the difference in team budgets. which too often decides the championship I feel.

        In other words you are saying, You can spend two hundred million dollers if you want to, but…

  7. For now, I don’t think there are any suitable candidates for the 13th team slot. The FIA must learn that it takes time to get up to speed in F1. This has been proved by this years new teams. It was also proved by Super Aguri. Should the 13th spot be taken, I think they should be given 2011 to prepare, and then be allowed to race in 2012.

  8. Hamish said on 12th August 2010, 11:07

    I think this sums everyones point up rather nicely:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amkrsNGpEMw

    • litlman said on 13th August 2010, 1:05

      While I agree with the basic premise behind showing these laps side by side there are so many variables that it is not really fair to compare them. You are watching a veteran driver who has the knowledge to setup the car properly against a rookie, in his second race in this video, and there is no info on tyres or fuel load.

      I’m not saying that the HRT is as fast as the Red Bull but I think it would be interesting to see a Mark Webber or Hamilton or Massa in the HRT and see how it goes then.

      • Hamish said on 13th August 2010, 7:45

        Well:

        a) Its in qualifying, so fuel loads should be about the same of there abouts
        b) The HRT is a dog regardless. As you can see it understeers like crazy in basically all corners.

        My point is, the drivers are irrelevant. This video just shows the absolute difference is in levels of performance between the two. Downforce in fundamental in F1 and clearly one lacks it.

  9. Over recent years the majority of teams that have come into the sport have been either major manufacturers with huge amounts of money behind their bid, or people taking over smaller independent teams, which already have a design staff, facilities and are working on developing a car for that forthcoming season already with existing data.

    The problem this year and for the new team next year, is that they are starting from scratch with none of that infrastructure or team based experience in place. That is where the problem has been. This was always going to happen with a grid expansion of this scale and no existing teams for the new ones to take over.

    I think in the future it will revert to the previous format where by teams drop out, are taken over by new people with new funding, but crucially already have the facilities in place, over time this will hopefully see each new owner build on what is already there and get the team up to speed.

    I dont see a problem with this method, and to be honest if you cant afford the play you should really leave the play ground. F1 is about the pinnacle of motor sport, a feeder series that caters for enough aspects of it for the new teams to be competitive when they step up i personally dont think is financially feasible.

    Also once the grid is full, what do these aspiring teams do? and how do they decide who gets “promoted”?

  10. BasCB (@bascb) said on 12th August 2010, 11:21

    It is a very interesting and very viable question you ask there Keith.

    When we look at the entrants, from the point of view of being a constructor, it offers a few ways to go.

    – Campos/HRT bought a car made by Dallara. But while dallara is very experienced in lower categories where there is no or only limited chassis competition, the car is not able to mix it with the best. The bigger problem is, that HRT ended up without any real capacity for improvement nor with any experience in setup work.
    For such a strategy to work you would need some form of customer car deal (maybe of the form the McLaren/Mercedes and FI deal) for new entrants who then get some time to develop their own team. But it would need a pool of such teams to get into F1 on the long run.

    – Lotus – in effect brought together the mean part of the Toyota technical team, now spiced up with FI people. Another way of buying a established team, this is possible but almost as costly and does not help completely new engineers in.
    – Manor/Virgin/Wirth and now entrant Epsilon Euskadi are the only teams of those applicants to offer constructor experience and existing technical capacity. Not in F1, but in the widely recognized and higly competative world of sport cars. In theory they should be in the best position to rock the F1 world with new ideas to help their teams winning

    I feel, that this last route is actually the most viable route for new teams as the Lotus way is expensive and worked only because Toyota quit and the HRT route would only work with customer cars.
    This could be suppported by deals like FI/McLaren have to bring those teams forward, if they need/want any such support.

  11. Adam Smith said on 12th August 2010, 11:22

    I welcome the new teams, they have done fantastically well to get to the grid, and especially Lotus being close to the midfield teams on some tracks. I think it adds another aspect to the weekend, as there are three major battles going on.

    However having said this, the fact that HRT hadn’t gone out on track before the race weekend was shocking! Just seems amazing that they would let them race, anything could have happened. Also, Karun Chandhok didn’t get in the car until Qualifying! Crazy!

    I think what has been said above is bang on. The indy car series is a great idea!

  12. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 12th August 2010, 11:36

    Nice analysis. But what about Super Aguri? Just like Toyota, they started in F1 from scratch in 2006, even if they didn’t use their own cars

  13. spanky the wonder monkey said on 12th August 2010, 11:55

    costs indeed.

    the problem, as i see it, with a feeder series is cost against aims.
    the feeder would need to be -nearly- F1, so has the same aero restraints, development programmes etc. you’re then starting to talk a budget similar to F1, so why not just jump straight in to F1 rather than spend money on a series which you don’t intend staying within? if you become successful in the feeder (manufacturer), do you want to take the next step up and risk floundering in the big league?

    of course, if the regs are too like F1, then there is nothing to stop the likes of macca, the big F etc creating satellite teams that are basically test beds for potential F1 technology.

    no easy answer!

  14. Mike "the bike" Schumacher said on 12th August 2010, 11:55

    The new teams had a very tough start to F1 with all the rule changes before they came into the sport.
    New teams should really have at least a year to prepare for F1.
    The FIA wanted new teams in and yet severely hindered them with these changes and we still haven’t heard who the 13th team is and its august now.

  15. plyschak said on 12th August 2010, 12:11

    I think there should be a way for new teams to buy old chassis from an established team and race it for some limited time to gain experience. Yes, I’m talking about the idea of customer cars, which Prodrive and McLaren tried to work with some years ago. The feeder series would cost too much and would get not enough attention. But monococques are freezed for the season, so why not buy an existing one year old car and try to race it. There could be some limitations, i.e. that such a team has to run a Cosworth engine or that such a team has three years to build it’s own chassis. But if you want to expand an F1 grid, this is IMO the easiest way.

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