Is F1’s feeder series giving its champions the schooling they need?

Dieter's Inbox

Posted on

| Written by

Does Formula 2 sufficiently prepare drivers for F1? Of the recent champions in the final series before F1, Charles Leclerc is thriving, but his predecessors Stoffel Vandoorne, Jolyon Palmer and now Pierre Gasly haven’t.

Other a few champions have-all but disappeared almost without a trace. The 2012 GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi can still be found in the paddock but he’s bedecked in Sky TV Italia gear, not racing overalls. His successor Fabio Leimer also drifted away from the F1 paddock without securing a drive, and since his lacklustre 2015 Formula E season little has been heard about the Swiss. Jolyon Palmer lasted a couple of seasons in F1, but has also joined the ranks of the microphone-wielders.

Of the 14 champions GP2/F2 has feted since 2005, all but aforementioned two made it to the Formula 1 grid, with Giorgio Pantano winning the 2008 championship after previously dropping out of F1. Of the remaining 11, two became F1 world champions – Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton – while just two others, namely Pastor Maldonado (once, rather fortuitously) and Charles Leclerc (twice), stood atop an F1 podium.

True, Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean enjoy solid F1 careers but neither has performed strongly enough to have caught the eye of top teams, while Stoffel Vandoorne and Pierre Gasly were shown up by their respective team-mates Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen – both of whom rank as F1 superstars.

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, Interlagos, 2018
Dominant GP2 champion Vandoorne lost his McLaren F1 drive
Rosberg, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Grosjean all came into F1 during times of intensive testing, and thus it could be argued that F1 and not GP2/F2 prepared them for the top category, particularly when one considers that four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel and multiple grand prix winners Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen went directly from F3 to F1, with Kimi Raikkonen skipping F3 completely.

The observation that GP2/F2 has not prepared drivers for life in F1 is valid to an extent, for there are various crucial factors at play. These include the structures of motorsport’s junior categories, which rely on specification technologies that may not be deviated from.

From F4 through to F2 drivers are required to adapt to spec cars, with no development permitted at all and only set-up changes allowed within extremely tight parameters. During his title-winning year Leclerc was stripped of pole position at the Hungaroring after his team erroneously substituted one washer for another.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

However, once these young drivers have been through feeder mill and move up to F1 they are expected to develop the most technologically advanced and complex cars on the planet with potentially negligible experience of them. The first F1 car Alexander Albon drove was Toro Rosso’s factory-fresh STR14.

They are up against drivers with years of hybrid experience, yet they are expected to deliver immediately or get written off…

George Russell, Force India, Interlagos, 2017
Mercedes gave Russell F1 testing chances
It can, of course, be argued that all incoming drivers are subject to the same circumstances. But the fact is that the more technically astute drivers fare better in F1, and unless junior drivers are fortunate enough to be snapped by F1 teams with top class simulation facilities – as was Leclerc by Ferrari – they are likely to be on the back foot when it comes to development work and final set-up.

I believe that from a car development perspective George Russell and Lando Norris – first and second in last year’s F2 championship – benefitted more from the hours they spent last year in the Mercedes/ McLaren simulators respectively than they did from all their seat time in F2. Equally, Nyck de Vries, on target to bag this year’s F2 title, is moonlighting as a Mercedes simulator driver.

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

Nonetheless, the biggest single factor explaining the relative lack of F1 results among F2 champions is the sport’s inequitable structure. Since 2014 no driver from outside of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull has won a grand prix, and all six seats have generally been tied up by experienced drivers. Thus, all GP2/F2 champions – with one exception, Leclerc – have simply not had the opportunities of making their mark in a top team. As noted here recently, he is only the sixth new race winner to emerge in the past decade.

GP2/F2 has not delivered to the extent that its architects envisaged. But equally F1 has played a part in not providing equitable opportunities to those who have the talent to succeed: F1, F2 and F3 are all owned by the same entity, Liberty Media.

