June 25, 2013

GP2 ‘cuts costs’, but is it enough?

Red Bull has backed its drivers through Formula Renault 3.5 in recent years © Sutton Images

For one weekend only, Formula One’s two feeder categories go head to head on the same track, under the watchful eye of the same TV cameras. Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 both deliver drivers to the top tier of single-seater motorsport, but it is only at Monaco that like for like comparisons are possible.

Recent years have seen heated debates about the best way to prepare young drivers for Formula One. The current FR3.5 cars are DRS-enabled, equipping young talent with experience of the technology that has helped restore overtaking to F1, but they run on durable Michelin tyres. GP2 lacks DRS, but gives its graduates experience of using F1 rubber – something that is both a help and a hindrance.

Tech aside, there are two major differences between GP2 and WSR: cost and coverage. A season in GP2 costs a mind-boggling €1.8 million (on average). In contrast, RenaultSport claim that they can take a driver all the way from karts to Formula One – via the Clio Cup, various Formula Renault engine sizes, and so on – for €3.3 million. Two seasons in GP2 cost the same as a four- or five-year WSR career.

But based on the number of drivers each series has put onto the 2013 F1 grid, the competing routes in are much of a muchness. On the 2013 F1 grid, twelve of the 22 drivers are GP2 or GP3 graduates: Jules Bianchi, Valtteri Bottas, Max Chilton, Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Charles Pic, Nico Rosberg, and Giedo van der Garde.

But WSR graduates make up nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the current F1 grid, although there is some duplication from GP2: Bianchi, Bottas, Chilton, Paul di Resta, Grosjean, Hamilton, Maldonado, Felipe Massa, Pic, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, van der Garde, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Sebastian Vettel.

GP2 has created one F1 world champion, in Hamilton, while WSR can claim three who have featured in one of its categories: Hamilton, Raikkonen, and eternal record-breaker Vettel.

During the Monaco weekend, a select group of journalists were invited to dinner by RenaultSport, where we were given the opportunity to grill the company’s high-level executives about their championships, their rising stars, and their hopes for the future. As we all live in an F1 bubble, the assumption was that WSR was desperate to attach itself to Formula One, to get the same coverage that GP2 does.

The assumption was very, very wrong. World Series by Renault was deliberately designed to operate on a different financial model to F1 and GP2. As a series that exists to promote a brand, WSR events – all of which offer free entry to fans – exist to sell Renault both as a manufacturer and as a sporting endeavour, creating brand loyalty without emptying anyone’s wallets.

If WSR were to tie itself in to Formula One, not only would they be restricted in their ability to advertise Renault (by restricted, read prevented…), but they would no longer be able to offer young drivers a reasonably priced ladder into the top tier of international motorsport.

This week GP2 series organisers announced their intention to cut costs by reusing the current chassis for the next four-year cycle, with Bruno Michel saying that the aim was to cut the cost of competing by around 10 percent.

All cost reduction efforts deserve praise, but context should be applied. Cutting 10 percent from an annual budget of between €1.5 million and €2 million still makes GP2 considerably more expensive than FR3.5.

Spending an evening chatting with motorsport bigwigs intent on keeping costs down with a view to protecting the future of the sport as a whole was unexpected, refreshing, and bordering on revolutionary. It’s a pity that the WSR attitude is not a common one in the world of single-seater motorsport.


Posted by Cliff on 25/06/2013

@Gile: perhaps a bit too obvious...

As it is only a few teams can afford "talent" and other than Red Bull/Toro Rosso and perhaps McLaren who have given rides to Hamilton and Vettel as young talented drivers your entry way to F1 is into the Caterhams, Marussias and (sad to say) Williamses of the grid as a pay-to-drive driver. The rest of the top teams want guys who've proven themselves to some extent. Back in the day the truly talented drivers could go from cheap Formula Ford to F1, grids had 30+ cars, and (or perhaps as a result) careers didn't last as long as today. So there's really no place to go for the young guys so all you see is a continuous shuffle of the young drivers at bottom feeder teams.

Posted by onerottenpug on 25/06/2013

Who cares. As F1 is going, just give any moron a mitt full of cash and send them to an F1 team. Talent means little today. So many talented drivers will never drive F1 due to a lack of connections, while less talented drivers with connections will get a ride. With Marussia set to not recieve any money, look for two talentless drivers with big budgets for next season. Perhaps Bernie could cough up a couple of bucks to help drivers out. Remember Jochen Mr. Ecclestone?

Posted by Gile on 25/06/2013

It is a shame that you did not give us a lap comparison between GP2 and FR3.5

  Post your comment
Email Address:
characters left
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker