GP2 losing its way

GP2_LogoEarly in November, Martin Whitmarsh commented that the Renault Formula 3.5 World Series was a “much higher quality championship than GP2″. McLaren then pulled Magnussen from an arranged GP2 test in Abu Dhabi and have since promoted him to the F1 team as a race driver for 2014.

GP2 was conceived by Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore to replace the defunct Formula 3000 as the feeder series for Formula One. It was designed to make racing affordable for the teams and to deliver the right training ground for a life in Formula One.

The specification of the racing series sees all the entrants use the same chassis, engine and tyre supplier in an attempt to reflect true driver ability and all but 3 races have been held as support events for the Formula One circus.

For those F1 fans who get withdrawal symptoms from the F1 V8 engines, they can still hear one of their cousins powering the GP2 cars with 610bhp, though they are restricted to 10,000rpm.

Again with an eye to restrict costs, most of the GP2 events are in Europe, though in 2012 there were events in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. This year the flyaways grew to four events including Bahrain and Singapore.

GP2 has indeed done one of the things it set out to do – delivering drivers into F1. The 2005 Champion Nico Rosberg was hired by the Williams team for the 2006 F1 campaign, 2006 GP2 winner Lewis Hamilton made the transition to F1 the following year with McLaren and the 2007 Champion Timo Glock went to Toyota for the 2008 F1 season.

2009 GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg became a Williams F1 race driver in the 2010 as did Pastor Maldonado having won 2010 GP2 series,

Following an unsuccessful debut season as Renault’s F1 driver in 2009, Romain Grosjean returned to GP2 and became the 2011 champion – moving up to Lotus in 2012.

Prior to 2012, the only GP2 champion who failed to get a drive in F1 was 2009 series winner, Gorgio Pantano. Yet he was the most successful driver in the history of F1 feeder series with 14 wins. This record eclipsed the 13 F2/F3000 championship wins of Mike Thackwell and the 12 European championship F2 wins of Jochen Rindt.

Of course GP2 2012 series winner Davide Valsecchi has now joined him having been part of the Lotus F1 team’s PR beauty parade this year.

It could be the judgement on GP2 is that the series is a great success because all in all from the 2005 to 2012 GP2 seasons, 24 drivers have made it into Formula One race seats, some with greater success than others.

Why then is Martin Whitmarsh down on the series?

One of the other tenets of the GP2 series was to offer affordable racing, and on this criteria the series has failed miserably. The cost of competing for a year in F3000 was around $750,000 a year, but even by the end of the inaugural 2005 GP2 championship, teams were reporting that their budgets were rising to $1.3m per car.

Helmut Marko recently highlighted the inflation in cost for an entrant to the series for a year. “GP2 is far too expensive. It costs €5 million per driver, while in GP3 [the cost] is €600,000.” Clearly this implies that it is not the best drivers in GP2, but those with the ability to raise the most cash. It’s no coincidence that Red Bull like McLaren have promoted Daniil Kvyat – one of their junior programme drivers from a series other than GP2 – to drive in F1 for 2014.

Martin Whitmarsh last weekend was critical of the way the GP2 series has developed. “The danger with GP2 is that you have a lot of drivers there with financial backing who stay for four or five years — and that is the wrong signal. After two years, kick them out,”

Of course the GP2 cars are far closer to F1 cars than any other series so this should be a great stepping stone into F1 from a driving skills vantage point.

Yet the step being taken is of a different kind. From raising €5 million a year to race in GP2 to the €7-8m which may get a driver an F1 seat – is not such a big step. This should ensure a regular stream of potential pay F1 drivers coming on line for some time to come.

However, with McLaren and Red Bull refusing to play this game and even Williams latest recruit, Valtteri Bottas coming from GP3, GP2 drivers have a closing window of opportunity to make it into F1.

Ferrari and Mercedes have their own young driver programmes and Force India don’t recruit this way either. Lotus need a lot more than the cash a GP2 champion can raise which leaves Sauber, Marussia and Caterham as possible destinations for the brightest and best and richest that GP2 has to offer.

So what of the future for GP2? By pricing out genuine talent it appears GP2 will fail to deliver the average of 3 drivers a year to F1 that has been achieved in its first 8 years. Though for rich kids who want to race in cars which are the closest to an F1 car in terms of performance – this is as good as it gets.

Then again, GP2’s owners may even spin the series off someday as a competitor to F1 should the ownership of the F1 commercial rights be legitimately challenged. This may seem far fetched, though recently Enrico Scalabroni, a well-known ex technical chief at both Williams and Ferrari, suggested the 2014 F1 cars may not be much quicker than their GP2 brothers.

