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?â??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?â?ín 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

  1. Don Mateo said on 12th August 2010, 13:36

    Maybe GP2 needs to follow Indycar’s lead and allow some development by teams. Or maybe there could be a feeder series that is even closer to F1, maybe using previous years’ cars or a spec chassis built to F1 rules.

    To be honest though, I just think that the FIA needs to be more careful about choosing new teams – making sure that they only pick teams with a demonstrable ability to build and develop a racing car from scratch, and they should make a point of inspecting facilities. The successful applicant should be announced a lot earlier to give them as much time to get things ready as possible, and there should be targets set – and if the team isn’t hitting them by a certain point, their entry should be given to someone else.

    I also agree with Lee’s comment – now that most of the vacant grid slots have been taken up, the introduction of new teams to the sport is more likely to come from existing ones being taken over.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 12th August 2010, 13:55

      Maybe GP2 needs to follow Indycar’s lead and allow some development by teams.

      The problem with that is that GP2 was designed to make everything as equal as possible for the drivers. As soon as you start allowing car development, it stops being about the driver and starts being about the team. Although there is a pecking order in GP2, allowing teams to develop the cars will simply muddy the waters of the talent pool, and it’s far more important for GP2 to be a showcase of drivers rather than teams.

      Or maybe there could be a feeder series that is even closer to F1, maybe using previous years’ cars or a spec chassis built to F1 rules.

      But the GP2 cars are already fairly close to Formula 1 – namely Hispania. And because of that, having another series that is closer to Formula 1 is only going to undermine Formula 1 itself.

  2. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 12th August 2010, 13:51

    I don’t know why everyone is saying Virgin won’t be in Formula 1 next season. Sure, they had that screw-up with the fuel tank being too short and they didn’t get to start proper development of the car until five races into the season, but if you really think about it, that’s an advantage. We’re eleven races into the championship, right? Lotus caught up the distance to the established teams in ten races, or thereabouts. But Virgin are now fighting with Lotus, despite their setback – so they really started developing their car from five races in. They’ve managed to catch Lotus in the space of six races. That’s twice as fast as otus caught up with the established teams.

  3. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 12th August 2010, 13:53

    Personally I’m really enjoying the new teams inclusion. Although I don’t really agree with the Class A/B stuff..it is evident. I like to follow the back end of the field just as much as the front and I was glad to hear that there was not one DNF at Hungary from them, so well done! And seeing Virgin really take it to Lotus was brilliant. I would like to say that Toro Rosso have improved this season and I thought that was the case until a while ago when they started falling back. I’m sure we will see either Virgin or Lotus really attacking the mid-grid next year.

    F1 has to be accessible. No need for elitism.

    • f1yankee said on 12th August 2010, 14:36

      “F1 has to be accessible. No need for elitism.”

      that is the exact opposite of what f1 is all about. it is, by definition, an elite class. ferrari, mclaren and ecclestone will have nothing to do with formula welfare.

      • DGR-F1 said on 12th August 2010, 16:12

        So lets all remember how Ferrari, Mclaren and even Bernie started in F1 shall we?

        ….if you don’t know, look it up!

  4. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 12th August 2010, 14:38

    Excellent article Duncan!

    I’ve been wondering what the point of F2 is since its re-incarnation last year, and it seems we have an obvious answer: just as GP2 is a spec series for drivers, we could have F2 as a series for teams to compete with each other.

    What I’d propose is to turn F2 into a mini-F1, with very similar rules (bar things like the two-compound and Top-10-start tyre rules) but with machinery that is less sophisticated (smaller engines, less aero, thinner tyres maybe). Give them a small budget cap and a base chassis to work on, and let them go racing. As good as GP2 is, it’s so far removed from F1 that it’s not the most efficient feeder series even if it’s the best pne we have at the moment.

  5. Xanathos said on 12th August 2010, 14:53

    It is a shame that anyone dares to complain about the new teams this year. No one, not even these teams themselves, expected them to be competitive this year and they won’t be for another two years. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that Virgin and HRT signed up for a limited budget F1 which didn’t happen. As a result, their budget this year is just a fraction compared to the established teams. Last summer there has also been talk about technical assistance from the established teams, something that apparently hasn’t happened. On the other hand, Lotus have a decent budget, but they had only five months to get their car ready.
    What exactly did all those people that are criticizing them now expect? They should be grateful that they have new privateer teams coming in, something that hasn’t happened for over a decade.

