Update: GP2 Asia grid

Current working grid…send me confirmations when you have them so we can build up the list together.  @gp2asia lineup

Updated: GP2 Jerez Test- Driver lineup

Keeping this post open for the comments…. See full confirmed Jerez list in post above.  Thanks to all for your inputs!  We’ll do it all over again in a month for the Paul Ricard GP2 Main test.  At the end, apparently no Durango.

Is F2 a threat to GP2?

With the completion of the first FIA Formula Two race at Valencia this past weekend, articles have begun to surface once again regarding the relevance of this new racing series.f2 car

F2 is loosely modeled after the highly successful arrive-and-drive Skip Barber Race Series in the US, where great drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Ernesto Viso and Scott Speed have come from.

F2 is attractive because of its price, about €250k, period.

Other “advantages” are engines more powerful than F3 and its “evenly matched” playing field.  Apart from the price, which today is attractive (but may not be tomorrow), the F2 “circus” today is but a mere side street show.  It runs with WTCC, a dying series that is not hugely popular, and the International Formula Masters, ironically its direct competitor.  Finally, the F2 grid is a mix of young talent and unknown drivers, with a lower proportion of future talent that can be found in Formula Renault or Formula BMW.

So where does the threat to GP2 fit in?   It comes in the FIA’s intention to upgrade F2’s racing entourage, and push it up to race during F1 weekends. F2 wasn’t created solely as a “low cost” series for Jonathan Palmer and Williams to make some cash, but rather as a serious philosophical alternative to GP2 or the possible arrival of GP3 – which F2 most directly competes with.

GP2 for Max Mosley reads FOTA, and this means it is unwelcome in his future F1 world.  Owned by CVC, running Renault engines and costing upwards of €1 million per seat, GP2 is going in the wrong direction in his book.  F2 is more “communist”, if you permit the expression, with a “true” F1 constructor making the cars (Williams) and an outsider supplying the engines (Audi).

So where does this leave us?  Again, in a political battle of mixed interests and concerns.  What I can say is that F2 cannot fully substitute GP2 as a racing philosophy, where drivers compete with 600 BHP+ cars, similar in dimensions and performance to F1.

The F2 value proposition is solid, but I hope it makes its mark in the racing world where it belongs – right below GP2.  I believe GP3 is superfluous and if the need for a full racing ladder exists in the F1 paddock, F2 should fill that spot.  The problem is, I don’t feel that need exists, and the current racing ladder is quite complete today, with the important issue of bringing down exhorbitant cost structures – especially in the F3 Euroseries categories.

Istambul preview

After several days away, we find ourselves close to the Istambul race.  All is quiet in the GP2 world though I’m sure many are eyeing this race as a turning point.

1.  This race will mark the final negative spiral for many of the GP2 backmarkers, especially Trident, DPR and Durango. Their financial situation is dire, and as the season wears on, any hope of a Jakes, Al Fardan or other saviour is pretty much finished.  From this point on, their presence at any GP is a very touchy situation.

2. If Barwa Addax continues their dominance, the whispers heard in the GP2 paddock will become louder.  I truly feel their dominance is well-deserved, but many have told me of the typical insatisfaction when a team leads with such clarity and difference.  Let’s hope for the sake of the sport that no one begins to pout and pollute this already difficult season.

3. GP2 has an extended lease on life as FIA, FOTA and FOA have solved their issues. This allows for any possible corporate activity in GP2 to go ahead, though it will mostly be during the off-season period.

I will get back as the news prior to Istambul pick up.

GP2 Asia … a lesson on how to destroy your clients

no-gp2asia1

So we have reviewed the 2 wonderful GP2 Asia seasons, both for their irrelevance in the motor racing world in generating new talent or serious competition and for their destructive impact on team finances – for almost every team on the grid.