“I hate to be alarmist,” Scalabroni tells El Mundo Deportivo newspaper of the 2014 models, “but I would not be surprised if a GP2 car is as fast as an F1 car. You only have to make simple calculations to see that this could occur”.

Post-Season Testing Abu Dhabi 2013, Yas Marina, ART Grand Prix, Arthur PicThe times between the F1 cars in qualifying this year in Abu Dhabi and the GP2 cars during their end of season test on the same circuit were about 10 seconds a lap different. Though the 2014 F1 cars will be heavier, have less downforce and run on Pirelli tyres that will most likely be more conservative.

Even so, it is unlikely the 10 second a lap gap will be bridged – just yet eh Bernie?

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27 responses to “GP2 losing its way

  1. Why is McLaren/Withmarsh sending Stoffel Vandoorne to GP2 then? By now Stoffel must have so many regrets about not accepting that second ToroRosso seat that was offered to him by Dr. Marko, he is being so ill advised by McLaren/Whitmarsh/Button…

  2. Following Scalabroni’s comment, perhaps this turmoil is by design with the FIA and F1 teams association trying to prevent another series coming close or matching F1 performance.

    This is logical to me since F1 cars are slowing down and GP2 has been speeding up.

  3. Interesting write-up. Is all of this derived from sources in the public record? Or does information go into the presentation and analysis that’s derived directly from sources involved in GP2?

    Just a suggestion, based on the style of investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald – he relentlessly links-back w/in the text of his columns to other articles and source material he refers to in support of his arguments, which really pulls the rug out from the online haters who would otherwise seek to criticize and/or undermine his work. And only some of the in-line citations are to material that he (or, at the time, the Guardian) had written – no small # of links trackback to primary source material or other supporting documents/analysis/articles/columns/etc.

    I know His Honor is always trying to improve the quality and reach of this site, and so experimenting with this practice, when appropriate (and possible! lol) might be worth His time. Just a thought…and not a criticism.

    And just for an example, I picked one of Greenwald’s Guardian columns at random, and one can see how many links there are w/in the text to material that supports the arguments/narrative GG is advancing:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/16/conservatives-democrats-free-speech-muslims

    Cheers, and keep up the good work.

    • The difference between TJ13 and the other ‘online’ sites to which you refer, is the sheer volume of commentators in our community… and the scrutiny they provide to any content is second to none.

      Any assertion made which is merely opinion is jumped on straight away…

      James Allen is similar and doesn’t provide endless links because his credibility is unquestioned and the level of commentators provide plenty of interrogative scrutiny…

      If the material is not sourced – then you either trust assertions/inside whispers based on previous successes. I suspect TJ13 stacks up better on this than some well known independent ‘names’ in the paddock. Eg Brundle is 2 and 0 this year 😉

  4. Someone hasn’t got their calculations correct…

    There is no question that the costs for a driver in GP2 is to high. Especially if the sum 5 million Euro would be correct. Fortunately it is not.

    My conclusion is that anybody stating that it costs 5 million Euro to drive one season in GP2 has an agenda. Helmut Marko could be misquoted but otherwise I suggest you take a while to speculate about why he mentions this astronomical amount.

    Sure, the cost for driving in GP2 is high. It’s way to high. This is also the reason GP2 decided not to stick to the 3 year update plan of the Dallara chassi. They identified that the costs would continue to increas if Dallara would do a fourth generation GP2 car which was the intention for 2014. Instead the third generation chassi will continue to be used during the 2014 season.

    So, to conclude, the amount 5 million Euro is extremely incorrect. No driver pays near that amount for a drive. I can say for a fact that you get just about any seat in any team for 2 million Euro.

    • Thanks for that Zture66 – I can assure the the quote is correct… and as you say Marko may well have an agenda…

      I assume the driver does not cover all the costs and there are other team sponsors/prize money – though GP2 finances are not detailed in my ledger 🙂

      • I wonder why Marko remembers so wrong 🙂

        Anyway, many teams have own team sponsors but there are no prize money in GP2.

    • This is not true. If there is a “war” for seats due to the fact that there are more drivers than seats than the price goes up. Basic principles of economics.maybe not by the team itself but by drivers trying to outbid eachoter. For example guido vandergarde brought five million to the team every year he drove gp2. He was very clear about that. . And maybe there are teams who do it for less. But they’ll get other benefits. Like vandoorne. Cuz he is a mclaren package he’ll come with some sort of arrangement. Technical support of some sort or something like that.

      • Neither Giedo or his management are easily fooled and there is no way he payed 5 million Euro to iSport, Barwa and Caterham for a race seat. The reason is that I know the price for a seat in one of the teams.

        The price for a seat in a top team is around 1.8-2.2 million Euro and in the mid field teams a bit lower.