  6. f1yankee said on 12th August 2010, 15:20

    thanks, duncan. you bring up an interesting point. there’s certainly no easy answers to be found. i myself have aborted several posts on this while trying to put together some rational thoughts, and failing :)

  7. I do miss the constructure of F1 people like Toyota, BMW & Jaguar who promised a lot but couldn’t provided the results. On the other hand I don’t think having too many feeder series is good. GP2 was great to me but then GP3 was quiet unnecessary,yes you want the best drivers in F1 but you can only have 24 of them at a time.

    And finally I was also in that list of people who were disappointed not to see Lola and Prodrive on the grid for 2010, but I think it was more to do with the FIA back then other than the potential of the team.

  8. DaveW said on 12th August 2010, 16:15

    I don’t get this. I’m sure I have the answer but it seems to me that the focus on costs are not the key. The barriers to entering F1 is not costs per se and a feeder series is not going to somehow give teams a step up into F1.

    First, it’s about return, and there is a mint to be made in F1 if you can bring the capital and get it done right. Bernie is not the second richest man in England because the F1 pie is small, and no one with equity in a team or the series is living under a bridge. They keep the pie big by operating it as a private) market, and access and resources are accordingly not distributed to each according to his need.

    In fact, in view of the transportation allowances, etc., it is well-organized to weed out the stragglers and reward winners. Look for example at Mallya. He took up the cudgel dropped by a long line of hacks and is taking that team well into the midfield and even is a threat to win at certain tracks. This is how it is supposed to work. Fernandes is on his way to doing the same thing, with a new team. We need Fernandeses, and good riddance to Kolles when he is gone.

    Second, the idea that the feeder series can somehow weed-out less efficient teams doesn’t make sense—its about RoR not costs. Unless you want to force a team to do a tour in a low-return series as a condition of entry for F1, no competent investor will agree to that, (especially when he could seek equity in an existing F1 team). The most efficient new organizations, those who can attract the most capital and best management, will not be interested. And if the team does reach F1, instead of being somehow toughened up, it may be financially depleted and the timeframe set by investors for success will be even shorter.

    The analogy to feeder series role in selecting drivers is misplaced. Driving ability can only be demonstrated on the track and must be developed in racing. A new racing team will not be comprised of engineers, mechanics, and managers fresh out of school or not experienced in the business. If it is, like any entrant to a technical, capital intesive market, it will have no prayer. The new teams, with pepole like Gascoyne and Wirth on board, are not lacking ability or talent or F1 acumen.

    However, I don’t want to sound like the Horse Whispering running down new teams. The sport should strike a balance between punshing clown shows and rewarding the most efficient operations. Part of that rebalancing should be giving new teams a grace period or allowing a sport-funded buy-in for transportation and logistical costs and certain common materiel like tires and fuel. And perhaps preferential marketing opportunities for their sponsors such as signage, website exposure, and guests access. I do not agree with letting them get extra testing, except before their first season, or other performance crutches. This is still supposed to be a sport.

    Also, what is this new brickbat sent for Yamamoto? Crash-prone? It’s ridiculous to add this to his charges when illustrious rookies like Hulk, Petrov, and Kobayashi have been stuffing cars in barriers right and left, all year. He has been driving a car that handles like an icecream truck in the snow, with no testing, and is doing a pretty fair job.

    • theRoswellite said on 13th August 2010, 21:46

      Exactly, well almost.

      If the new teams were given the financial breaks, as you mention, this would allow them to concentrate their resources on development. This introductory period could run for 2 or3 years, at which point they could be subject to all the full costs and requirements of a “regular” team.

      It would even be possible to stipulate some performance requirements, assuming you had legitimate teams waiting to have a go.

      However, the teams will still have great difficulty in bec
      oming competitive…if Toyota and BMW can’t operate with unacceptable return on investment who can?

      The answer would be to allow them not only financial considerations, but also off track privelegs, such as unlimited testing. Any concern about them becoming too competitive would be easily addressed.

      The major restriction,I would guess, on such an approach being even tried, would be the other teams having no incentive to cooperate.

