F1: New Feeder Series to Rival Successful GP2 Might Not Be All It Seems

Iestyn StevensContributor IJune 26, 2008

Following a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, the FIA are looking at introducing a new feeder series to Formula 1, seen as a low-cost way of breeding new talent to move up to Formula 1.

The series is to be called Formula 2, which seems an obvious name for it, given that it is to be the second tier in the hierarchy, but it’s not really something new. There used to be a Formula 2 until it was replaced back in 1985 by Formula 3000, which was in turn replaced by the GP2 Series back in 2005, but the FIA feel that a new series is needed, and if everything goes well, they hope for the first season to be 2009.

GP2 has served its purpose as a feeder series in its short history. In the three seasons under the GP2 format, all three champions – Nico Rosberg (2005), Lewis Hamilton (2006), Timo Glock (2007) – have secured drives with F1 teams from the following year, while the runners-up – Heikki Kovalainen (2005), Nelsinho Piquet (2006), Lucas Di Grassi (2007) – have all gone on to become Renault test drivers, with two of them subsequently securing race seats, while Di Grassi is combining testing duties for Renault with another season in GP2.

Even going back to Formula 3000, current F1 drivers Sebastien Bourdais (2002) and Nick Heidfeld (1999) are both former champions, as was Jean Alesi back in 1989.

GP2 was designed specifically to allow for affordable racing and to give drivers the opportunities, and with Flavio Briatore’s involvement in GP2, at least one driver a year is going to have a chance to further their career by at least testing with the Renault F1 team.

One of the best things about GP2 is that all of the teams have to use the same chassis, engine and tyre supplier, while many of the GP2 events take place at the same time as the F1 races to allow for maximum exposure to the F1 environment for the drivers – the only variable factors are driver ability and race strategy of the teams.

How the new Formula 2 will work, it’s too early to say, but it would appear likely that it will be very similar to the model of GP2, but independent of Formula 1, racing at different circuits at different times of the year. A feeder series it might be, but away from the glamour of the F1 world. The drivers might get an opportunity to drive for a low-budget team, in a competitive environment, but should be disadvantaged when compared to their GP2 counterparts when trying to make the step up to F1.

It makes you wonder if the reason a new series is being proposed is because the GP2 format was conceived by F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and Renault team principal Briatore, and at a time when some parties of the F1 circle are in disagreement with FIA president, Max Mosley, the FIA are making moves to protect their own interests.

This is all speculation, of course, but a very realistic possibility given the current tension between the drivers, teams and the governing body.

If the Formula 1 works teams decide to form a breakaway series, Ecclestone is sure to go with them, because it is the big manufacturers that bring the money into the sport. If the FIA lose Ecclestone, they will not only lose F1, but GP2 as well, potentially leaving them with a number of independent teams, or worse no teams at all.

With a feeder series to F1 in place, should a breakaway take place, the FIA feeder series, could become the new equivalent to the current F1 series, in competition with the breakaway series.