Unless F1 becomes more ‘open’, as Liberty aims to achieve with F1’s post-2021 regulations, the situation is unlikely to change much. Even if it does, the lack of test and development opportunities will remain a negative factor – as the stellar careers of Rosberg and Hamilton, both of whom benefitted from open seat time during their formative F1 years, can attest.

[dietersinbox]

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Dieter’s Inbox

Browse all Dieter’s Inbox articles

Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

Posted on Categories 2019 F1 season articles, Dieter's InboxTags , , , ,

Promoted content from around the web | Become a RaceFans Supporter to hide this ad and others

  • 37 comments on “Is F1’s feeder series giving its champions the schooling they need?”

    1. Was it not a similar story with GP2/F2’s predecessor F3000.

      I remember been told in 2004 when GP2 was announced that no former F3000 champion had won an F1 championship & that only 3 F3000 champions ever won an F1 race (Alesi, Panis & Montoya).

      And up until 1996 F3000 wasn’t a spec series either. In the 80’s you even had teams running old F1 cars with restricted aero & de-tuned DFV engines.

      1. And also the only F3000 drivers to win the F1 championship were Damon Hill and Fernando Alonso

        1. Yes this is hardly a new problem. In the past the issue was that the top talent skipped F2 / F3000 altogether. Eg Senna Prost Schumi
          And therefore the winning in F3000 was left to really good drivers but not world champion material.
          I think the issue now continues to be talent. You only have a fraction of drivers who can be GP winners and WDC. You can’t expect every year to have an emerging super driver

      2. Quite. The first question to ask is how many drivers we’d expect to come through in an average year.

        There are half a dozen potentially race-winning seats in F1, drivers good enough to occupy them tend to have 10+ year careers, so <0.6 per year.

        The article states we've in fact had exactly 0.6 new race winners per year in the last ten years, which is slightly more than we might expect.

        1. Last three occupants of the race-winning seats of the hybrid era (note: some of these will stretch back to before the hybrid era). Note that I’m rounding up all partial seasons to complete ones:

          Mercedes:
          Lewis Hamilton 2013-present (7) / Michael Schumacher 2010-2012 (3) / Jenson Button 2003-2009 (7) Average – 5.66 years
          Valterri Bottas 2017-present (3) / Nico Rosberg 2010-2016 (6) / Rubens Barrichello 2007-2009 (3) – Average – 4 years

          Team average tenure – 4.83 years

          Ferrari:

          Vettel 2015-present (5) / Fernando Alonso 2010-2014 (5) / Kimi Raikkonen 2007-2009 (3) – Average – 4.33 years
          Leclerc 2019-present (1) / Kimi Raikkonen 2014-2018 (5) / Felipe Massa 2006-2013 (8) – Average – 4.66 years

          Team average tenure – 4.5 years

          Red Bull

          Verstappen 2016-present (4) / Daniil Kyvat 2015-2016 (2) / Sebastian Vettel 2009-2014 (6) – Average – 4 years
          Albon 2019-present (1) / Gasly 2019-later in 2019 (1) / Riccardo 2014-2018 (5) – Average 2.33 years

          Team average tenure – 3.16 years

          Total race-winning team average tenure – 4.16 years
          Race-winning seats – 6
          Time in a decade – 10 years (so 60 seat-years available)

          Number of drivers expected to have a chance of winning a race in the last 10 years based on averages: 14 (the number is 14.42, but you can’t have 0.42 of a driver in the car because drivers are integers).

          Number of drivers who have actually won a race in the last 10 years: 11 (this differs from the article because I’m counting “10 years backwards from today” and also doesn’t consider whether they won prior to the 10 years in question. Hence, I am counting:
          – all 6 “new victory” drivers RaceFans counts
          – Mark Webber (Brazil 2009 and other victories)
          – Fernando Alonso (Bahrain 2010 et al)
          – Jenson Button (China 2010 et al)
          – Lewis Hamilton (Turkey 2010 et al)
          – Kimi Raikkonen (Abu Dhabi 2012 et al)

          Rubens Barrichello’s Italy 2009 victory misses out by a matter of days).