  9. smithy said on 12th August 2010, 17:05

    why not let new teams test until the first race all the new teams need is mileage virgin would not have had so many dnfs and all the new teams would get a helping hand and we would see that any new team would then have a chance they need mileage not new feeder series

    • graigchq said on 12th August 2010, 18:12

      ..which brings us back to cost. If there was testing then Virgin may well have been more competitive, but they also may well have not been there at all due to the massive increase in cost in running cars outside of race weekends.

  10. graigchq said on 12th August 2010, 18:10

    i don’t think this has been thought through properly. As others have mentioned, we already have this set up, and the fact that F1 is so difficult to be competitive in, is testament to the hard work put in by the teams that are competitive.

    it’s not supposed to be fair in the sense of equal machinery, it’s supposed to be technical brilliance over technical brilliance. Feeder series for teams is a silly idea in my opinion, and i can’t see any manufacturers wanting to be part of it

  11. HounslowBusGarage said on 12th August 2010, 18:47

    Back in the 1960’s heydays of the ‘Garagistas’ as I understand it, it was possible for an entrant to buy a car from another team and enter it from their own team (eg Rob Walker’s Lotus).
    Indeed some of the major teams of the following decades got started this way (Williams started by buying and entering March cars).
    It was a low(er) cost entry method; single car entry and lesser development costs.

    So how about reviving that facility and allowing – instead of a three car team – a third Maranello machine to be entered as Team Arbarth, Maserati or Alfa Romeo. Perhaps a revised version of last year’s Maclaren could be entered as Noble or – dare I say it – Prodrive!
    I know we are back to the customer car concept, but I never understood what was wrong with the idea then, and I don’t now.
    Customer cars cut development costs (which seem to be the principal barrier to new teams) and they get new teams to the grid with a better chance of points, or even podiums with the right car/driver combination.
    What would be the problem if Red Bull decided to sell last years cars at $200 each or 20 Cents each? They would still need to be developed, managed and run by the new team, and good luck to them.
    I don’t really want F1 as a spec series with everyone driving identical cars, or even cars with different aero packages Ă  la Indy. I want a top-speed racing series where the cars look, sound and behave differently from each other, and where driver skill is more evident from the mangement of power than the management of fuel-economy and PR.
    I know what you’re going to say; I want 1964.

    • Jim N said on 13th August 2010, 0:05

      I couldn’t agree more. Why can’t the feeder series to F1 be F1.

      Why the restriction on number of teams and why not one car teams, or customer cars? There didn’t used to be and there were few complaints, teams that started as jokes such as Williams developed into great teams… and some very substantial teams withered into obscurity such as the old Lotus……. That last point I think is what the Teams and Bernie are afraid of. With the current system an established team is almost guaranteed a reasonable income with the option to sell up if things go very bad. Before if things went bad they just folded.

      Given the enormous handicaps placed on the new teams they have done amazingly well and I’m sure quite a few of the rejected contenders could have done as well. One of them I’m sure will be high mid field within a couple of years. Just open up the entry and let the teams do the rest.

    • beneboy (@beneboy) said on 13th August 2010, 19:18

      I’m with you on this one HBG.

      I’d have no problem with the smaller teams running used chassis’ that the established teams have finished with and I’ve never really understood the objection to customer teams.

      If they can buy engines from other teams then why not chassis ?

      As you say, there are plenty of other teams that started out that way in the good/bad old days and more recently I can remember Sauber turning up at the start of a season with a car that looked like a resprayed year old Ferrari.

      Nothing compares to F1, even other elite series like Le Mans and motoGP get nowhere near to the level required while GP2 and Formula 2 are amateurish by comparison (no offence meant, I do appreciate how professional those guys are). So for me the best way to get more teams into F1 is to give them the opportunity to start off as customer teams while they get up to speed and build up the resources needed to design a car themselves.

      I’d still welcome any new team who wanted to design and build their own cars and there could be an argument for giving them preference if grid slots are limited but until the grid is full I would welcome any new team that was able to fund a full season, even if they’re doing it on the cheap as a customer team.

    • theRoswellite said on 13th August 2010, 21:52

      Actually any year in the 60’s would be OK with me.

  12. Dougal said on 12th August 2010, 18:53

    Unless you go for an F2 series where teams can be promoted into F1 by winning the Championship, or relegated into it for finishing last in F1, then there is no silver bullet answer given each series runs to such a different level of technological development and cost restrictions.

