Another quiet period

The 3-week break between Silverstone and Nurburgring has brought with it another quiet period where nothing seems to be moving in the GP2 world.  Drivers are driving in other categories (World Series, Superleague), teams are polishing their cars and everyone is expectant of where the category will be in 2010.

The current Mosley-Montezemolo tension is having a strong ripple effect with GP2 team owners.  The inability to guarantee their backers where they will be is once again adding uncertainty to this already unstable category.  For example, questions team owners have now primarily include:

  • Will we be racing with FOTA teams in 2010? So far, the answer is yes, but still in doubt…
  • Are we getting some TV revenues/prize money in 2010? Important to know so team budgets can be drawn up…
  • Is GP2 Asia canceled? Again, important for budgeting and for driver searches…
  • Will there be a GP3?  Are we expected to participate?

Questions that will most likely not get answered in a timely manner.  GP2 teams are left, as usual, to survive as best they can.


Engine blow-ups and budgets

We saw 3 engine blow-ups at Silverstone.   Italiaracing reports that up to 6 engines were taken by Mecachrome for preventive inspection.  What is going on?

One reason is that teams are running out of money, more quickly than anticipated.  In an earlier post I had predicted when teams were going to start running into financial difficulties.  Silverstone was the first general warning.   We had seen other failures (gearboxes mainly), but engine blow-ups are a different story.

1. Teams begin to spend more time repairing and less money replacing.

2.The lower budgets bring in less-experienced mechanics, and with it, costly oversights that result in higher mechanical issues.

3. GP2 is not supporting teams in the cost of spares, be it chassis or engines, and the result is clear.

What we have here is a perfect storm brewing.  Lack of money, lack of technical expertise and lack of organizational interest.  The issue will only get worse as the season wears on… and look for drivers in the GP2 backmarkers to do less laps at Friday practice – especially at Trident, Durango and DPR.

Post-race evaluations – British GP

Evals Britain GP top 6eval Britain GP rest

Evals Britain GP bott 4

6 winners in 7 races

We all like to see different drivers win.  We all like to see races like the feature race today at Silverstone, with surprising drives from truly nice guys like Alberto Valero and Sergio Perez.   We all like to see that Romain Grosjean (or any other driver) is not running away with the 2009 season.

But after 6 different race winners in the 7 races to date, I ask myself how this really reflects on the season and the quality of the grid.   I confess I’m a bit torn in my opinion, but what I am very sure of is that this sort of variety is much, much better than the Button dominance in F1.

Maybe it does reflect a bit on the levelness of the playing field and even a little bit on the lack of serious, natural and raw talent.  But what it does highlight, above anything else, is the spirit of GP2 and the greatness of its concept.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope we see 5 or 6 more new drivers win this season…  at the end, it’s what GP2 is all about.

What now?

Autosport has reported that FOTA has announced the creation of a new racing series.

What now for GP2?  Will it break-away with FOTA or stay with Mad Max?  (see poll and vote…)

GP2 is owned by CVC (as is F1), and the partners of this private equity firm must have not slept a wink last night.  They have seen how their billions of investment in the F1 franchise is now worth a couple dozen million, as Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and company are saying goodbye.

What makes the most sense is that F1 teams up with F2, packaging Mosley’s vision into a tidy package.  GP2 should pack its trucks and follow Luca, Martin and Flavio to Portimao, Imola, Suzuka or whatever circuit the new series will race in….  Today will be an interesting day.

The more things stay the same… the more they change

A GP2 twist on this popular saying.

Why?  Because nothing is changing in GP2.

The teams are still losing money.  The unpaid seats at DPR and Trident are still there.  No new drivers are coming in.  And the organization is sitting on its hands.

Is this related to the FIA-FOTA war?  Is GP2 destined to be the unwanted child of the breakaway series?  Any bets on where iSport, ART, Barwa and the others will be next season?   A total standstill….

So, everything is changing… right under our eyes.   We just can’t see it and even worse, no one knows where it’s going.

The “Pantano Strategy” … is it worth it?

The “Pantano Strategy” is when a team invests its own cash flow or its sponsorship money in signing a top driver with the objective of raising the team’s image in the GP2 market.

Racing Engineering did this in the 2008 season, effectively raising the level of his team.  The approximately €1.2 million earned from Telefonica and Repsol were almost entirely invested in getting Giorgio Pantano on board without cost.  The Italian eventually won the 2008 title.

Campos did the same thing with Giorgio Pantano in 2007, though with less success than Racing Engineering.  Other drivers have been subsidized, but with little lasting success.  Some of these include Adam Carroll and Lucas DiGrassi, who put on the table no or little of the necessary budget.

Question is… is this worth it?  Was Alfonso de Orleans better off investing in Pantano or finding a paying driver, even if not a winner?

My opinion is that it is worth it today.  Some facts about Racing Engineering’s evolution:

  • In 2008 it won its most races (4), which make up almost half of its total victories in GP2
  • RE is the 4th team in terms of wins in GP2, mainly due to its 2008 performance
  • In 2008, RE was 4th in the team championship, its best result ever and coming off a 6th place in 2007

So in terms of results, the bet was positive.  Financially, RE lost Repsol and Telefonica in 2009, but gained Fat Burner as their title sponsor.  They probably get less money than before, but their winning form and image has allowed them to bag one of the few team sponsors in GP2.  Additionally, Renault has trusted them with Lucas DiGrassi, a talented driver still under the French team’s wing.

All of this would not have happened if in 2008 RE would have raced with Javi Villa and another mid-pack driver.  The team would have gotten maybe 1-2 wins – most likely Sunday sprint races – and the loss of their sponsors would have been difficult to overcome.  Alfonso made the right move, investing in the long-run and positioning his team, in just one season, as one of the “good teams” in GP2.

Lesson for the others? GP2 is a business, much more than it is a sport.  Strategy and investments pay off.  Short-term gains lead you nowhere…. if you don’t take my word for it, ask Trident.