ATLAS F1 - THE JOURNAL OF FORMULA ONE MOTORSPORT
F3000: The State of Affairs

 
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                                         By David Cameron, Italy
                                                      Atlas F1 Magazine Writer


 
Table of Contents includes links to each interview

Prologue

Every Saturday afternoon on a race weekend, Jaguar Racing hold a media briefing at their motorhome with driver Mark Webber. This almost invariably clashes with the start of the Formula 3000 race, and Webber makes a point of watching the start and the first few laps on the large screen at the back of the room before getting down to business, primarily because he still enjoys watching motor racing, not just participating in it.

F3000The F3000 race is shown live in almost every motorhome in the Formula One paddock, and yet Webber is the only notable Formula One people I have seen watch any of the races. Are the young drivers and their teams wasting their time? The whole point of Formula 3000 is to be under the noses of the senior personnel in the F1 paddock, to have them pay attention in the hope of furthering their careers. But if no one is watching Bjorn Wirdheim claim the championship at the German Grand Prix, then is it all in vain? "I don't know," Webber who raced in F3000 in 2000 and 2001 - states as he stares at the screen, "I could see him in F1; he's done a really good job.

"I don't know what's the right way to get into Formula One - we've all got here in different ways. Formula 3000 is a very frustrating category in a lot of ways, but it's very good for you to deal with the pressure. When I was doing it you had one qualifying session and the race, but technically it's quite strange - you don't learn too much on that front, but you learn the tracks and you learn how to deal with pressure."

For Webber, however, it seemed to be a chore that had to be done for his paymasters. "I was treading water really. I didn't really want to do it - the most I learnt was in Mercedes and Renault. I don't think what I did in F3000 helped me massively. Monte Carlo was good, winning a few races keeps putting it on the map. It complimented my test programme very well with Renault, and that was the main reason we did it. I wasn't very keen on doing it but we thought it was very good to stay race sharp, and Formula 3000 at the time was over thirty cars, was quite competitive." The four race wins he achieved in two years couldn't have hurt his career, either.

Formula 3000, and Formula Two before it, has traditionally been seen as a finishing school, as the last port of call for a young driver to prove his worth to the Formula One teams so as to claim a spot on that grid.

The grid has generally been made up from various junior category champions and race winners, and any driver who shines against this competition should have done enough to prove his worth. Or so the theory goes. "There are very, very good drivers who find their way into F3000," Webber confirms, "but there's a lot of guys who sink unfortunately it's a bit of a strange one to judge who's doing well and who's not, and it's very difficult to dominate.

"It's good for (learning) the circuits, and there's quite a bit of pressure in qualifying - you've got your sets of tyres and things as in any junior category. But it's a bit messy at the moment to be honest."

The following is the list of drivers who have won the Formula 3000 championship since its inception in 1985:

1985: Christian Danner
1986: Ivan Capelli
1987: Stefano Modena
1988: Roberto Moreno
1989: Jean Alesi
1990: Erik Comas
1991: Christian Fittipaldi
1992: Luca Badoer
1993: Olivier Panis
1994: Jean-Christophe Boullion
1995: Vincenzo Sospiri
1996: Jorg Muller
1997: Ricardo Zonta
1998: Juan Pablo Montoya
1999: Nick Heidfeld
2000: Bruno Junqueira
2001: Justin Wilson
2002: Sebastien Bourdais
2003: Bjorn Wirdheim

In that list there are no Formula One World Champions, and there are only three drivers to take Formula One race wins (three to Montoya, one each to Alesi and Panis). Discounting Wirdheim, who is still competing in F3000, two of the former three champions have not raced in Formula One, with the other one needing to bring money with him to get a seat in back of the grid Minardi. Muller, the only driver to ever claim the F3000 title in his debut year, has never had so much as a sniff of a drive in the senior categories - the closest he got was test driver for BMW when they were preparing to join forces with Williams.

