Last week the FIA World Council announced that 2009 would see the return of Formula Two, a feeder series to Grand Prix racing that previously existed up until 1985. Details surrounding the reborn championship were vague, but the surprising decision will revive one of the most historic categories in motorsport.
Formula Two started in 1948 and was originally dubbed Formula B, just as F1 was then known as Formula A. The regulations for Grand Prix racing were in a bit of a mess at the time because World War Two had decimated the equipment at manufacturers’ disposal. Before the war had started Grand Prix teams had been using 4.5 litre engines, but with few of them available the regulations enforced much smaller powerplants to ensure that everyone was equal.
The result was that Formula One constructors ended up with cars that would otherwise have raced in a lesser championship. This meant that a new smaller feeder series had to be developed as well, and Formula Two was created.
The new series quickly attracted many specialist racing manufacturers who found the new Formula One too expensive. In fact, F2 was stealing so many teams away from Grand Prix grids that the 1952 and 1953 World Championships were run to Formula Two rules because there simply weren’t enough F1 cars to go around.
When the Formula One regulations reached a level of stability in 1954, it once again became the pinnacle of world motorsport and all of the major manufacturers took part.
The glory days of Formula Two were far from over though.
In 1957 the Formula Two regulations were changed to encourage rear-engined cars. Cooper was the first company to successfully develop such a design in F2, and found it to be so dominant they used the same construction in their Formula One machines. In 1958 Cooper snatched a pair of Grand Prix victories with a car based on their 1957 Formula Two design. Other teams soon realised the benefits of placing the engine behind the driver and also begun using Formula Two as a test bed for their new creations.
The legendary sharknose Ferrari 156 was originally built to compete in Formula Two before it went on to claim the 1961World Championship.
F2 was not only a place for manufactures to hone their equipment, but many drivers were using the category as a stepping stone into Formula One. The series was made even more competitive by regular appearances from Grand Prix drivers, who would get behind the wheel of a racing car almost every single weekend.
Formula Two races were often filled by some of the best drivers in the world, and the level of investment and technology in the series was very high.
The F2 cars became so quick that at some Grand Prix events they could actually take part. On the larger circuits Formula Two cars would line up on the grid, although they had to start behind the F1 cars and were not eligible for points.
In the 1967 German Grand Prix, Jacky Ickx set the third fastest qualifying time in a Formula Two Matra, ahead of the reigning World Champion Jack Brabham!
The success and competitiveness of Formula Two ended up being its downfall. The teams who were involved started spending more and more money and eventually the series became unfeasible. When Honda arrived in 1980 they built such a good engine that no one could possibly compete with it, and the series died.
Formula Two was pronounced dead in 1985 and replaced with Formula 3000, a championship created by Bernie Ecclestone that has today morphed into GP2. The idea of Formula 3000 was that it would be a cheap platform to reach F1, although it was also created as a money making scheme for Ecclestone. When the popular Cosworth DFV engines became too old for Grand Prix cars, Ecclestone bought a heap of the units at an absolute bargain. He was able to sell them on when the Formula 3000 regulations made the engines very attractive for any team in the series.
There is now a chance for someone else to profit in a similar fashion from the new Formula Two, which will take the form of a one make spec series.
Whoever bought all of those leftover Panoz Champcar chassis might be best advised to get in contact with the FIA.
The World Council’s brief statement last week about relaunching Formula Two simply read “The FIA will invite tenders for a new feeder series for Formula One. This championship, called Formula Two, would be launched in 2009 and used as an inexpensive platform to develop emerging driver talent for Formula One. It is hoped this can be achieved within a budget of around €200,000 a car per season.”
Some people have already criticised the price tag quoted by the FIA because €200,000 won’t buy you much per year in world class motorsport. Many competitive touring car series would have larger budgets than that, and you can barely consider those to be appropriate feeders to Formula One.
However, the FIA have probably just used that figure to highlight their intention to make the series affordable and the actual budget will rise significantly once things get underway.
GP2 is currently the regarded as the premier feeder category for Formula One, and over the past three years there have been five drivers who have used it to springboard into Grand Prix racing. It is unclear whether a new Formula Two series will replace GP2, or will be fighting it for popularity.
If both series are forced to compete for the same drivers and sponsors it can only end poorly for the sport, and Formula Two will emerge worse off.
Bernie Ecclestone controls GP2 and that is why the championship is the main support act to Formula One. A Grand Prix weekend is the perfect place to showcase new talent, and it also guarantees the series a huge audience. Without that same status Formula Two will find it hard to stay alive.
Ecclestone can also arrange exclusive deals with Formula One promoters and circuits to forbid them from running Formula Two races, having previously used such a tactic to kill off the World Sportscar Championship.
The ‘official’ feeder category to Formula One will always what Bernie wants it to be.
However, there is an opportunity for a new racing series in Europe.
Over the past few years Formula One has started abandoning its traditional venues, and doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. Imola is no longer on the F1 calendar, and Magny Cours will be soon to follow. The German Grand Prix is being forced to switch between venues and Silverstone is under genuine threat. With more new races at Abu Dhabi, South Korea, and India on the way a number of existing rounds will have to be given the chop to make room. With that in mind you could conceivably create a championship using the circuits that F1 has abandoned.
The Indy Racing League would have taken note of this. Now that Champcar is gone, and F1 is seeking new Asian markets, this is the perfect time for the IRL to expand into Europe.
Perhaps Formula Two will end up being stiffer competition to the IRL than it will be for GP2.
The FIA has some serious clout, so if they are genuine about making Formula Two work they have a very strong chance. It will be great to have the championship back in motorsport. It just remains to be seen how successful and long lasting it can become.