Why you should watch… Superleague Formula

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The first race of the 2010 Superleague Formula season at Silverstone

Racing cars in football drag? It’s a strange idea but Andy and LJH reckon it works. Here’s why.

The first thing to do is forget the football. No, really. As far as motorsport fans are concerned, the club liveries need be nothing more than a novel way of telling the cars apart. When you watch Formula One, are you sparing a single thought for airlines, mobile phones or electric shavers? Well then.

Really, don’t get hung up about it. It’s just a sticker on the side of the car.

Watch Superleague Formula and you’ll be rewarded with a cracking good racing series that competes at top European venues in cars that will leave you weak at the knees.

It also offers opportunities for some really talented young racers, who might otherwise not even have a drive this year, to show off what they can do in seriously powerful machinery and against a scattering of grizzled ex-F1 veterans.

The races are streamed live and free on the series website so you’ll never have to fiddle about for hours trying to find a way to watch it. With proper commentary. And, if you want to go in person, admission is remarkably cheap.

What’s not to like here?

Well, if we haven’t convinced you yet, we hope you’ll read on for the low-down on the most attractive aspects of this under-appreciated single-seater series.

The cars

The AC Milan car

The cars are one of Superleague’s best features. They look like heavy artillery compared to the high-powered sniper rifles of Formula One, but the drivers love them, saying they are stable, powerful and remarkably trustworthy. That means they are happy to take any opportunity to race wheel-to-wheel, or even (gasp) frequently overtake.

They don’t go quite as fast as Formula One cars but that’s because Superleague is a spec series and doesn’t have teams of engineers constantly tweaking and improving. Fact is, they go pretty fast.

When Robin Webb, Superleague Formula’s Director of Competition, talks about his car a certain light comes into his eyes. He says of it: “We like to consider ourselves the naughty boys of motorsport. By that what I mean is we’ve bought V12 engines in.

“They’re not very green and they’re not diesels and they’re not running on batteries. But they give the most glorious sound and, at the end of the day, if you are a motor racing fan, you love the sound of a V12 engine.

“We insisted on going to two metres’ width, which is the old Formula One width. The second thing is we insisted on slicks, we didn’t see the benefit of grooved tyres at all. And we’ve got a 750 horsepower engine, V12, 4.2 litres, and it just seems to work very, very well.”

Day-to-day running of the teams is obviously not carried out by the football clubs – it is delegated to a professional racing outfit in the same way that, for instance, Richard Branson and Virgin teamed up with Manor Racing. Scratch the surface and you’ll find names like Alan Docking Racing, Hitech, Durango and Epsilon Euskadi – teams with credibility built up over years, many of which have operated GP2 or A1GP teams.

An amusing side note is that the Superleague V12, which is manufactured by Menard Competition Technologies, is one of a suite of three engines being used by Richard Noble to power the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car in its bid to reach 1,000mph and break the world land speed record in 2011.

So, no lack of power, then.

The drivers

Yelmer Buurman

Now for an unpalatable fact. When you watch Formula One, it’s sadly untrue that you’re watching the 24 most talented drivers in the world, the two dozen people that most deserve to be in those cars and who have got there on pure, coruscating talent alone.

It’s what fans want, but it’s not what they get. Like most other things, it’s all about money.

On the Formula One grid are 24 extremely talented drivers who have nevertheless also been in the fortunate position of finding funding for the opportunities that got them where they are today – such as the considerable cost of seasons driving in Formula Renault 3.5 or GP2.

If you’re actually serious about seeing what talent without funding looks like, then Superleague is one of the places you ought to check out.

We’d counsel forgetting about the F1 has-beens and also-rans like Giorgio Pantano (last year) and Narain Karthikeyan (this year). The other drivers love having them there, for the benchmark they provide, but they’re clearly not the ones that will get you excited.

For that, watch out for Craig Dolby, a 21-year-old from Leicestershire currently in his third Superleague season. Before the drive came along he was toiling in obscure Formula Renault series but last year he challenged for the championship with his signature stunt of creating overtaking opportunities where no-one else whatsoever can see them. This year he’s a championship front-runner with a fierce will to succeed.

Max Wissel, a 20-year-old from Alzenau in Germany with an uncanny resemblance to David Tennant, is another demon racer with passion, enthusiasm and speed who, also like Dolby, has a friendly and approachable manner that endears him to fans. The pair are off-track mates and teamed up in the Race for Heroes karting event at Milton Keynes earlier this year.

