Dark times for British motorsport?

At the top of the tree, British motorsport has a lot to cheer about. If the British-based Red Bull Racing isn’t dominant, McLaren are on a resurgence. This weekend in Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton took pole position. Jenson Button took the victory.

But nearer the bottom, things don’t seem to be quite as rosy. I have already noted the worrying trend of major international motorsport series apparently deserting Britain for 2012. World Series by Renault, the World Touring Car Championship and the GT1 World Championship have all removed Britain from their calendars this year.

Apart from Formula 1, it seems as though the only major international car race to take place in Britain in 2012 will be a round of the fledgling World Endurance Championship.

Felix Serralles

This morning it was announced that the Formula Renault 2.0 UK championship has been cancelled for 2012. Formula Renault is a big deal for youngsters hoping to make their way up the motorsport ladder. Lewis Hamilton cut his teeth there, as did Heikki Kovalainen. Others that made it to F1 include Pedro de la Rosa and Antônio Pizzonia. Most impressively, Kimi Räikkönen made the leap directly from Formula Renault 2.0 UK to a race seat at Sauber.

It’s still a championship to keep an eye on if you want to have an idea of who the stars of the future might be. In recent years it has boasted grids in the 30s. But this year, with drivers and teams said to be struggling to raise the cash required, a measly six drivers had entered.

The British Formula 3 championship is also said to be on the verge of making a similar decision.

Meanwhile, the super-talented Scott Malvern is struggling to scrape together the funds to get any form of a drive at all. This is despite the fact that he utterly dominated the British Formula Ford Championship last year.

There is a worrying trend towards the lower-level single-seater categories becoming more and more extravagant. They are increasingly expensive to run. As such they are increasingly about the survival of the richest.

Take Auto GP, which in a few short years has evolved itself from being a European Formula 3000 championship to billing itself as a “World Series” with global ambitions. GP2 is virtually a destination in its own right, despite its semi-official role as a feeder series for F1.

Meanwhile, attempts at a more modest championship, like Formula Two, fail to hit the mark. They lack the prestige to be truly seen as an option for aspirational racing drivers.

I’m glad I’m not a young driver trying to make my way through the ladder at the moment. It’s a worrying situation. Formula Renault 2.0 UK and British Formula 3 are well respected championships, but they are on the rocks. It seems as though a generation of young racing talent is at risk of having their careers ruined. I hope that’s not the case.

4 comments

  1. It’s crazy. The British Formula Renault decision has been coming for a while – it’s only had six entries for much of the winter – but for British F3 to be thinking along similar lines, when the F3 Euroseries is in the same trouble, means that we are at risk of having no meaningful F3 tier. Just a GP3 that’s lower-level in terms of performance and considerably more expensive. Even the people who can pay for a GP3 seat are now going to struggle to get through to GP2/Renault World Series now.

    The more I read about motorsport, the more I’m seeing a sport that’s stopped caring about its own survival.

  2. Leaving FRenault aside for a moment, I’ll come back to that, promise… British F3 has a bit of an identity crisis as it’s becoming more and more international with rounds abroad. In fact it’s nearly half the races! That’s taking it more away from it’s traditional heartland and more into the territory of the Euroseries. It’s also getting ludicrously expensive to compete in the championship…

    And this seems to be a problem with single seaters in general. FRenault is expensive to be competitive in. F3 is even more so. The top level club series seem to do well, but the national series are trying too hard to be international to their own costs.

    At the same time as FRenault UK is announcing it’s departure, at least for this year, FRenault BARC is quickly ascending. Using older cars and running at club meetings keeps the cost down, and it has a grid of over 20 cars this year, including some entered by F3 and FRenault UK stalwarts like Fortec and Carlin. It’s not trying to be anything other than a good value racing series for spec single seaters. Although the risk is that it could go that route.

    Maybe part of the problem is this mad scramble for F1. There are loads of talented racing drivers, each one with the dream of being a World Champion one day, and who can blame them? Trouble is that there’s also a distinct lack of Money floating around. The drivers with Talent can’t afford to compete in the levels that suit them, and the drivers with money don’t want to… Could this be a factor?

    The real tragedy about losing FRenault UK is those said young, hard working, drivers with limited resources. At Overdrive we picked up the story of a young driver called Dan Wells who resorted to working at Waitrose to fund his racing – even parking his racing car outside and operating the checkouts in full race gear to try and drum up publicity and that much needed sponsorship that’s so rare these days. All his hard work is now potentially worthless without the championship he was due to race in, and how many more are in his position? Food for thought.

  3. The two major junior single seater championships in the UK, Formula Renault & Formula Ford probably couldn’t have chosen a worst climate to try to launch new cars in.

    My son scott won the British Formula Ford title last year as well as the Festival & the fledgling Euro series breaking all known records for the class. But there is no reward for him at the end of it. No championship prize. Ford as a manufacturer don’t provide anything and therefore fail to offer an incentive for new drivers to sign up to their category. If a record breaking driver such as Scott can dominate the way he did but still have nothing at the end of it and likely see his career flounder then what hope is there for anyone else?

    Money is over ruling talent at the moment. It’s been thus I hear you say. But it is even more so now. Drivers who have yet to record a single victory in their race careers sit in F3, GP3 & F2 & WSBR drives this season. Scott who has won more tha half the races he has ever competed in and achieved podiums in over 80% doesn’t have a drive. What sort of shape does that leave the sport in and what sort of depth of talent will populate its higher echelons?

    Dominic Malvern

  4. Losing either of these series is unimaginable, to lose both is lunacy. Both series are just bedrocks of the driver development ladder in this country,

    I don’t understand the need to have ever more expensive and complicated cars other than some need to show off. They just need to be cars which can be tuned and adjusted by the drivers as they learn (which is much less the case with GP3 and F2 than it is for F3), without being too complicated. They don’t need oodles of downforce (technical measurement), they don’t need the latest and greatest technology other than in areas of safety.

    They also don’t need to visit the GP tracks (except Silverstone – home ground). I argue taking such a car and setting it up for somewhere like Croft is a better representation of shoe-horning an F1 car around certain venues, scaled down, than running an F3 at full power low drag learning a few racing lines. Learn the skill in F3. Learn the lines in FR3.5 and GP2.

    I can’t for the life me understand why Ford doesn’t offer a prize to the champion to help them move up the ladder. Isn’t that the point of the series?