Who was missing in Abu Dhabi?

Though in general terms the end of season Abu Dhabi tests were not very relevant for many drivers (old car, old tires), it is nonetheless a chance to sit behind the wheel of a 600hp GP2 racecar.    That said, and given the number of seats and days available (96 seats over 4 test days), there were many “current” GP2 drivers missing from this post-season test.

For the fun of it, let’s run down the list of drivers who didn’t make it to the Yas Marina tests:

  • Jules Bianchi –  really didn’t need to be there, especially if there was still any doubt about his physical condition.  With one seat taken by Gutierrez, ART probably asked Jules to sit this one out while they sold the second seat to interested drivers.
  • Davide Valsecchi – his remaining budget was spent on his half-day HRT test.  He will be back in 2011, though I doubt it will be with iSport
  • Giedo van der Garde – focused on his F1 bid, Giedo probably didn’t want to be seen in a GP2 car anymore.  With Maldonado’s confirmation at Williams, his chances are dwindling and we may still see him on the GP2 grid next season.
  • Christian Vietoris – I thought he’d be around for sure.  Fully recovered from his untimely appendicitis, I would have thought Vietoris was anxious for some seat time.  But probably Gravity decided to spend its budget on putting Sims in a GP2.
  • Max Chilton – Though I expected him in Abu Dhabi, his shakedown run with Carlin is indicative of where he’ll be next season.  No reason spending money with other teams.
  • Vladimir Arabadzhiev – After his Lotus F1 run, I thought Vlado would stick around for GP2.  I would be surprised, though, if he’s not in this year’s GP2 Asia grid.
  • Johnny Cecotto – Pretty much the same story as Chilton.  Rumors have been linking him to Air Asia and Lotus for several months now.

All in all, a good number of the 2010 GP2 grid thought it a good idea to stick around for this 4-day test.  Let’s see who ultimately makes it back into the series for next year.

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Teams comparison 2010 vs 2009

The emergence of a new “top team” this season with the transformation of Rapax into a consistent winner made me think how teams are faring so far this season when compared to 2009.  Below are two charts, from which we can draw interesting conclusions:

No surprise to see Rapax at +69 points when compared to 2009, when they were languishing with Roldán Rodríguez and Alberto Valerio, pushed only by his strong win at Silverstone.  Not surprising either is DPR, with the explosion of its whole team structure and the better results from both Ricci and Herck in 2010.   iSport is also doing better this season, as the Valsecchi-Tuvey combo is working better than the van der Garde-Nunes team, which took a bit of time to get rolling last season.

What is surprising is to find ART as the worst team in comparison at this point in the season.  Hulkenberg’s strong season last year, even when pulling Maldonado’s weight most of the season, is 43 points better than the current results from Bianchi and Bird.  Even though they are both racing well, the results are significantly below what ART must have expected, especially when compared to 2009.  Also at the bottom are Super Nova, team we have already written about which is undergoing its worst season ever in GP2, and DAMS, whose high-flying Renault Junior Team status has failed to materialize in results from either D’Ambrosio or Tung.  We will write an opinion piece on DAMS and Gravity in the coming days leading up to Spa…

GP2’s weaknesses in 2010 shining through

With just about 24 hours to the official start of the 2010 GP2 Main season, we are still waiting on any type of confirmation from the 5 teams with seat still up for sale this year.    At this time last year, teams pulled driver from the lists of “usual suspects” to fill up their seats, mainly Davide Rigon, Giacomo Ricci or James Jakes.

Though 2010 looked to potentially be a brighter year financially for these teams, there seems to still be a relevant hangover that is holding back drivers and their backers/sponsors from committing to GP2 this year.  Reasons?  Several come to mind:

First, drivers with any relevant budget (in March GP2-speak that means above €800k) are holding out for the best deal possible.  Though all drivers have a preference of which team they will race with, at the end they just want to be part of the show.  The difference between racing with Coloni, Rapax or Trident is a thin one… only that 2nd Arden seat stands out.