And Davide Rigon, a 23-year-old from Thiene in Italy, has been competing in the series since its inception having been badly hampered elsewhere by lack of budget whch repeatedly stops him making an impact in GP2. He won the 2008 championship and is back for 2010.

The venues

Superleague raced at Silverstone last month

F1-spec venues visited by Superleague in 2010 will include Magny-Cours and the Nurburgring. The series is also visiting the popular European destinations of Assen in the Netherlands and Zolder in Belgium. Portugal gets a look-in with the Algarve venue of Portimao while Spain is particularly well-represented with three dates at venues including Jarama.

In Britain Superleague used to be the preserve of Donington Park – while it was still operational – and the experience of standing in the vicinity of the Wheatcroft Straight listening to roar of approaching V12s was one not to be missed. Nor was Dolby’s defence against championship-winner Adrian Valles as the Spaniard went side-by-side around the Melbourne Hairpin in an attempt to overtake.

Sadly none of that is possible in 2010 but the series has compensated by calling at Silverstone and Brands Hatch instead.

This raises the point that getting out and watching grown-up open-wheel racing is a pursuit that can be quite difficult, especially since A1GP went bust. Formula One comes once a year and it costs a bloody fortune to attend. Junior formulas like Formula Renault, F3 or Formula Two are great to watch but they are something slightly different and anyway they often act as support series to bigger beasts.

With this in mind, Superleague Formula suddenly looks pretty good value, especially if you’re British, Spanish or living in the Low Countries and especially in regard to its ticket prices.

But, be warned. If exclusivity, paddock passes and large men in dark suits checking if your name’s on the list are your thing, forget about this race series. Go to an event and, in our experience, you’ll find an open paddock and even the chance to chat to the drivers, as long as you pick your time with a bit of forethought.

The prizes

The Porto car in action

This year Superleague Formula is exploiting a deal with Angolan oil firm Sonangol to pay out pots of cash to the teams and drivers that do well. The series’ prize fund has been increased to €5 million, with the championship-winning team in line for a cool €1 million.

When we said you can forget about football that was almost entirely true. However the structure of a race weekend is designed to resemble a football match so the visiting supporters aren’t completely disorientated. Thus qualifying is organised around two group stages and a knockout. There are two races of about 45 minutes each, one with a reversed grid to simulate changing ends.

After the races there is a superfinal (colloquially known as the ‘dash for the cash’) or face-off race between the weekend’s six best performers. There are cash prizes for the best-placed season finishers and, each weekend, the superfinal winner gets an additional €100,000 with smaller prizes for the rest of the top six.

In summary, Superleague is awash with cash this year and thus in a position to have a huge impact on European motorsport. As discussed above, a driver’s career is going nowhere if he or she doesn’t have the cash to fund the right opportunities, while teams compromise by taking on less-talented but better-funded drivers.

Now, there is a question-mark over who exactly is getting all this prize-money – whether it goes to the team or the driver presumably depends on the contracts agreed in each individual case. But this aspect of Superleague holds out the possibility of talented young drivers being able to do well enough to fund the next stage of their career – whether in Formula Two, F3 Euro Series, Formula Renault 3.5 or even GP2.

If nothing else we’ve said has convinced you that Superleague is worth watching, try this. The series is talking about a Formula One test for its champion this year.

We’re still a little bit sceptical since the idea has been floated but no concrete details have emerged. The cynics in us wonder if it’s a publicity stunt to make gullible people write breathless stories about something that will never happen. But that’s probably far too cynical.

So, if this actually happens (and with that much money about it seems very feasible), a Superleague driver is going to pop up on the radars of both F1 teams and their fans. And, if you want to appreciate what’s going on during winter testing, and have a good idea of the form of this newcomer, it won’t half help if you’ve got some idea of how their season went.

In other words, Superleague might just force you to pay attention by becoming too important to ignore. Luckily it shouldn’t be too much of a chore.

Superficially it may have ‘gimmick’ written all over it, but at its heart Superleague is a genuine racing series, run by people who really know the meaning of going racing.

Following Superleague Formula

What motorsport would you recommend other F1 fans to follow? If you want to put the case for your favourite non-F1 category write a guest article and send it in. More information here: Write a guest article for F1 Fanatic

Why you should watch…

This is a guest article by Andy and LJH from Brits on Pole.