Some questions for the GP2 management (or GP2 Gods if you prefer):

  • What is the objective of GP2 Asia?  The real one I mean, not the blah, blah, development, blah, blah, emerging markets, blah blah, off-season….. crap.  Are you trying to compete with anyone?  Does anyone ever, ever watch top-level racing during the F1 off-season?
  • Does this GP2 “winter series” need to be in Asia?  If it’s of no interest for drivers in that region, doesn’t it make sense to race in Europe…  Even a Sudam GP2 would make more sense!
  • Have you analyzed the impact of this category?  Impact in terms of media exposure (does anybody care, even the die-hard GP2 fans?), driver development and most importantly – team economics.
  • Do you think GP2 Asia has enhanced or destroyed value for GP2 as a whole?   Trick question, but by any measurement, GP2 Asia has contributed to make a difficult 2009 season in Europe even more unstable and devastating for many teams.
  • Do you listen to your “clients” (the GP2 teams)?  They are shouting for help and attention, but they are constantly ignored – powered by the arrogance of not admitting GP2 Asia should be terminated.
  • The ultimate question…. Will GP2 Asia have a 2009-10 season?  Please say no…..

Read more of this post

Teams (part III): the GP2 backmarkers

After the GP2 Stars and the Survivors, come the 5 other teams that in my estimation will be hard-pressed to finish the 2009 season without incurring serious financial troubles.  Apart from the hemorrhage the GP2 Asia Series is causing (to be addressed in a separate future post), these 5 teams are consistently at the bottom and fighting for the budgets (usually partial) of midfield drivers and occasional newcomers with funding.

  • FMS/Coloni: Probably the most consistent team in GP2, though unfortunately consistently poor.  Apart from a 5th place finish in 2006 with Pantano, they have been 9th or 10th every season.  Even after the branding push from Giancarlo Fisichella, the team has failed to raise its game.  For 2009 they have GP2 veteran (and eternal promise) Andy Zuber, with a partial season budget that I estimate around €600k – from Dominator yachts. FMS has also signed up well-funded Luiz Razia, who stays “with the family” after contesting the Euroseries 3000 organised by raziaColoni (though he ran with Ernesto Catella’s team).  Razia probably brings in a bit more than Zuber (estimated €800k max), putting FMS about €400-500k shy of a breakeven season.  I doubt, Zuber will  make it through the season, so I’m sure Enzo Coloni is looking for some cash for mid-season onwards.  Maybe F3000 sponsor PartyPoker can fill in the gap?
  • Trident:  The “newest” team in GP2, joining in 2006, Trident started off strong and has trailed off since then.  After winning its 3rd race in GP2 with Gianmaria Bruni, Trident has won a total of 5 races.  Trident, along with ART and Arden, is the only team to win at least 1 race in every season it has contested.  Regarding 2009, not much to say except that team owner Maurizio Salvadori must be in serious trouble.  He has yet to find even 1 funded driver for the season – even a mediocre one.  Trident showed up at Paul Ricard with Davide Rigon (great driver, no budget) and Hamad Al Fardan (apparently funded).  Al-Fardan seems to have the  budget, though something is happening behind the scenes to slow down his confirmation. He is running the GP2 Asia Series with iSport and by now was expected to have a confirmed seat for the Main Series. Maybe budget is an issue for his sponsor, Gulf Finance House, given that the gap between Asia and Main is a substantial amount (between €500k and €700k higher).  We’ll have to wait until the tests at Montmelo for an update.  2009 will be a terrible season for Trident economically, and no doubt a top candidate in the “for sale” category.
  • Ocean:  Even as the only team not to win a GP2 race (under the BCN Competicion banner), Ocean still has  better team standings stats than Durango and DPR.   Tiago Monteiro  will have a rude awakening in the glamorous world of GP2 ownership.  Monteiro has yet to announce a title sponsor to support his signing of national talent Alvaro Parente (Galp?).  Parente is a GP2 race winner, but lacks the full budget for a GP2 season.  Teammate Karun Chandhok, another GP2 veteran is still India’s hope for their next F1 driver.  With cash from Punj Lloyd and Amaron, plus maybe a partial budget from Parente – Ocean may reach the €1.2 million mark.  Without a title sponsor to kick in at least €600 to 700k, Ocean will find that GP2 is indeed a tough business.
  • Durango: An ex-F3000 team, Durango has a long and storied history led by Ivone Pinton, though their trek through GP2 has seen them consistently languish at the bottom.  After starting off strong with a win from Clivio Piccione in the feature race at Nurburgring in 2005, Durango has seen few happy days.  Except for 2007, when some consistency from Borja Garcia landed the team 8th in the team standings, they have always failed to make the top 10.  2008 ended strong with a win from Davide Valsecchi, driver who is staying on and should be competitive, now backed by Renault’s RDD programme.  The second seat is still vacant and was filled by Spanish F3 runner-up Nelson Panciatici.  Pending this confirmation, Durango will no doubt have a troubled 2009 season financially.  Probably another team to add to the “for sale” list as the seasomichael_herck_2008_gp2_magny-cours1n drags on.
  • DPR:  Though consistently at the back, DPR enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame with 2 wins from Olivier Pla in 2005 (both sprint races).  Since then, DPR has suffered through the Direxiv debacle and David Price (the “DP” in DPR) has sold a majority stake to businessman Andre Herck.  With son Michael at the wheel of the first car, DPR still has no second driver.  Giacomo Ricci filled in at Paul Ricard but I would be surprised to see him piece together a full 2009 budget.  DPR will suffer in 2009, though it’s probably not the first year for them.

