Budgets approaching €2 million

Several drivers and agents have commented to GP2insider that teams are quoting them €2 million to compete in the 2010-11 GP2 Asia and 2011 GP2 Series seasons.  Though few teams will be able to request, and actually charge, these exorbitant amounts, it is very indicative of the changes brought on even as the 2010 season is yet to complete its final race in a few weeks.

First, the price (even if not “real”) represents a 33%-plus premium on what we estimated was 2010’s highest cost per seat (€1.5 million – ART).  If we assume the whole GP2 Asia 2009-2010 cost Bird/Bianchi around €200k, it’s still almost a 30% price hike from last season.

The reasons?

First, the new car changes the rules for the teams and the drivers.  A new chassis, after a barely amortized 2008 one, will hurt the teams financially.  As you can imagine, the cost will not be absorbed by the teams, but as much as possible by the drivers and their supporters.

Second, this will probably be the most appealing GP2 Asia season ever for the drivers, as the new car will be used for the first time in this category and not in Europe.  Drivers will be very keen to get some racing time in this new car, as well as those nice F1-spec Pirelli tires.

Curiously, the arrival of 2 potentially competitive teams such as Carlin and Air Asia has had the inverse effect on prices.  With more supply, we should see falling prices, yet prices have gone up.

Now, looking at GP2 as a whole, how many drivers will end up paying this mind-boggling budget to race these shiny new Dallaras?  Probably 6-8 drivers, I assume, the same proportion who always had the budget to comfortably race in this category, even if with a midfield team.

My guess is teams will milk the shortened GP2 Asia season for all it’s worth, then fight it out to find drivers with deep enough pockets to survive an uncertain 2011 season in Europe.

Bottas with ART at Abu Dhabi

Williams test driver Valtteri Bottas will be testing with ART at the Abu Dhabi test this November, soon after ending his F1 rookie test with the Grove-based team.

Bottas drove with ART this season in a lukewarm F3 Euroseries season, where he was expected to excel but found it difficult to follow in the heavy footsteps of Nico Hulkenberg and Jules Bianchi.

We have yet to see if other ART drivers (both F3 and GP3) will be joining the team for this year’s very short Asia season.  Among these we could include Esteban Gutiérrez, Alexander Sims, Alexander Rossi and Jim Pla, though this year’s Asia seats will be more contested than ever.  The reason?  Since it will mark the debut of the new GP2 2011 chassis, many drivers will want to get the most mileage under their belts before the European season gets underway in 2011.

Bottas is managed by Williams shareholder Toto Wolff’s management company, and will probably be kept on at Williams for another year as the “test driver”, though we all know how little weight this role carries in today’s severely limited F1-testing world.

Ebrahim and Quaife-Hobbs at Abu Dhabi test

As we approach the uneventful end to this GP2 season, with only the 2nd place as an exciting fight to look forward to, the focus begins to shift to the post-season Abu Dhabi tests.

As of now, 2 drivers have been confirmed for this test:

  • F2 driver Armaan Ebrahim will test with Coloni and Arden
  • GP3 driver Adrian Quaife-Hobbs will test with Coloni

With Coloni’s recent signing of Herck for both the Asia and 2011 Main Series, it seems that Paolo Coloni’s team is rushing to secure drivers to fill in its seats as soon a possible.  As mentioned in a previous post, a smart move from Paolo, considering his team’s lackluster season in 2010.

1st signing for 2011: Herck with Coloni

Italiaracing reports today that Michael Herck has signed with Paolo Coloni’s team for both the GP2 Asia and the 2011 GP2 Main seasons.  Interesting and quick move from Herck, left without “his” team after this November’s Abu Dhabi race after his father’s DPR team was not renewed in the 2011-2013 GP2 contract.

Herck is a driver who has gradually improved throughout his GP2 career, most notably this season as the team was more focused and he had the very competitive Giacomo Ricci as a teammate.

For Coloni, a good move to guarantee what is no doubt a relevant part of his budget.  With the paltry results obtained in 2010 with Valerio and Arabadzhiev, he would have been hard-pressed to find 2 competitive and budgeted drivers for the upcoming season.

