Formula 3000: A brief history (part 1)

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Juan Pablo Montoya, Nick Heidfeld, Vitantonio Liuzzi – just three recent F1 drivers to have reached the sport through Formula 3000.

The series lasted two decades from 1985 to 2004. In the first of a three part series F1Fanatic columnist Ben Evans looks at the rise and fall of F3000.

For all the giant sums of money, the high speed, the danger, the glamour and the professionalism, one of the most endearing aspects about motor racing is that just on occasion it can all look a little silly and descend into farce.

F1 does it less often these days (Indianapolis ’05 springs to mind, and the start of last year’s Japanese Grand Prix was very silly), and neither do its supporting packages.

But from 1985 until 2004, the FIA endorsed its own travelling freak show – better known as Formula 3000.

Admittedly during its life F3000 had a number of admirable qualities – it has produced some top quality drivers, the racing was often entertaining and at times it was very popular.

But for much of its life F3000 existed on the fringes of bizarre and dangerous – massive accidents, baffling calendars, fluctuations between huge and tiny grids and enormous differences in driving standards.

Born in 1985 to replace the shrinking Formula Two series, F3000 was initially conceived as a home for the redundant (from F1 at least) Cosworth DSV engine and older chassis, together with bespoke chassis’ largely from Lola and March.

From the outset it was evident that maybe not enough thinking had gone into the new series. Definitive rules were not agreed until halfway through the season and driving standards were somewhat variable.

Nothing was too odd for F3000. When the F1 circus decided against holding its race at Spa in 1985 because the track was falling apart, the F3000 brigade nonetheless took to the circuit. The inevitable outcome was that many of them spun off as the track broke up. This was not unusual – the same thing happened and the frightening fast Enna-Pergusa circuit.

But the racing was good and the grids were healthy, with a smorgasbord of professional teams and some endearingly incompetent privateers. The inaugural season ended with a very unusual street race in Curacao (north of Venezuela).

The early years of F3000 were a success and grids grew rapidly to the extent that by 1988 there were regularly ten or so non-qualifiers at each race. Unfortunately it was also arguable that there were 20 or so no-hopers at each race.

By 1987 there were vocal concerns about driving standards and the number of unnecessary accidents, but 1988 was the nadir. A disastrous weekend at Brands Hatch resulted in more drivers being hospitalised than seeing the chequered flag. A severe accident ended the career of Michelle Trolle. Johnny Herbert suffered massive leg injuries.

The following weekend’s round on the short-lived Birmingham street circuit was another destruction derby, culminating in David Hunt (brother of 1976 champion James) vaulting the barriers.

Read more about the champions of Formula 3000 and GP2

Author information

Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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8 comments on “Formula 3000: A brief history (part 1)”

  1. GP2 is SO much better than F3000 was.

  2. Well, I know Wikipedia is not the most reliable source, but I got curious about Curacao Street Circuit and I didn’t find it on its “1985 Formula 3000 season” article. Was it a non-championship race or Wikipedia is completely wrong? I also made the average google search, found a few references on a “Curacao Grand Prix” that year, but nothing conclusive…

  3. It was a non-championship race held after the main season, on a very tight street track called the Willemstad Circuit. John Neilsen won from Ivan Capelli and Claudio Langes, according to my 1985 Autocourse. Take that, Wikipedia!

  4. … and after the race everybody had to have a compulsory shot of blue curacao :-)

  5. yer, there is a highlights video of that race on youtube!

  6. Yep highlights of the Curacao race are also tagged on the end of that years official F3000 video.

    There were a number of odd F3000 events. I seem to recall a non-Championship event in the winter of 1991 in Argentina.

    Also the British F3000 Championship held a couple of races around the streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which always struck me as an unusual choice of venue.

    Then there were the Helsinki races from 1996&97, another absurdly tight track. I have a DVD of the 1997 race and the commentary is literally ‘Oh he’s gone off, and him too’, only a handful of cars finished the race

    I’m feeling that my column next week may be about the street races that time forgot

  7. “I’m feeling that my column next week may be about the street races that time forgot”

    That sounds like an excellent feature, looking forward to that :-D

  8. Thanks guys!

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