    And even that would require the feeder series running on virtually identical technical specifications so that car development for the forthcoming season means a season starting baseline car suitable for both Championships so no team prooted or regulated is wasting months of work, meaning more of an “F1 Series A” and “F1 Series B”.

    There are “regulations” which could govern the difference, including reducing RPM for reduced power (you’d need to run an equal sized engine in both series for the above mentioned technical reasons), enforced budget caps to keep costs down, and so on. It could even follow F1 around the world and race on the same tracks as a support race.

    It could even be a drivers’ feeder series as well with a season in it being compulsary before being eligible for the top flight, and even a minimum level of performance to prevent drivers like Yamamoto buying an undeserved seat.

    None of this is ideal, I realise that, but there is no other way to truly prove your worth for F1 unless you can prove your worth in an F1-esque series. And right now, there isn’t one.

  13. Sport is driven by money and fame

    wish I could turn the clock back and start driving at a young age

  14. Tom M in Australia said on 13th August 2010, 3:57

    Look at the Premiership, or other similar championship. The bottom of the table is kept interesting by relegation. Indeed, the end of season relegation battle is just as exciting as the fight to win the championship (well is *was*, this coming from a Coventry City fan!).

    The bottom of the F1 table is not interesting because there is no consequence for poor performance. If Lotus, HRT and Virgin were locked in a relegation battle it would be epically exciting if one of them got near the points.

    Bring in relegation I say.

  15. In my opinion is the answer is the introduction of Formula 1 regional series, in addition to the current World Championship series.

    The way it would work, is there would be three series; The Americas, covering North and South America, Asia, covering, Asia plus Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, and Europe, covering the European countries.

    The regional series would compete with the exact same rules as the World Championship series, the only addition being a budget cap.

    Each regional series would have a full 20 race calendar racing at different circuits their region on weekends when there is no world championship grand prix.

    At the end of each season, the winning team from each region gets promoted to the world championship, and lowest three teams in the world championship get to demoted to the regional championships.

    The benefits are:
    1) Gives new teams a testing ground to work out how to be a team / build car etc.
    2) It means more F1 races for fans, in more time zones, more often, resulting in more fans
    3) It gives upcoming drivers more opportunity to drive, and hence “be discovered”. Similar for other team members, more employment opportunites
    4) Gives organisations that might otherwise be limited to touring cars an opportunity to get into open wheel racing.
    5) Gives more opportunity for smaller companies to sponsor the regional teams. They might not be able to afford to sponsor Ferrari or McLaren, but sponsoring a regional team might be more possible, and
    6) Gives the FIA / FOM a plentiful supply of up and coming teams.

  16. cheers said on 13th August 2010, 4:10

    There has to be many different types of feeder series in this now globalised world. If not you won’t draw the diversity in the sponsorship base and the drivers. A “B” class gobal hero is worth alot less than and A class local or regional hero in sponsorship dollar terms.

    A boost and funneling toward a single higher level global feeder series is just another attempt at monopolisation of the supply chain. The Brits and especially Bernie’s CVC have to watch their backs. They got themselves into this mess by paying Bernie too much but they risk the big crash and burn

  17. gideon said on 13th August 2010, 7:54

    we need better f1 cars not this like today

  18. If there is a feeder series could be single make engine, gearbox and drive train, standard electronics and a budget cap for the rest working to F1 regs.

  19. DavidS said on 13th August 2010, 12:25

    The only way a team can really secure enough funding to operate in F1 is to be in F1. A team in a lower formula is not going to attract anywhere near as much interest as an F1 team.

    How about completely opening the process by which teams can enter F1 so that anyone can enter if they want – ie no more under the table envelope passing with Bernie. However, on Fridays have all the cars set a benchmark time. Top 15 times are automatically through to Saturday, while the remaining teams line up for a Sprint race (100km distance for example) to be run before qualifying. Podium finishers for that sprint race get a GP slot respective to their finishing position).

    It’ll make sure practice is much more important (maybe even throwing up a few surprises if a leaders car fails), all teams get a run. International exposure for struggling teams (if the event is run straight before qualifying), more rubber on the track for qualifying. A varied grid for the GP.

    A completely separate feeder series destroys the point of GP2.

  20. Shimks said on 13th August 2010, 12:36

    Very interesting article. Many thanks, Keith.

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