39 comments on “Why you should watch… Superleague Formula”

  1. Sounds really rather good. I’ll definitely check it out.

  2. He’s right about the V12 engines, good call to use them.

  3. Does look inviting. The engines sound great in the video feeds. Shame the races are a bit far for me to join, but i will give watching a try.

  4. Nice article. Tonight i’m going to the SLF demo in the city centre of Assen. I’m going to watch the races on sunday as well. Should be good fun!

  5. Sounds a bit like a champions league version of A1GP

    1. More like the europa league as Liverpool are in it

  6. A 750 horsepower 4.2 litre V12 engine you say… I’ll have to keep an eye out for this.

  7. Robert McKay
    14th May 2010, 9:49

    Good article, I agree wholeheartedly.

    The novel race format is very good and the fact the cars can actually pass means that the reverse grid race isn’t the disaster it would be in F1, indeed it is excellent.

    Main winner for me is the calendar. It’s a bit like F1 was 10 years ago – lots of good European venues with lots of character, without the desperate need to squeeze ever penny out with endless boring desert identikit Tilkedromes in Asia, or street races or night race gimmicks.

    And I actually quite like the driver lineup. Montagny, Bourdais, Doornbos, Pantano? OK maybe not necessarily top-of-F1 names, but they are still good professional racing drivers. A bit like Grosjean carving out a career racing FIA GT1 right now, I think it’s good to know that there are places decent drivers can go when it doesn’t quite work for them in F1, and not just hang their helmets up straight away.

    And there’s plenty up-and-coming talent in the series too. I think overall it’s a better lineup than A1GP ever managed.

    So good article, good series. But you do have to look past the football bit.

  8. Fantastic article – thanks guys

  9. An interesting note on the Bloodhound car, if memory serves me correctly, the V12 engine’s sole role is to power the fuel pump for the jet engine.

    Thats one badass fuel pump!

    1. Auxiliary systems – fuel pump, electrics, that sort of stuff. Badass is the word!

    2. I can’t wait to see the Bloodhound reach 1000mph. An incredible challenge and incredible group of engineers.

  10. Excellent article Andy and LJH! Superleague truly seems a very viable series. And the best part about it for me is that the cars look how a proper formula car should! They bear no resemblance to junior level cars such as Formula 2 or the Formula Renaults, they look like how F1 cars truly should look. How is it that both Superleague and the last generation A1GP cars, even GP2 cars have found a way to solve their aero issues with regards to overtaking while still being attractive racing cars? I think the 2010 designs of F1 are an improvement, but they still aren’t there yet. These Superleague cars however are bloody beautiful!

  11. Ah nice to see an article about the Superleague Formula! I’m going to the race in Assen this weekend.

    Bit depressing that they planned it on the same weekend as the Monaco GP though.

    What’s disturbing with the Dutch event is that it’s a lot more expensive than at other venue’s. I’m paying 200 euro for a grand stand seat (not numbered!) and 2 day paddock passes. At other venue’s grandstand seats for the whole weekend with paddock access won’t cost more than 50 to 65 euro.

    Of course I could have one for standing or cheaper grandstand seats and no paddock access and spent 50 or 80 euro in Assen too, but still.

    On the other hand, the paddock passes allow a half an hour pit walk when it’s filled with the SF cars. So I hope that will be good. Stupid thing is that it’s just before the race so without numbered seats I can only hope I can find a good spot again.

    What I don’t like obaut the rules is the points scoring system (50, 45 and 40 points for P1 till P3 for instance) and the reversed grids (for the second race). The points reward consistency even more than they do in F1.

    I actually do like that the drivers are a mix of ex F1 drivers like Robert Doornbos, Narain Karthikeyan, Sebastien Bourdais and Franck Montagny together with up and coming drivers like Craig Dolby, Franck Perera and Yelmer Buurman.

    I also like that they have such a jam packed program. There is always something happening without big breaks in between. I remember standing in the mud of Spa Formula 1 weekends waiting for an hour or two hours in between sessions. Especially on Sundays. Basically nothing but a drivers parade and some Porches coming by before the race.

    The main website is a bit of a drag to get through. The wiki pages are easier to read:

    1. I also like that they have such a jam packed program. There is always something happening without big breaks in between. I remember standing in the mud of Spa Formula 1 weekends waiting for an hour or two hours in between sessions. Especially on Sundays. Basically nothing but a drivers parade and some Porches coming by before the race.