          Depending on how you count Rubens’ victory, we’re either 2 or 3 winners short of what the tenure situation would imply we should have. The average of just over 4 years is long enough for anyone likely to win at the top-tier team they joined to achieve it. There are 3 explanations remaining:

          1) some of these teams weren’t actually race-win-ready teams for some of this period (Mercedes pre-2012 counts)

          2) some of these drivers were not race-win-ready and/or a good fit for the team at the time of hire (Red Bull could write a novel about this)

          3) fewer chances than statistically expected for new drivers to join (arguably the case for Ferrari and Mercedes alike – though with Mercedes, the statistic that they have won 5 of the last 10 constructor titles on that strategy is as good a counter-response as necessary.

      3. @gt-racer, you are indeed correct that the drivers champions in the predecessor to GP2, the International Formula 3000, never went on to win the Formula 1 title, with only those three drivers winning races.

        As others have noted, it is correct to note that there are two former drivers from the International Formula 3000 series who went on to become champions in F1, even though they didn’t win a title at that level – Alonso finished in 4th in his single season, whilst Hill’s best position in the championship was only 7th place.

        The only other Formula 3000 series of note was the Japanese Formula 3000 series, and again no championship winning driver from that series ever won in F1 either – the four drivers in question being Satoru Nakajima, Ukyo Katayama, Aguri Suzuki and Marco Apicella, although the latter barely counts as he had a total of one race for Jordan.

        You can extend it back even further by going back to the original European Formula 2 series, which ran from 1967 through to 1984, before it was then replaced by Formula 3000: none of the drivers who won that series ever went on to win a Formula 1 title either.

        It should also be noted that a lot of the early champions in the European Formula 2 series were actually Formula 1 drivers who took advantage of the licence rules of the time to double up in Formula 2 races. From 1967 through to 1976, every single winner of the Formula 2 title was a Formula 1 driver who was racing in Formula 2 on the side – you have to go to Arnoux in 1977 to find the first Formula 2 winner who wasn’t already driving in Formula 1, and there were others who won the title whilst driving in parallel in Formula 1, or even came back down to Formula 2 after falling out of Formula 1 (Brian Henton is one example of that).

        Whilst Dieter might ask whether GP2 did poorly at preparing drivers for F1, it is the only second tier formula over the past 50 years where a driver who won that championship went on to win the Formula 1 drivers championship.

    2. I think your comment about the drivers who have skipped F2 altogether answers the question. In baseball in the USA, the farm club system acts similarly to feeder series in motorsports. Oftentimes the best young players skip the AAA level (the level just below Major League Baseball) entirely and jump from AA to MLB in one go. It seems like oftentimes the top notch talent (Verstappen, etc.) gets identified and pulled to F1 early.

    3. There are a number of factors at play. Firstly, a driver has to be exceptional in lower categories to make a Formula One team take a punt on displacing experienced current incumbents for a “rookie”. Hamilton was, Leclerc was, Vandoorne was, Hulkenberg was… as well as several other examples. If that driver is tied to a young driver set up, there also has to be space in the team, for example; Mercedes are unwilling to get rid of Hamilton or Bottas for Russell or Ocon.

      There is only so much space on the grid and drivers quickly go from being a big fish in a small pond to being a comparatively small fish with everything to prove again. Vandoorne is a good example here; he was incredible in lower categories, but then compared horribly to Fernando Alonso. If you’re not going to be a World Champion, unfortunately you’re unlikely to find a place in Formula One, unless you can make a name as a consistent midfield runner like Grosjean, Perez or Hulkenberg.

      Frankly, some GP2/F2 champions were never going to find a long-term place in F1; I’m thinking of Pantano, Leimer and Palmer specifically. Some become champions through longevity and a comparatively poor year.

