The news that the A1GP series would be turning to Ferrari for its engines and design inspiration, and Michelin for its tyres, has taken up most of the attention of its fans recently.
But those weren’t the only changes to be revealed when the series that pits national teams against each other in single-seater action announced its new technical partners.
At the same time plans for a major expansion of the franchise, the subject of discussion and speculation in the past, were brought firmly into the spotlight again.
They centre on the upcoming launch of a regional feeder series to be called A2GP on which Ferrari will also collaborate.
The project is currently in the queue behind the rush to build, certify and test 25 A1GP cars in time for the 2008/09 season’s first event at Zandvoort, in the Netherlands, on October 5 – an earlier planned race at Mugello had to be cancelled.
But A1GP chairman Tony Teixeira has indicated that, after the leading series’ fourth season has been launched, attention should be switching to its younger sibling, the roll-out of which will be “accelerated”.
According to Teixeira it is slated to feature smaller chassis and 450 bhp engines. And it is regarded by Ferrari as a business opportunity which allows it expand into new regions and put its cars in front of new audiences.
It should also provide a golden opportunity for that team to evaluate and showcase drivers.
So, how will A2GP work? Here’s what we know:
- A2 will be based on national racing that allows teams from cities, regions or provinces to compete against each other. A promotion/relegation model has been mooted.
- Officially, testing of a prototype vehicle for the formula will begin in 2009 and there is currently no other timeline for the introduction of the series.
- However Tony Teixeira has since said that winning a national competition will become the basis for racing in the A1 series by 2012
- He has also said that the next stage of development will be an A3 competition that aims to act as a development series for A2
Pros and cons
However some questions do occur over the viability of the proposal – largely whether A1GP and its spin-offs have sharp enough elbows and sufficient popular and commercial appeal to make its mark in a very competitive marketplace.
If the A1GP series dives into the pool of supporters, manufacturers, financiers and sponsors with an interest in open-wheel racing, at every level from international to club, will there be enough of these important commodities to go round?
Ferrari, while supplying ‘design inspiration’ for the new A1GP car, was reportedly among several companies who declined to manufacture it on the grounds that they were unable to produce chassis in the required quantities and timeframe – suggesting insufficient manufacturing resources might exist. The manufacturing was brought in-house as a result.
F1 itself can take a grid of 24 entrants from 12 teams, and yet it is several years since that grid has been full. At the moment the elite motorsport series fields just 20 entrants from 10 teams and there are no signs that is about to change – suggesting there is already spare capacity in this market.
That series, a much more established brand than A1GP, is also venturing around the world in search of new markets, many of which are reliant on government funding to get races staged. Let us also not forget the GP2 Asia Series.
The country-based nature of A1 may prove a significant advantage here – but the key thing is that the brand faces powerful competition in the worldwide market.
While A1GP cars have extra space on the engine covers for sponsors’ logos, it is fair to say that businesses are not yet fighting for every inch of space on the rest of the bodywork (as a result, there are some fantastic paint schemes out there unsullied by the need to match up with corporate colours).
All in all, this might prove to be a fiendishly competitive marketplace, and the A1GP series will need rude commercial and financial health in order to take market share and resources off its well-established rival.
The use of a standard manufacturer-backed car might overcome the cost barriers that make F1 unviable for potential and actual entrants – but might also discourage potential investors and other manufacturers who feel they can’t reap sufficient benefits for their own brands.
Bernie vs Max
We’ve just heard the announcement by the FIA of a new F2 franchise that is designed to support F1 – and possibly it is intended displace the highly-regarded and very successful European and Asian GP2 franchise of Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.
Formula Master is also slated to line up on the Ecclestone/Briatore side of the fence as the new GP3. The only piece of the jigsaw that needs to fall into place is the activation of GP1 in a direct challenge to F1 – the equivalent of pressing the nuclear button on a warhead aimed straight at Max Mosley.
If this clash of the titans gets going, the Cold War will look like a little local disagreement.
Can A1GP float to the top in this shark tank of a marketplace? Or will it be eaten alive?
Not sure if you’ve heard yet. But the global economy isn’t in a very good state right now.
This is having a predictable impact on motorsport. The collapse of Lehman Brothers makes the financial picture for F1 particularly complicated, since that company was a 16 per cent stakeholder in the holding company behind Formula One and that holding is now likely to be sold.
The Formula One group is also believed to owe Lehman Brothers more than £1 billion, a debt administrators may soon be calling in. That’s one set of problems for motorsport financing.
Additionally, a second finance group that has invested heavily in A1GP has just seen the departure of its chief executive – the man who had taken past decisions to back the series and who now won’t be there to make similar decisions in future.
It is axiomatic that the worst thing you can possibly do in a recession is slash your marketing budget and that expansion can sometimes be the best prescription against contraction.
Accelerating the development of a feeder series is a brave thing indeed in this economic climate, although it might provide the very impetus A1GP needs to survive and thrive as others fail.
The official line on A2GP is that not much has been decided and everything is up for grabs. So speculation about how a series comprised of national championships might work is just that – speculation.
However, it’s also one of the areas fans are likely to find most interesting. So here are some thoughts.
- If entry to the A1 series is dependent on winning a national championship, then how is Team Monaco expected to prosper? In fact, what implications does the A2GP proposal have for all the existing seat holders?
- Other smaller nations such as Ireland and New Zealand might find a series format proves a barrier to entry. Those in volatile regions like Lebanon in the Middle East might also struggle.
- A possible model for UK entry would be the home nations competing for the chance to drive the British car. But we can’t see Scots fans, for example, automatically transferring an equal level of support to an English driver that had beaten their own countryman or woman into the UK car.
- Despite attempts to create series with other motivators such as the football-themed Superleague Formula, motorsport is often remarkably personality-driven. And fans would have little chance to throw their support behind a favoured driver if he or she wasn’t consistently in the car
- However this might prove a golden opportunity for lesser-known drivers without wealthy sponsors or family connections to showcase their talents in front of an international audience – oh. Unless Ferrari driver placement kills this one stone dead…
With its nation-based, single-car format A1GP has been able to come up with a distinctive presence in senior open-wheel racing and to keep it on track for three years.
The partnership with Ferrari is a bold move designed to significantly increase its profile and make it a much bigger player in a highly competitive world.
However, the current pace of expansion does ring a few warning bells when the existing series is not as firmly rooted as it needs to be – current problems include getting the cars manufactured in time for the first race, late finalisation of the calendar and the uncertain financial times we find ourselves in.
It’s a great series, and one that got first billing when we drew up our recent list of alternatives to F1. That’s why we’d really hate to see it expand at too fast a rate, over-reach itself and fail.
On the other hand, expansion could be just the kind of high-stakes strategy that bring big rewards for those daring enough to take them. Let’s hope Tony Teixeira has got it right.