      F1’s starting to get a bit better for this at some of the European rounds where they now have GP2, GP3, Formula BMW and Porsches (Monaco is a bit of an exception, of course).

      But the lack of support events at some of the flyaway races as very poor, as we were discussing here just the other week:

      Would more support races help boost crowds at F1’s new venues?

      1. Yeah I remembered that article. That’s why I mentioned they really got this under control in SF.

    2. monaco GP was moved one week earlier than expected (monte carlo and turkey was supposed to be back2back. but logistical problems changed date) . SLF date was set before knowing that

  12. I’ve been keeping a close eye on this series for about a year and a half now. The racing it provides is good and on track battles are encouraged by the stewards themselves.

    It’s definitely worth a watch.

  13. Are these the A1 GP chassis that were locked in the warehouse and then seized with a replacement ferrari engine?

    1. No, they are completely separate and unconnected. The administrators of A1GP are still trying to sell the series as a going concern.

      You can find details of the auction here: http://www.go-dove.com/event-14131/A1GP-Opportunity-to-acquire-Grand-Prix-race-cars-powered-by-Ferrari

      The Superleague cars were designed and built especially for the series by Elan Motorsports Technologies. Some folks say they bear a close resemblance to the Panoz DP01 of the Champ Car series, which Elan also built, but they aren’t actually the same machines.

  14. Its all very well, but when I read the Superleague website, I got the impression that all they were interested in was beating F1 at its own game (as if they are competing), and making rude gestures to anything that wasn’t Superleague or soccer related.
    Another minor thing that I found was that its not clear where the money comes from to pay for the cars, the drivers or the mechanics, although all profits eventually find their way back to the soccer clubs.
    It is stated that the soccer clubs are not paying for car, driver or mechanics, and most don’t even appear to acknowledge that they have an interest apart from allowing the team colours to be shown.
    As a racing fan, I am always interested in new forms of the sport, but I really question the motives behind Superleague, apart from a way for the poor soccer clubs to make even more money…….. :-)

    1. Robert McKay
      14th May 2010, 12:23

      I don’t know if it’s just a way for the poor soccer clubs to make even more money, but it’d certainly interesting to know where the prize fund money actually comes from – because as of yet it’s neither from gate receipts nor TV money, surely.

      1. Does the money go back to the soccer clubs? We rather got the impression it went to the race teams running the cars on their behalf. Can’t swear to which it is.

        As for who’s paying, we figure that must be Sonangol, the Angolan oil company with deep pockets that also funds the adventures of GP2/F2 driver Ricardo Teixeira. A not wholly uncontroversial source…

      2. Please see below for the reply that was supposed to have posted here. It addresses your prize fund question, among other things.

        Don’t know why it didn’t post here. I must have zigged when I should have zagged.

  15. I’m following SF since the beggining two years ago, when there were only 6 races that season!! The cars aren’t really fast indeed but the races have plenty of battles(since the cars are equal, it’s totally up to the drivers to “fight” and they do!) and the sound of the V12s, wow! I’ll definitely watch it this year too.

  16. great article, thanks guys!

  17. Nice article guys – I love how the cars look, and that they have V12 engines!

    But is there any way to watch SF from home?

      1. I didn’t realise it was free to watch online, or even broadcast online. Seems surprising considering it’s shown on ESPN which is a subscription only channel.

        1. HounslowBusGarage
          14th May 2010, 14:52

          Free-to-view. Brilliant idea. Maximises the exposure for the sponsors and for the racing series. Compare to Bernie’s F1 which spends its time scouring You Tube for clips to be removed!

  18. From the article:
    “This year Superleague Formula is exploiting a deal with Angolan oil firm Sonangol to pay out pots of cash to the teams and drivers that do well. The series’ prize fund has been increased to €5 million, with the championship-winning team in line for a cool €1 million.”

    I should think that is where the prize money is coming from. At least for this season.

    The Superleague series is FiA sanctioned, so there can’t be much in the way of shady money deals. And there evidently is a good arrangement as to division of prize money–otherwise the drivers and racing outfits wouldn’t keep coming back.

    And finally a European series has something nice to say about NASCAR:
    “Inspired by Nascar, our ‘open-to-all’ philosophy will also mean that fans can get access to the paddock, to the rear of the garages (which will be open for viewing) and to meet their football and racing heroes.” Bless their hearts, they certainly got that part right!