      I think the series is doing exactly as it’s supposed to. Not all drivers are good enough for Formula One, which is why that “ladder” is in place. As a young driver, you climb up it until you find your level. Some are good enough for Formula Three, some are good enough for Formula Two (Leimer), some make it to Formula One but are found out (Palmer, Vandoorne), some are Formula One midfield level (Hulkenberg, Grosjean), some are World Champion material (Hamilton, Rosberg etc.).

      The cream rises to the top.

      1. Fully agree with this, great comment

      2. Good comment. I would like to add the following: I think we are overlooking the importance for young drivers to get a car that suits them well in their first years.

        Nowadays, testing are very limited: 10 years ago driver were recording more mileage in 1 winter than a driver gets in a 1,5 full season today. When the season started, they were ready, car/setup/integration with engineering team, all set.

        Today, almost no real life testing is allowed. Sim exist, but I pretty much doubt that it helps a driver to really “feel” the car.

        Moreover, the teams are today able to pre-set the car in the theoretical optimal setup, which means that driver are expected to be fast from the get-go (while before time needed to be given for driver-engineer to build a baseline).

        IMHO, it means that when a driver comes in F1, he needs to be lucky: the car is sufficiently close to what he likes, everything will be ok, setup close to optimal, he can pretty much extract performance out of the car. Car is not close to what he likes: the driver is struggling to feel the car, to feel and manage the tires (which is today a killer), cannot built his confidence, all start to go wrong. And when it start to go wrong, very quickly, team/media/fans loose confidence, the team stop delivering updates that go in the driver’s direction and it’s only a matter of time when it’s over.

    4. The thing that baffles me most with F2 is that nobody really cares about it. Take football as a counter example – millions of people watch the premier league but a lot of people still watch the championship too. Perhaps if liberty promoted F2 as a viable sport itself it would enable more money to come into the series and potentially enable F2 teams to provide a better platform for young drivers. F2 is currently only really mentioned as a ‘who will get to F1’ – the teams who we rely on to nurture the future talent of F1 barely even get a mention. I’m a fairly dedicated F1 fan but yet have only watched a couple of F2 races and would struggle to name more than 2/3 teams in the championship. It’s a bizarre situation which I think Liberty should look at fixing.

      1. I think it’s more apt a comparison of the world cup vs the u21’s world cup rather than division 1 vs 2, and as such i doubt you will see a large change in viewing interest, having said that i do think more regular fans are more interested in the feeder series now, at least in passing, i know thats the case for myself

      2. Magnus Rubensson (@)
        13th September 2019, 13:48

        Liberty could always take a look at the Moto3 – Moto2 – MotoGP structure and run F3 – F2 – F1 in a similar way.
        Obviously the F1 races need to be Grand Prix length.

      3. With lower tier football people support their teams not the series. To make it this way with F2 you could open the regs a bit and have F1 second teams like Fiat(Ferrari) or Citreon(Renault). This could generate more interest from spectators as well as allow drivers more experience in helping develop a car.

      4. At this rate a sort of F2400- detuned old V8 f1s – might be the only way for a young driver to have access to F1 at all. The budget cap in F1 can’t come soon enough. We need new teams as proving grounds for youth at the very least, if not as actual contenders.

      5. Agreed, and unlike MotoGP where we can watch all three races and qualifying live, there’s no TV coverage of F2/F3 that I can find. (It’s as frustrating as being a QPR fan !)
        Could it be that us across the pond think that IndyCar should be the ‘feeder’ series ? ….I do.

      6. @Shadow Draig In the UK, it’s supposed to be completely broadcast on Sky but sometimes, even qualifying for it is not shown due to wanting to do a studio show about F1.

    5. Jose Lopes da Silva
      13th September 2019, 13:04

      The harsh reality is this: almost all the biggest talents are sucked on to F1 before they get into the “F3000/GP2/F2” step it appeared almost 35 years ago. Senna, who skipped this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_European_Formula_Two_Championship, Schumacher, Hakkinen, Raikkonen, Verstappen are examples. Alonso and Hamilton are not exception because Hamilton had already been grabbed by McLaren before achieving that step, and Alonso was already in Briatore’s radar in 2000.

