There has been a new proposition regarding how F1 can help smaller teams.
In my last piece for motorsport.com, I called upon Formula 1’s leading figures to show some imagination when it came to finding solutions for the grave financial problems currently afflicting the sport – and for once, it seems my pleas have not fallen upon deaf ears.
The other ideas
I’m not talking about Christian Horner’s absurd proposal to bring back V8 engines, which would see Mercedes and Red Bull’s own supplier Renault desert F1 at a stroke, Honda abandon their imminent comeback and leave Ferrari, perhaps along with Cosworth, to power the entire grid between them.
Nor am I referring to a one-off ‘fighting fund’ payment for the smaller teams, which would merely conceal the symptoms rather than doing anything to combat the root of F1’s current malaise – although this suggestion appears to have been shelved for now anyway.
Bernie's proposal might just work
Instead, I refer to the idea, reportedly mooted by none other than Bernard Charles Ecclestone, of boosting dwindling grid sizes with what have been dubbed ‘Super-GP2’ cars – in essence, the current Dallara chassis used in the feeder series, but equipped with a more powerful engine.
The response to this plan, like so many of those Ecclestone has devised in the past, has predictably been met with howls of outrage on social media. But, while it is certainly no magic bullet, the Super-GP2 plan does at least warrant closer attention.
GP2 is almost as fast as F1
Let’s start with some numbers - at the most recent GP2 round in Sochi, the pole position time set by Stoffel Vandoorne was less than two seconds shy of the slowest time set during the F1 qualifying session, a gap that would surely be bridged by a boost of, say, 150bhp.
That means that a team such as Marussia or Caterham would have been no worse off with an enhanced GP2 car than their own chassis – and for a fraction of the cost. Had those two minnows, along with HRT, entered the sport in 2010 as Super-GP2 outfits, the chances are that they’d still be around despite their lack of success.
Moving further up the grid, those existing teams struggling for cash, principally Sauber, Lotus and Force India, understandably have no appetite to cease being constructors, given the size of the workforce they employ and their past successes with their own machinery.
More to the point, the prospect of future giant-killing performances by these teams, such as Sergio Perez’s podium finish at Bahrain, would be wiped out, much to the detriment to the spectacle. Nobody wants to see a grid of only 10 genuine F1 cars.
GP2 teams moving up would give the grid a boost
But, that isn’t to say that the Super-GP2 option would only be viable for new entrants, and there are several of those on the current GP2 grid who would make ideal candidates to replace those teams that have been shed by the sport in recent years – DAMS, ART Grand Prix and Carlin, to name a few.
Not only would the arrival of such outfits immediately give grid sizes a timely lift, but it would create more opportunities for promising drivers to get their first footholds in F1. The same could apply to budding engineers if Super-GP2 outfits were required to create their own aero packages to bolt on to the Dallara tub.
Another route for guys like Jolyon Palmer, Fabio Leimer and Davide Valsecchi
For example, were GP2 champions DAMS to enter F1 next year with a souped up version of the car Jolyon Palmer took to title glory this year, the Brit would have an obvious route into the highest level, but without the need to bring Felipe Nasr levels of funding.
As things are, Palmer seems set to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Fabio Leimer and Davide Valsecchi, who failed to make the leap to the pinnacle of motorsport after their GP2 success.
If Minardi hadn’t existed in 2001, would Fernando Alonso be on the verge of signing one of the most lucrative deals in the sport’s history? He had other paths he could have taken but where would those paths had ended up? And without March in the late 1980s, would Adrian Newey be a household name as he is today?
The sport’s future greats need somewhere to hone their craft, and it may as well be at a team that isn’t having to pour tens of millions of dollars into merely being able to survive. And those concerns with bigger ambitions would have nothing stopping them becoming true constructors at any time.
It's not an answer, but it's a step in the right direction
To make myself clear, I do not believe Super-GP2 is the answer to F1’s ills, merely a part of a wider solution. In an ideal world, the grid would be populated by 13 two-car teams, all producing their own chassis and receiving sufficient amounts of both ‘Bernie money’ and commercial sponsorship to be financially viable. But, that world no longer exists, if it ever truly did.
To re-iterate, Sauber, Lotus and Force India should not be forced out of the business of constructing their own F1 chassis, as all three have done relatively successfully for over 20 years in various guises.
The urgent need to cut costs and address the ludicrous payment system that loads the dice heavily in favour of the big teams remains.
A cheaper and easier way to boost grid sizes and end this crisis
Super-GP2 is, however, a cheap and easy method of boosting grid sizes, providing young drivers and engineers alike with a point of entry into the sport and providing an extra layer of intrigue to races that the loss of Caterham, Marussia and HRT has deprived us of.
It’s certainly preferable to the introduction of third cars for the biggest teams, which would serve only to dramatically worsen the situation faced by the Saubers of this world.
What fans need to remember is that, in this game, somebody has to finish last. Surely, it’s better if that someone isn’t a constructor spending the thick end of $100m per annum, and instead a Super-GP2 team who can survive – or even thrive – on a tiny portion of that sum.