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

  1. Jack Peekoc said on 12th August 2010, 12:39

    Allow development, but simply enforce a cost cap.

  2. maestrointhesky said on 12th August 2010, 12:46

    It’ sounds pretty feasible to me. If the lowest one or two constuctors got relegated to a lower division, to be replaced 2 promoted teams, things would become a lot more interesting and mean that tenure in the top tear would not be garunteed. It would certainly mean the lower teams would have someting real to fight for, and they wouldn’t just be making up the numbers. They would be there on merit!

  3. Richard M said on 12th August 2010, 12:46

    I had never really thought about that before!

    I know that GP2 has a new Spec Chassis from next year, but maybe on for the future…

    GP2 could have constructors who operate to a set of rules, much lke F1 now. As you say, the operations would be expensive, but as the series is already part of the F1 Circus, maybe FOM could grant each team a budget. This could be equal for each team. Any other money the teams can raise by Sponsorship / Pay drivers etc is down to them.

    Then the interesting bit, GP2 aqnd F1 operate on a promotion / demotion basis, the top 2 constructors in GP2 graduate to F1, and the bottom 2 in F1 demoted to GP2.

    Riddled with problems I know, such as it would leave only the winter break for the GP2 team to design an F1 car and vice versa. Unless (as suggested elsewhere) customer cars are allowed like in the old days (Matra, March, Cooper, Lotus etc).

    Maybe I should just get back to work…!

    • clairvvoyant said on 12th August 2010, 13:53

      Well said i have almost the same idea,i agree with the demotion /promotion system.The teams from the second league could design their cars under f1 rules only with some exceptions such as less horsepower lower fuel consumption,aerodynamics should be as near as possible to f1 car.Also the 2 teams that promote could win their engines from other teams and the money will be paid by FOM(difficult i know )or the 2 teams that gettind demoted can give their engines and with some changes ,can work properly.
      Anyway these are just some ideas,the thing is that a decision if this needed should be taken.Believe me if they decide something like that(second league) they ‘ll find solutions to all kind of problems.
      Thank you for your time.

  4. maestrointhesky said on 12th August 2010, 12:51

    I might add that the big teams have been crying out to run third cars for the last couple of years. Why not let them enter a second team into this lower formula and then if they get promoted they would have thier third (and fourth)cars – running as a separate team!

  5. Lustigson said on 12th August 2010, 12:58

    An F1 feeder series ─ e.g. Formula One Junior ─ could be for racing teams from lower categories using 1- or 2-year-old F1 car designs that they have to build themselves, plus 1- or 2-year-old engines, detuned to something like 500 bhp.

    Then those teams already experienced at running a racing team, can gain experience at least in car construction. Plus, they should be allowed to alter the older F1 designs, thus gaining some design experience, too.

    There’s a risk, though, that superiour F1 cars from a previous season, could dominate said Formula One Junior series, too. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. (One could consider equalling performance pre-season, or something like that.)

    For teams that are new to F1 ─ if the FIA, FOM and FOTA really think that they’re important to the sport ─ the FIA could claim some of Formula One’s yearly profits ─ everybody knows that there plenty of that to go around ─ to lend to those teams for them to be able to build their factory, construction facilities and design team up to Formula One standards, over a period of, say, a year in advance, plus 2 or 3 seasons.

    This way those teams and their sponsors would not have to fork out millions of dollars just to build a team from (relative) scratch, at the great risk it involves. This way, a team could start out with little sponsorship, with (more) sponsors stepping in after some time, being more certain of their investment.

    (Plus, the FIA, of course, would have to be paid back by team/sponsor by the end of said 2- or 3-year period. That’s the risk the FIA, and the sport as a whole, should want to take, if it takes new competitors seriously.)

    • AndyK said on 13th August 2010, 3:23

      Taking this idea further, why not have a F1 second division! They have the same rule book as first division but to keep costs down travelling can be restricted to Europe. The winning constructor of the second division is promoted to the top division and last place of the top division is demoted to second division.

      This would ensure the top division grid is always full. And new teams entering the top division have proven their creditentials and quality by winning second division.

      This will also give a lot of new drivers an opportunity to get familiar with an F1 car – something that is hard with the test restrictions.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 :)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

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