      If you got to the “F3000/GP2/F2” step, that’s because you did not made such a good impression before that.

      This validates Helmut Marko’s strategy of relentlessly searching for the number one talent.

      Things will change due to the logical and obvious ladder finally created by the FIA. But then we have the inequitable structure explained by Dieter.

      I wish all the best for De Vries in Formula E. I deeply regret no one was mentioning him to take a place in Alfa Romeo or Ferrari, like they’re doing to the 11th placed of the F2 championship. If we had 30 cars on the qualifying like in 1989, De Vries would surely get a seat.

    6. I think this misses a small detail. The changes made in F2 in F3 when Liberty took them under their wing, a direct comparison with GP2, or saying they are the same it isn’t right.

      F3 and F2 are now much more involved with the F1 circus then they ever were, that grants the drivers a bigger contact with top teams. Previously teams would go and get their driver from whatever they were shinning, from a couple years that has changed, but it hasn’t produced the necessary results, simply because we need more time to see them. But the message is clear, if you want to reach F1 the ladder is clear and should be F3, F2 and finally F1. I think we will see more and more of that, especially with driver programs. Of course there will be exceptions, but simply making a conclusion that the feeder series don’t work is unfair, because things have changed. I wouldn’t be surprise if we see a repeat of Russell, Lando and Albon situation.

      There is also another factor at play, and that we will be able to see this year. The top drivers in F2 have too much of experience in the feeder series, teams usually search for drivers that shine almost instantly, and that didn’t happen for example with De Vries, Latifi (still to happen actually), Ghiotto, Sette Camara…

      To conclude, Vandoorne, Palmer, Leclerc and Gasly, all different situations yet put in the same bag. Vandoorne was sacrificed at McLaren with all the team’s energy going towards Alonso. Palmer is one of those that had too much experience when he first won GP2, never appeared to be world class imho. Leclerc is in his second season as is Gasly, they seem to have suffered different destinies already, but it is still too soon. And the rookies, better no mention them yet, still I think they will all be in the grid next year, and they all had a positive season so far

      1. didn’t do spell check and it shows, sorry

      2. @johnmilk I mostly agree, except for the explanation about Vandoorne. I don’t think there is any concrete evidence that McLaren neglected Vandoorne. If anything they were quite patient with him. The team always came across as supporting, acknowledging the difficulties of the car, etc. In short, I still don’t understand the Vandoorne situation, as he hasn’t really impressed in FE either.

        1. @ajpennypacker fair argument

          I never was his biggest fan either if I’m honest

    7. I think that the new cars for 2018 in F2 were closer to F1 cars, still quite far off, but compared to the 2017 cars (which I think were still basically the 2012 spec iirc) they certainly look much more similar, which could well have helped especially Albon adapt so quickly to F1, but also that we had 3 such quick guys in F2, already looking so quick in F1.
      Of course Leclerc did very well in F2 in 2017 with the old cars and transitioned that into F1, but he did struggle in the first couple of races and really had to adapt his driving style to be more competitive, which he did very successfully in a way that guys like Markelov and Rowland (2nd and 3rd in 2017) probably wouldn’t have been able to do. So I’m chalking that more up to Leclerc’s raw talent than him being prepared.
      I don’t know if that idea of the newer cars being more similar and making the transition easier has any merit, but it’s something to think about. Not saying that Russell/Norris/Albon aren’t incredibly talented, of course they are, all have world champion potential, but it could’ve been interesting if they were all a year or 2 older and moving into F1 from the old GP2 cars, to see whether they’d have been so immediately quick like they’ve shown.

    8. Thus, all GP2/F2 champions – with one exception, Leclerc – have simply not had the opportunities of making their mark in a top team.

      That is not entirely correct, Pierre Gasly has this opportunity. And I think his good performances at Toro Rosso show that it hasn’t necessarily to do with F2 or being a simulator driver for a big team. Sometimes it’s simply a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Go and ask poor old Stoffel Vandoorne.

