by Tom Gaymor - read more on his blog
Whilst European economies struggle against the pound, it’s the European single seater scene that seems to be flowering nicely at the expense of the once indispensable British market.
Sadly it is all change when it comes to junior single seater racing in the UK; leaving formulas and teams fighting to survive. The current economic climate means it is still a struggle on the continent but the grids seem to be thriving in comparison to the UK.
Let’s analyse why. Firstly, I think the European scene has cleverly worked out that formulas competing for each other’s limelight doesn’t work. Creating an effective ladder and not introducing too many formulas into each level is a smart move. Too much choice dilutes grid numbers.
Please note that, for the purpose of this discussion, I no longer class GP3 with 400bhp as a junior formula. That leaves FIA European Formula 3 as the continent’s flagship series.
Underneath this is two affordable and well run Formula 3 Championships: ATS Formel 3 and European F3 Open. Budgets are kept low and importantly their target audiences are very different; one catering for Northern Europe and the other Southern Europe. They both provide ideal and affordable learning environments for their bigger brother FIA Euro F3.
Beneath Formula 3 comes the intricate web of Formula Renault Championships. At the top of the tree is the Renault 2.0 Eurocup Championship, but cleverly underneath this rung you again have two strategically placed feeder pools: Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup and Renault 2.0 Alps (Middle Europe and Italy). This ensures a clear structure and vision. It also prevents the Championships from weakening each other’s grids. Please note no French Formula Renault or German Formula Renault.
Anchoring the entry levels of the European ladder are budget friendly formulas such as French F4 and Formel ADAC. French F4 is an interesting example of good practice. It is governed by the FFSA and run by the Autosport Academy. Budgets are capped and controlled as it is a one make, one team series. Yes, they have the unique advantage of being able to subsidise driver budgets through substantial government and corporate investment but still the regulations passed down through the FFSA creates a successful model.
Personally, I'm not a fan of formulas that are run under one roof, but at entry level I think this works well.
Admittedly this functional ladder we see on the continent has ultimately been created through the economic downturn and the demise of various national Championships. It has not been created through a governing body taking control of the introduction of new formulas.
Let’s not forget then that when the Euro picks up, this ladder will no doubt face the unproductive realisation of once again being saturated by new championships trying to implement their own ideas.
In my eyes, national governing bodies have to crack down on this area. Yes, growth is good and brings employment and revenue streams but not to the detriment of the structure of the sport. I am tired of reading about new formulas that quite clearly have a very one dimensional agenda.
In the UK, we are now facing the reality of a junior single seater ladder with no rungs. No depth or structure.
2013 delivers the birth of Jonathan Palmer's BRDC Formula 4 Championship. This will now form the sole competitor to BARC Formula Renault, potentially diluting what was a very well supported grid in 2012. Where is the long term sustainability within this market if new formulas are continually created at the expense of existing championships?
Personally, I think this is where NGB's and in this case, the MSA, need to get involved. This is an area that cannot go unregulated any longer. Long term development and sustainability has to be a priority here and if you leave the future up to the competitors creating these formulas, then we are in trouble.
How can a manufacturer or investor who is desperate to market their formula be interested in long term development for their competitors? It's an impossible reality.
What has happened to Formula Ford?
Why is UK Formula Renault extinct?
Why are well established formulas not surviving? This is a crucial question that needs to be answered, certainly before we start introducing new and unproven alternatives. As well as not treading on one another's toes, Championships need to address budgets as well. Within single seater series, budgets are now grotesquely inflated, whether it’s BRDC F4 or GP2, it’s too much.
How can we address and regulate this area?! Looking at British and International F3, although the MSA gives BF3 it's British title, it is not the rights holder for the championship, meaning the MSA are powerless to get involved. So with no firm budgetary regulations, have the teams been the creators of their own downfall?
Yes they have. I do not want to venture too far off topic but the current economic downturn does not support the direction and needs these teams have created for themselves.
Marcus Simmons recognised correctly in his recent article on BF3 for Autosport that the formula also lost its USP. Competing on European soil and trying to combat the threat of FIA European F3 in my eyes was wrong.
Creating a strong foundation and fan base here in the UK should have been the focal point. Uniting with the BTCC is essential, aligning all the top series in the UK onto one weekend and giving BF3 its first live prime time TV slot for a few decades.
Moving forwards into 2014, I would like to see the MSA take control of the market place with stringent regulations that mean new formulas are only created and introduced if they meet demands. Entries for these championships should be distributed as franchises with budgetary restrictions in place.
There should be a Development and Advisory committee based at Motor Sports House made up of personnel elected by ‘Teams Associations’. The job of this committee would be to safeguard a junior single seater ladder that sadly doesn't exist anymore.
Action is needed and fast.... We cannot simply blame this on the economy. This situation has been created by a legacy of unrealistic growth supported by a onetime strong economy. Regulations are needed to right this pattern.