    I want to thank Andy and LJH for a great article, and for bringing what appears to be a very interesting series to my attention. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle, I’d completely missed it. Thanks guys!

  19. Regarding where the money is coming from it sure is a bit of a mystery. I sure cannot imagine Sonangol paying anything in the double digit millions for title sponsorship because, if they had that kind of money, they would take it to F1!

    The American Le Mans Series, which has a pretty decent viwership figures and TV coverage (not to mention some connection to racing fans!!) was rumored to have sold their title sponsorship rights for $2 million. I can not imagine SF commanding more value.

    The cars are not owned by the football clubs or teams that operate them, which is why the operating teams for the clubs have been bit of a revolving door so far. The cars are likely leased during the season and the teams likely pay for only the operating costs and spares during the season and race for the prize money.

    As for the ticket buying erm….. crowd, to put it mildly it is not a lot. So where exactly is the money coming from?

    Likely from an investor (questionable description though). If you see the race broadcasts carefully you can see signboards of a company called “Al Qudra Holdings”. Sounds like a middle easter Hedgefund in the same vein as RAB Captial (A1GP anyone?)

    I liked the A1GP concept better than this. But to establish an alternate professional racing series against F1 will need really deep pockets and an extremely patient investor behind it, which i am not sure thy have.

    For what its worth, the series seems to be managed pretty decently and seems to be being built up gradually unlike the all guns blazing approach of A1GP, which ultimately led to the demise of it.

    1. Robert McKay
      15th May 2010, 16:12

      Agree. Ultimately SF were giving similar amounts of prize money before Sonangol got involved as title sponsor, so I suspect there must be more to the prize fund source than just this title sponsorship.

      But I think you are right on not trying to grow too quickly. A1GP’s move from Zytek and Cooper to Ferrari and Michelin seemed impressive at the time, but ultimately they couldn’t afford it so soon.

  20. you should watch this: 24h Nurburgring



    fantastic cars on the world´s best track

  21. wow, i hadn’t even heard of this series. Yet another one to watch it seems, it sounds very good. I like the sound of wide cars, slicks and v12s. The soccer sponsorship is a bit wierd at first, but im sure i’d get over it quickly. But good article, thanks for the heads up.

  22. I watched the Assen race and it was filled with action but I had a feeling that the racing was a bit artificial with push to pass button and obligatory pit stops at set pit stop window.

  23. the superleague formula event at donington park in august last year was the first race i’d ever been to, and it was a fantastic day out! it was cheap, 20 quid a ticket and very accessible with open grandstands and paddocks, we wandered round all the track. got to see the cars up close when they were dismantling them at the end, and the noise of the cars going past from the rolling start.. well, its something to behold for sure! my brother even got his photo taken from antonio piazzonia just wandering around the paddock when he raced for corinthians even though he was wearing his liverpool top! the support races were a1 too, FIA historic formula one, british superkarts (those little things are crazy!) formula jedi and a host of car racing. Unsure on lap times for things but i timed one of the historic f1 cars at 1.34 something.. Donington is truly one of the great tracks of this country and i’m glad to see that its returning to hosting motor racing events! and the sound of those v12s is something you will never forget!

  24. I actually saw Superleague for the first time just the other week. Completely by accident stumbled into it when flicking the channels during a non GP weekend.

    My first thoughts were:
    1. those cars look good and sound great
    2. do Liverpool serious think they’re going to overtake Tottenham?
    3. what on earth is Porto doing playing english football
    4. hold on, this isnt football
    5. this is great!

    Have to say, i loved Superleague instantly. One thing I struggle with when watching a racing series I’m not familiar with for the first few times is getting some kind of buy in to it. I like to be able to follow a particular team or driver, someone to really will on to get to the front and get the result. Don’t get me wrong, I love racing for racing’s sake (when it’s good racing), but it’s not quite the same if you’re not rooting for someone in particular.

    What Superleague has, at least for football fans is an instant hook. For racing fans it also has a smattering of familiar names and faces from recent times that makes you think, “oh, so that’s what happened to him!”.

    Only seen it the once so far, but will definitely be watching more.

  25. Just as a footnote, the three drivers we highlighted in this feature went on to finish 1-2-3 in the championship, Rigon-Dolby-Wissel, with the result in doubt until the final couple of laps!

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