      1. *had this opportunity

      2. Stoffel was much better than Alonso’s pr team managed to make him look. Alonso had a faster car at all times, usually significantly faster, but he couldn’t always beat him.

    9. F2 is too technical for a feeder series, feeder series must isolate speed, the teams do the engineering. F2 with Pirelli just highlights Pirelli. Charles stands out because somehow he managed to dominate f2 dark arts, he is very clever, is he that quick? Also some generations are not that great.

    10. For me it’s pretty simple, the lack of on track testing. In the “old days” a young driver could spend 1 to 3 years as a test driver and rack up thousands of miles driving an F1 car and working with an F1 team before they were expected to race in F1. The cost cutting measures have eliminated that, so now a young driver is expected to get in an F1 car, have very little winter testing and then race at a high level. Is it any wonder that so many are failing, they’ve basically removed the F1 University and are asking them to go from high school straight to an elite workforce.

      1. What if there was a rookies only testing ban lift ? – anyone in their first 18months in f1 (with a grid spot) can test as much as the teams want, or close to it… FIA sets the days or mileage etc. The driver gets to grips with car, gets mileage, gets to their level a little quicker. It would soon become apparent who can cut it and who can’t. Maybe make it at a non race venue track? I’m sure the teams would use it to test car development, but perhaps the two goals are not exclusive (given the teams most rookies drive for).

    11. I thought it was obvious F2 is not truly preparing drivers for F1…
      It has been also the case long before it was called F2 – neither GP2, nor Formula 3000 produced Champions, who went to be Champions in F1 (with only mentioned Hamilton and Rosberg as exceptions).
      It has been the case well since 1985… so if some is surprised in 2019… well, welcome to F1!

    12. It’s all about timing. Of course some will make it up to F1 one way or another. Now there are 20 seats to fill and most of them are quite steady. When 20 or so years ago there were teams like Minardi, Ligier, Pacific. Those seats (for one reason or another) weren’t so steady. You saw driver changes a way more often than nowadays. Even though not all drivers were necessary fast enough for F1 but still there were a good bunch of drivers. Just imagine if we would have 30 names in the championship standing this year. I think when there are fewer teams every race and point counts and you don’t see teams swiching drivers midseason because they need the continuity to built the team more stable.

    13. i think a problem with the feeder series now is that they have all started throwing gimmicks at them in order to be more about entertainment than purely about highlighting the drivers pure speed.

      in the early years of gp2 for example the cars were designed to be able to race as well as test the drivers with no artificial aids to assist them. when you were watching lewis hamilton in 2006 it was clear that he was a special talent because he was always driving those cars to the limit, demonstrating not just his pure speed but also his race craft both defending, attacking & overtaking.

      as the years have gone by they have adopted things like drs and high degredation tyres. the drs has removed some of the race craft and it’s usually far more overpowered than in f1 so drivers ar enot able to highlight the race craft as well anymore or need to think about trying to do proper overtakes.
      on top of that you have the high degredation tyres that mean its no longer about pure speed and more often than not it is the drivers that have been in the category longer who understand the tyres best that do better which is why we have drivers staying there long term now.

      they need to take the junior series back to been what they were. a more pure series aimed purely at highlighting the driver skill rather than been full of gimmicks to spice up the show because that clearly isn’t working as well as when the series was free of the gimmicks.

      i mean could we have a recovery drive like hamilton at istanbul 2006 with todays tyres? the race that pretty much cemented him as one of the best racers around. i do not think we would.

    14. About f3000 era, some really good driver never find a seat in f1 to prove himself. They had successful career in Indycar like De Ferran.
      I remember Eddie Jordan saying that a f3 driver who was able to win half of the total events in the national category, was f1 material.

    15. It seems that to make it in the top reaches of F2, one pretty much needs to be connected with a team already. That hasn’t always been true, but it means some of the drivers now have access to far more training resources than previously. The effect is partially down to being forced to spend a lot of time with teams to make up for the lack of pre-F1 testing opportunities (simulators can teach a lot but not everything) and to allow time to gel with their F1 teams (it’s striking that drivers simply don’t leave their initial F1 teams purely down to to “personal differences” or anything akin to this any more).