Second, competition is steep this year.  With F3 Euroseries practically dead in the water (what a pity) and Formula Master canceled,  you would think GP2 would emerge victorious.  But instead of re-aligning GP2 and strengthening it, the organization decided to push forward with the GP3 concept.  Today, the value proposition of racing alongside F1, one of GP2’s important selling points, has been diluted by its sister series.   I have already written on my opinion regarding this decision, where the concept is a bit off (too expensive) and the timing is just terrible.

Finally, GP2 has not done enough to bring down budgets to reality.  The world has changed, the economy has changed and the realities of most (not all) drivers and sponsors has changed.  Renault driver development still exists in some way through Gravity, but Honda is gone, Toyota is gone and Red Bull gave up on GP2 in 2009.   The happy spending of the 2005-2008 seasons may never return, and the organization cannot blindly ignore that fact.

GP2’s track record is second to none.  The relevance of the series in F1 is unquestionable.  But coming up with €1.2 million-plus is a daunting task… no matter what success rate the category has.  It’s time for some changes in the thinking and strategy of the organization.

The first test (for the organizers) will come when they decide what to do with the 2011-2016 contracts and the renovation of the current Dallara chassis.  If they want my input, they know where to find me.

TV revenues and GP2 – show me the money…

I see many keep reading my initial posts on GP2 budgets, how the different teams make money and how their different strategies and positioning over the years has taken them to where they are now.  After a series of comments back and forth with Fletcher in previous posts, I think we need to dig a bit deeper and understand not only the “whys” but also the “why nots” – especially in relation to TV revenues.

What there is:

GP2 revenues come from 2 sources – though in most cases its only the first one:

  1. Drivers –  Those who wish to sit in a GP2 car have to put up anywhere between €1 million and €1.3 million per season, plus any damages to the car.  In 2009, many drivers have signed for less than that (see post), but it is an exception that will right itself once the economic situation improves.
  2. Team sponsors – If I’m not mistaken, only ART, Racing Engineering, Arden and Barwa Addax have one of these, so we can say they are pretty scarce in GP2 – not only in 2009 but generally in the category’s 5-year history.

What there should be:

As of today, GP2 team are basically limited to these 2 revenue sources.  Yes, some teams make some additional money serving A1 or Superleague teams, but that is not GP2.  If we compare this to an F1 income statement, we are missing one key line:  TV revenues.

Should CVC share some TV revenues with GP2 teams?   Yes, and here is why and roughly how much:

GP2 TV revenue model

So with this simple calculation, we have added about €1.3 million to the top line of GP2 teams.   This is not money they should/should not get, but money they have earned, just like F1 teams earn their TV money by putting on a good show and having people watch.   Next to F1, 150 million people may seem like little, but it is a lot of people watching a single event every month during one or two days per weekend.

So why are there no TV revenues in GP2?  A couple of answers from my point of view:

  • There is no “GP2 FOTA”: GP2 teams are not organized in any way.  They are there to race, period, and until today have not worried about this issue.  If they made even the slightest effort, they could probably get half of the estimated TV revenues per team, and we all know €650k would go a long, long way to help GP2 teams.
  • Legacy:  Most GP2 teams are evolutions from F3000 or F3.  They are used to running in series where they have no significant TV coverage and where they make money the old fashion way… “earning” it through hard work and rich drivers.
  • Ignorance:  The most basic of answers, is because no one has asked or has asked the right people.
  • Resistance: I don’t think it’s that CVC does not care for GP2, but that they need to squeeze the most out of it.  And given the previous 3 points, CVC has little incentive to alter the status quo.

In conclusion, GP2 has earned TV money and GP2 could really use these revenues – not to make higher profits, but as a possible way to reduce the cost of a seat for drivers.  In this way, the budget for a GP2 seat could fall below €1 million, making the category more appealing and increasing its competiveness in the top-tier racing market.  Teams need to organize themselves, understand the value they are adding to their organizers and owners and map out a revenue-sharing scheme that improves the competitiveness and longevity of their category.