The F3000 grid, this year at SilverstoneSo how relevant is Formula 3000 to Formula One? There is no question that the drivers get to learn the circuits (at least the European ones on which they race), and the tight nature of the timetable of an average race weekend mean that they have to learn to deal with the pressure that brings, but the lack of technical changes available to the car means that there is little work a driver can do in the area to affect his race - something that is vital in the senior category.

Formula 3000 is a control series, meaning that there is one chassis supplier, one engine supplier, and one tyre supplier. The advantage of this approach is clear the biggest difference is the person driving the car, and therefore whoever wins the most races should be the best racer. The input a driver can make is at present restricted to a few different settings on the cars wings, and lack of technical input on the cars is a feature of the control series theory, but this could be rectified with ease as a result of discussions with the chassis manufacturer Lola, if not for the current chassis then certainly for next year's model.

The first problem that needs to be resolved is the lack of depth in the grid there are currently only sixteen cars from eight teams competing in F3000, and only a few years ago there were grids of around forty cars. The worldwide economic downturn has certainly had an effect on the number of people competing in championships everywhere even Formula One is down to twenty cars but it is clear that the cost of racing in Formula 3000 has to be reduced. It currently costs an estimated one million dollar (US) per driver per season, and with a learning season a necessity before challenging for the title a driver needs to find effectively two million dollars to run in the series.

It has been suggested that bringing in other chassis and engine manufacturers would drive the costs down for the teams, but this is a false economy competition between manufacturers may mean that they offer initial discounts, but it would also ensure that they spend more money to beat their opposition on track, which will ultimately be reflected in the end price to the team. The only true way to reduce costs would be to ensure the involvement of a major auto manufacturer, as a series sponsor and an engine supplier, to reduce or eliminate the major cost centre in racing.

But is there enough incentive for a major manufacturer to invest in the series? If a company like Renault or Ford had invested in the series in past years they could have used the successes of Montoya, Heidfeld, Webber or Wilson in their advertising and claimed a part in their ultimate success. Likewise, they could run an ongoing campaign in support of the series, to promote their position in the junior category.

Which brings us to promotion. In most markets around the world, Formula 3000 receives little to no exposure on television, which is ultimately how most fans see (and learn about) a series. The notable exception to this is in the United States of America, where the cable channel Speed TV gives more time to the series than to Formula One. A part of this is the involvement of an American driver (Townsend Bell), but the major reason is that the channel has little else to show at the time of the race, and has a longer lead time (and more access to the teams) than for the Formula One race.

It is clear that more television exposure would mean more interest in the series, and the FIA can play a part here by rebadging the series as Formula Two it would clear up the position the series holds on the motorsport ladder for the man on the street, and a campaign extolling the virtues of seeing today the stars of tomorrow would further help this process. If there is more interest in the series, then the television rights will be sought more earnestly, which would give more publicity to the series and their sponsors (both the manufacturer and those supporting the individual drivers), which would create more interest from young drivers wanting to join the series, which would promote the racing itself, which would further increase interest in the series.

Is the solution to Formula 3000's woes as simple as renaming the series? No, but it would be a start. More interest in the series, and reduced costs for those wishing to compete, would create an environment where there is another genuine series for race fans to be involved in, and a lot of the questions around the series could be resolved fairly simply.

Speaking to a wide array of people involved in this series, it is obvious the will is there, but they need the support of the FIA, the manufacturers, and race fans in general - every one of which should want to see F3000 back up to the heights it enjoyed only a few years hence.

Next: The F3000 Champion


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Volume 9, Issue 34
August 20th 2003

Atlas F1 Special

Special Project: How to Save F3000
by David Cameron

Atlas F1 Exclusive

Giancarlo Fisichella: Through the Visor
by Giancarlo Fisichella

Articles

Remembered Down on the Farm
by Thomas O'Keefe

Season in the Sun
by David Cameron

2003 Hungarian GP Preview

2003 Hungarian GP Preview
by Craig Scarborough

Hungary Facts & Stats
by Marcel Schot

Columns

The Fuel Stop
by Reginald Kincaid

The F1 Trivia Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Tom Keeble


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