      Another element is being forced to put some drivers into F2, because if a driver has an unlucky season in F3, they may be still on course to earn a F1 seat, and possibly even ready for it then and there, without having enough points to make that choice. (Conversely, a driver who has the points is likely to get promoted as soon as there’s a vacancy in a slot their F1 team is able to secure for them).

      There are so few options for alternative proofs of readiness now that teams are forced to put drivers in F2 if F3 didn’t work out for them – unless they have particular confidence that for a specific driver, some alternative (such as Super Formula) is a) going to work (Dan Ticktum just showed the risk in doing this) and b) that it would be relevant enough to F1 for them to still be F1-ready after getting sufficient points for a Superlicence (possibly an issue for Brendon Hartley, who was Superlicence-eligible on the back of a WEC LMP1 title).

      Finally, F2 is an expensive series. Millions of dollars per driver. F1 teams can’t afford the reputational or, in some cases, financial risk of failure due to lack of preparation on their part, so they spend a lot on giving their drivers the best shot at the title, or at least a high enough position to cement their F1 eligibility. This is making F1 team backing increasingly recommended for arrival in F2. Eventually this will lead to an increase in champions from that direction, but it will limit competition, because the best of the independent competition will turn aside in favour of other series before F2, by obligation or, increasingly, by choice. I’d even posit that in the long term, it could lead to weaker drivers coming through because they’ve not had such stern competition as previously (or as the current crop, since the trend for good but unlinked drivers to change tack in F3 is still emerging and Mercedes in particular is still establishing how many junior drivers it actually needs at a time).

      The drivers who get through to F1, ever since the Super Aguris, Jordans and Minardis of the F1 world finished getting bought out in 2008, have been drivers with established links to F1 teams preceding their arrival in F1. Due to the sheer number of resources getting thrown at F2 due to the effects listed above, and the better independents getting put off due to being priced out and paid alternatives existing for F3-level drivers, it is not surprising that the remaining independents are perhaps not as good, on average, as in previous years. In a year where the F1-team-backed drivers mostly managed to get promoted last year (de Vries being the main exception), that makes things more difficult to judge, hence the “perhaps” and also resulting in reluctance… …especially since those promotions have been successful and there isn’t really anywhere to put the drivers.

      It is not possible to discuss independents in F2 or its precedesors without mentioning the midfield trap. Even before the junior driver system got codified, there was a tendency among top teams to rely primarily on drivers with whom a relationship was already established (perhaps via testing, or a management arrangement) and on drivers who perform well in a different top team or 2nd-tier team. We talk about 2-tier F1 now, but there have been eras where it was more like 4 or even 5 tiers, and even a spectacularly good driver is unlikely to make enough of an impression in a 4th-tier team to jump to a 2nd-tier team (thus high enough to attract a top team’s notice for the move afterwards). Generally speaking, a given vacancy was more likely to be in a lower tier than an upper tier, and the relatively few at upper-tier teams were more likely to be “spoken for” due to the team thinking one of their testers was ready, or being wowed by an established talent in a top/2nd-tier team.

      This means that a lot of drivers who maybe could have been champions with the backing and support of a top team, never got the opportunity. Also, teams tended to be more different from one another then than they are now. Even today, drivers speak of having to adapt when they swap teams – not to mention often needing a few races to completely “bed in”. With more tiers between the likely entry point and the sorts of teams that could be champions, drivers had many opportunities to fall out of contention before getting that championship-earning seat.

      It may be more helpful to think of F2 and its predecesors more like a driver’s licence agency. You do your learning driving by the book, pass your exams – and then get released onto the road independently and figure out how to translate this into novel situations neither you nor your instructor quite thought to cover… F2 championships say you can drive competently, but not how far above this you can drive.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.
    If the person you're replying to is a registered user you can notify them of your reply using '@username'.