        • speaking generally, are GP2 teams loss-making operations or do their owners actually make a profit (or at least a living) from running the cars?

          I really wish there was more high quality investigative journalism into the business/finance side of professional motorsport! It’s simply phenomenal the amt. of $$$ that Ecclestone, his family and their cronies have been able to suck out of F1, for example! (a tradition CVC is proudly continuing, it seems)

          • Without any real insight into the finances of a GP2 team I would say that as a team owner you probably won’t get rich from the money the drivers deliver. I think best case is you can make a living from it.

            A GP2 team has around 15 people on site during a race weekend. Ok, so the team gets around €4 million from the drivers. This has to cover 15 people travelling to 11 races, hotels and so on. 4 of these races are fly-away races. This is just extra expenses on top of the wages for the staff duting a season from March to November.

            Furthermore, the €4m is if you get two drivers who have their budget sorted BEFORE the season. Many teams experience before halfway through the season that one or both drivers don’t have the money to finish the season… The teams are obliged to have both cars on the starting line at all races. Otherwise there will be a fine. This means the teams have to find drivers who have the money to fill their seats. Most often the teams get less per race weekend from a replacing driver than the one originally signed for a full seaso. There has also been drivers who get to run more or less for free.

            So, if I wanted to get rich I would probably rule out the career being a GP2 team owner. The people making money on GP2 are not the team owners.

          • …from what I’ve read over the past day – I suspect Marko was confusing per car with per team on the 5m euro comment…

    • Agreed, I have seen that it is roughly £1.5m for a GP2 seat, vs. that £500k or so put for GP3. British F3 is trying to get back into the game as a lower budget series at around £350k. Above that is FIA F3, GP3 and FR 3.5 for well under £1m. But still a very expensive route up the ladder either way!

      If you can skip GP2, you retain all that money for an assault on F1. So those doing GP2 must have very secure backing, e.g. Nasr – but now Banco do Brasil’s owner is bankrupt!

      McLaren can invest in Vandoorne if they wish – having Magnussen and Vandoorne will save them money on salaries paid to guys like Hamilton and Button, even paying for their development through the ladder. But this depends on whether they promote him in 2015, or retain Button or chase Alonso.

  5. I wonder if this sudden loss of talent in GP2 (moving towards FR3.5 and now GP3), is a hangover from the great recession’s effects on Motorsport. Whereas paying that much to be in the premier junior ladder (which was relevant as well back then racing and rules wise), under the nose of F1 was worth it back then, whereas now it is a cheaper route that is preferred, as sponsor outlay is reduced.

    GP3 had its first few seasons with turbos as well, before moving to a more powerful N/A engine for this year, to fill the gap lost by F2 between F3 and FR3.5/GP2. FR3.5 could even bring in innovations like DRS straight off the bat, while all GP2 could do was have not many sets of tyres that degrade like F1 (Pirelli).

    Now, with reduced F1 testing time as well, getting bang for buck in terms of track time is of the most importance, and other series like FR3.5 do this better than expensive Bernie cash cows like GP2.

  6. Calabroni had a whole page of arguments why he thinks the F1 and Gp 2 could be very close in laptimes.
    In short (very short;)
    The best teams were able to find 1700kg. of down force at 250 km/h. Calabroni expects a 30% reduction of downforce (due to the change in regulations) that would mean a loss of 500 kg.down force, each 80kg. is worth a second per lap according to Calabroni, so a quick calculation tells us they lose aprox. 6 sec. per lap.

    He then talks about how removing the beam wing negatively effects the rear wing and the diffuser, what results in more loss of performance.
    Further more he expects that the engines will deliver about 650 hp. at the start of the season, instead of the 750hp. the V8 was delivering, this is due to the fact that the teams can only use 5 engines a season, and it will take them some time to find the right balance between performance and reliability, the loss of a 100 hp. will result in another second lost per lap.

    Together with the wider sides because of larger cooling requirements and the increased weight, Calabroni expects the cars to be 6 to 8 seconds a lap slower.
    Just to remind us, the last direct confrontation between F1 and Gp2 was Abu Dhabi, where Mark Webber took pole in 1″39″957 and Alexander Rossi in Gp 2 in 1’48 “93.

    Too close for comfort?

    • He expects F1 cars to be 6-8sec/lap slower? Wow. An interview I was listening to today (maybe w/ Whitmarsh? james allen podcast again…nov., i think), someone said approx. 3sec./lap slower? Maybe it was Button, actually, since he was talking about the challenges for 2014 how he’ll have to adapt his driving style.

      • 6 seems a bit steep to me, but it all comes down to how much downforce the teams are able to find next year i guess.

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