Teams (part II): the GP2 Survivors

After the top 4 teams in GP2 come what I would call the “survivors”.  They are survivors because they fight year after year – sometimes even every half-year – for their drivers and their budget.  Some years they make money or break-even, while others they lose a bit of money.

The GP2 Survivors:

  • Arden:  Coming off a 2003 and 2004 championship in International Fsperez3000, Christian Horner’s team started off strong in the inaugural GP2 season in 2005, challenging for the drivers title until the last race with Kovalainen at the wheel.  Since then, Arden has been a searching for its bearing, finding it few times, but has counted with the invaluable backing from Red Bull (Horner’s “real” employer).  For 2009 Arden has switched Red Bull for Telmex as a title sponsor through Sergio Perez.  I would set Arden’s total budget for 2009 just under €1.8 million – with most money coming from Perez and some from Mortara.  This will be a breakeven season for Arden, but they will survive.
  • Super Nova:  David Sears’ team, like Arden, came on strong from F3000 (2002 champs) and had a positive 2005 GP2 season finishing 3rd in the team standings with Carroll and Pantano, and 5th and 6th respectively in the drivers championship.  After rebounding slightly in 2007 with Filippi and Conway (after a mediocre 2006), Super Nova finished 2008 in a mid-pack 7th place (with Parente and Soucek).   In 2009 they will regain Luca Filippi and have drafted Javi Villa from Racing Engineering.   I estimate each driver brings it at most €700k each,  so Super Nova have signed these drivers optimstically hoping to find the missing €400 to €500k sometime during the season to break even.  The team was rumoured to be up for sale, so I’m not sure how Super Nova’s finances will look towards the summer.
  • Piquet GP:  Wildly inconsistent in their team results (6th, 2nd, 11th, 3rd), Piquet benefitted from Nelsinho’s results early on and suffered Xandi Negrao’s during the same period.  After Piquet Jr’s departure to Renault F1, the team has found little stability in its drivers.  2007 was their worst year in GP2, with the weak Negrao-Roldan Rodriguez lineup.  2008 should have been their year, with Maldonado and Zuber, but they fell short due to their lack of consistency.  For 2009, they have Rodriguez back and Alberto Valerio adding some Brazilian blood.  I seriously doubt their budget will be much more than €1.5 million – leaving Piquet GP in the red about €300k for 2009. As with the others in this Group B – my bet is they will somehow manage to survive.
  • DAMS:  Held up by its Toyota Racing Development (TRD) seat, DAMS is consistently a mid-pack runner in GP2.  Kobayashi is TRD’s big bet, after the success of Kaz Nakajima and his graduation to F1 in late 2007.   Jerome D’Ambrosio is another good driver, growing well in GP2 after his Formula Master title in 2007.  Budget-wise, they should be the strongest of this group, though slightly under the targeted €1.8 million breakeven mark.  DAMS can support a year of this €200-300k loss, partially subsidised by its highly lucrative A1GP presence.  Definitely a solid team that will endure 2009.