Though I doubt this signing in any way “unblocks” the driver’s market, we will probably start to see a trickle of driver announcements, especially for the very, very short Asia season.

New cars on their way: reasons and impact

GP2 teams are heading over to Dallara today to pick up their shiny new GP2/11 cars.   The situation with these new racecars has evolved through many phases throughout 2010 – from an initial idea of keeping the current GP2/08 cars to a complete overhaul of the chassis, bodywork and engine for the next 3 seasons.

The reason for this is simple.  The GP2 organization has passed on the financial burden from their troubled coffers to the ever-so-generous teams, who will once again pass the buck on to the drivers.   With the excuse (completely founded and legal) of the new contract period, GP2 has taken the “cleanest” road to the renewal of the chassis.  Instead of having a mix of older/newer chassis, impacted mainly by the arrival of the new teams in the series, all will have to upgrade their full package.

The option of simply updating the GP2/08 chassis was scrapped, as teams can only purchase the new bodywork along with the new chassis… a kind of catch-22, if you will.   Teams can use their old chassis, should they choose to keep them, but they will have already purchased a full package beforehand.  This leaves teams with 2 completely new cars, and maybe 1 GP2/08 chassis in the shop, useful as backup should one of their new ones be destroyed – such as what happened to Grosjean in Monaco or Coletti at Spa.

Going back to the original point, who will pay for this new car?  Obviously, drivers – and their parents, sponsors, friends, etc.  If the average price of a GP2 seat in 2010 was around €1.2 million, how much more expensive will 2011 be?  At this point, I have yet to gather reliable information on this point, but I have heard figures dangerously approaching the €2 million mark.  Let’s hope this is just a random and inaccurate figure, because budgets in that range could be highly detrimental to GP2 – no matter how successful the series is.

Pérez joins Ferrari Drivers Academy

The good news for Sergio Pérez just keep rolling in this week.  After signing with the Sauber F1 team for 2011, Scuderia Ferrari has announced that the Mexican will join its FDA program.

The announcement adds the first current F1 driver to the program’s lineup, dropping in a step above rival Jules Bianchi, who Pérez raced against in GP2 this season.  Pérez is not managed, at least not yet, by Nicolas Todt but by ex-Indycar driver Adrián Fernández.

The program continues to grown in depth, and the Ferrari engine deal with Sauber has surely helped facilitate a deal where Ferrari will closely monitor one of its 2011 rivals as part of its development program.

Where have future F1 drivers raced?

As I read the great news yesterday regarding Sauber’s signing of Sergio Pérez, I wondered which GP2 teams have had the most F1 drivers racing with them.

Several years ago, I quickly compiled a statistic regarding F1 drivers who had passed through F1, either as testers or drivers, but in this case I thought what really counted is which F1 “drivers” had passed through GP2 and with whom.

The list and chart:

Not suprising to find ART on top, the only team to have had at least 1 F1-bound driver in every season of F1 so far.  Curiously, 2010 may be the only season where ART does not promote one of its 2 drivers to F1 – at least not yet – as Bianchi and Bird are largely expected to stay on for another year of GP2, though not necessarily with ART.

Up there in the list we find iSport, led by the keen eye of Paul Jackson, who started off strong with the Red Bull-backed Scott Speed, won the championship in 2007 with Timo Glock, and has also seen current HRT teammates Senna and Chandhok drive its cars.  Equally strong are both Addax and Arden, the latter counting 50% of its F1 success from its F1 days with Kovalainen and Buemi, while the first picked up steam as a winning team as Alejandro Agag gradually took over the team from Adrián Campos.

Very surprising as well to see Super Nova at the bottom of the list, with none of its GP2 drivers ending up with F1 rides since the category started in 2005.  Super Nova was a highly successful team in F3000, winning 4 drivers championships and lining up future F1 drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Webber, Tiago Monteiro and Sebastien Bourdais.   It is hard to understand clearly why this success has not been carried over to GP2, with the team’s best driver showing a 4th place in the 2007 season standings with Luca Filippi.

We are yet to see if more 2010 GP2 drivers make the step up to F1, with Pastor Maldonado and Giedo van der Garde as possible candidates.