The devastating impact of GP2 Asia – part I (the 2008 season)

GP2 Asia is probably one of the worst inventions in modern motorsport… well, maybe a distant second to Superleague.

milosdubai1Created in 2008 to reutilize the original GP2 cars and at the same time broaden the scope of the series, GP2 Asia was conceptually targeted at bringing out emerging talent from the “other side of the world”.   If you recall, originally all teams had to have at least 1 Asian driver.  This requirement was only met by 7 of the 13 teams, a generous statistic since Adam Khan lasted only 1 race with Arden and Chandhok (iSport), Kobayashi (DAMS) and Tung (Trident) were merely extensions of their GP2 Main Series relationships.   Also, Fauzy (Super Nova) and Yoshimoto (Meritus) were GP2 “veterans” brought in for a decent showing by these teams.

So basically, only DPR with Armaan Ebrahim of India followed through in the true spirit of GP2 Asia.

Now, if I was Bruno Michel I would have started to suspect that GP2 Asia was in trouble.  If the emerging markets (mainly India and China – plus the Middle East and some of the other Asian “tigers” ) were not embracing GP2 in their region – especially after a solid 2007 GP2 season and during strong economic times – maybe it was not the best of ideas after all.

With an estimated budget of €500 to €650k, the 2008 GP2 Asia season ran 5 races total – 2 of which alongside F1.  Here is the first problem.  A series comparable in budget to F3 Euroseries and WSR, running only 2 F1 venues and racing at useless circuits such as Sentul and Dubai.   The budgets were this elevated since travel costs for the team were incredibly high, as is imaginable, especially when having to travel back and forth between Asia and Europe between races.  Because remember, all but one GP2 Main team races in GP2 Asia, so their home bases were still in Italy, Spain, UK, the Netherlands or France.

So how many teams made money in the 2008 GP2 Asia season?  It’s hard to say since budgets are usually a “pack” sold to drivers combining Asia and Europe in a single cost figure.  My estimation is that we saw some strongly subsidized drives, though nothing in comparison to what we would see in 2009.  All in all, the 2008 season was boring and seriously lacking in talent, seeing a very erratic Romain Grosjean take the title with 4 wins out of 10 races.  Behind him, a sad Sebastien Buemi and a very inconsistent Bruno Senna – though not always due to his driving.

Bruno Michel’s balance (one he never made) should have been of serious pondering of the impact of the series in 2 aspects:  the economics of his “clients” and the success in highlighting new talent – be it Asian or from wherever:

  • The economics of his clients were not buoyant by any means.  Tapping into the Asian market had not produced the money flow expected.  Many teams had operated at near break-even – some above and some below, hoping to make up the gap in the 2008 Main Series.
  • No new Asian talent emerged from GP2 Asia.  The top-rated Asian driver was Fairuz Fauzy in 4th, followed by Toyota F1 driver Kobayashi in 6th place (with 2 wins).  Ex-BCN driver Hiroki Yoshimoto was 10th.  Where was the only “new” Asian driver?  In 26th place with 0 points and a best placing of 9th at the Sentul sprint race.   The search for Asian drivers was a complete failure, no matter how you measure it.
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