Is F2’s $3 million admission price good value for aspiring F1 drivers?

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By their very nature even the most rudimentary forms of motorsport cannot be cheap. It is a fact that a round leather object – as required by the world’s most popular sport, football – costs a fraction of even the most basic kart. Tellingly, motorsport does not feature amongst the world’s top 10 sports, which require little more than a ball and possibly a bat.

A 2015 survey undertaken by Reuters reported that parents spent up to $120,000 on a season of national-level junior karting for 10-year-old offspring. After moving up to international level a single European race weekend easily blew through $20,000 doing it on the cheap. Multiply that by 10 events and the figure hits $200,000 per year.

A child will probably race for four seasons before moving to cars – a million bucks when contingency costs are factored into the equation. That was six years ago, and costs have probably increased by at least 10% per annum.

A six-year karting career therefore could cost a family anywhere up to $2m – and that is before wannabe F1 champions move to cars, usually Formula 4 which, depending on team, country and series, requires budgets of between £250,000 and up to double that. By the time a race driver hits Formula 1 at least $7m will, in most cases, been blown on getting there – if the driver at all makes the final step, which does not depend upon talent alone.

The split is approximately: $2m on karting, $500,000 per season in F4, another $1m on F3 and $3m plus on F2 – without contingencies. Not all of that may come from parents’ pockets, but seven million bucks is still a massive pile, particularly given there are no guarantees of an F1 seat at the end of it.

Indeed, the drop-out rate from F2 to F1 is around 90%… unless someone coughs up for a pay seat at motor racing’s top table.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2021
Hamilton is concerned by the costs youngsters face reaching F1
Any wonder motor racing – F1 in particular – was recently dubbed a “Billionaire Boys’ Club” by reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton. Three of the most recent F1 entrants – Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin – come from privileged backgrounds. Add in that Lance Stroll’s multi-billionaire father Lawrence is the fashion mogul-turned Aston Martin owner and Lando Norris’ father Adam is listed amongst the UK’s richest 500, and the perception endures.

That said, the flipside is that – with a single exception – every F1 world champion this millennium came from a modest background. Whether Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel or Hamilton – it applies to all. The exception is Nico Rosberg, who emulated his father’s title-winning feat in 2016. Similar statistics apply all the way back to 1950.

Said drivers were fortunate to attract support from benefactors who had the wherewithal to take them from karting through junior and secondary series to the big time. Each had their own reasons for doing so – some through sheer passion, others as business propositions and still others as part of driver academies – but the fact remains it cost up to $7m to get there. By comparison footballs cost peanuts, and teams have more berths.

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Mercedes Motorsport CEO Toto Wolff recently described the costs of junior competition as “totally absurd”, calling for F1 and its teams to identify and support budding talents. “It needs to stop, because we want to have access. I think we need to give access to kids that are interested in go-karting, the opportunity to race for much more affordable budgets.”

Junior racing costs have gone “wild”, says Vettel
A number of champions, notably Hamilton and Vettel, have also spoken out against the costs of junior series. The former, who came from a working-class background, told the BBC’s Graham Norton Show in 2019, “My dad spent something like £20,000 and re-mortgaged the house several times in the first years. But today it’s just got so expensive.

“A friend of mine who was nearly in Formula 1 got leapfrogged by a wealthy kid and then his opportunity was gone,” added Hamilton, whose family funded his karting career until he gained the backing of former McLaren boss Ron Dennis.

Vettel, who says the costs of junior motorsport have “gone wild in the last years”, considers himself fortunate to have had “Mr Gerhard Noack looking after me [as benefactor], who was the same man who looked after Michael Schumacher when he started, probably 20 years before me as a young child.

“It was already very, very expensive back then, so I think Michael was in need of help, and I was in need, because I couldn’t afford it. I think the first season we did in very junior go karts, we managed sort of half on our own and then we started to be very lucky to find people that supported and helped us.”

More recently Hamilton told Spanish outlet AS, “If I were to start over from a working-class family, it would be impossible for me to be here today because the other boys would have a lot more money. We have to work to change that and make this an accessible sport, for the rich and for people with more humble origins.”

I put these points and numbers to Bruno Michel, CEO of Liberty Media’s F2 series – which also controls F3 in line with a deal struck with the FIA – in particular the costs I’d been given for a season of F3 and F2. To recap: a season of F2 is variously punted as costing up to $2.5m, with F3 around half that.

Michel with Dmitry Mazepin, whose son Nikita graduated from F2
Michel has been in motorsport for almost 30 years, having started with the (now defunct) Ligier F1 team in 1993 before moving into driver management with F1 entrepreneur Flavio Briatore, overseeing the careers of grand prix winners such as Giancarlo Fisichella and Mark Webber. In 2005 he and Briatore founded GP2, the forerunner of F2, so Michel knows of what he speaks.

He is also politically astute, having survived fall-out from Briatore’s (alleged) role in Renault’s ‘Crashgate’ scandal and the exit from F1 of Bernie Ecclestone in the wake of Liberty’s acquisition of F1’s commercial rights. Ecclestone was close to Briatore – and, by extension, Michel – and supported the founding of GP2 in the face of some hefty opposition from the FIA, so Michel’s abilities are clearly valued by Liberty.

“I cannot really agree with the figures because they can vary,” the Swiss-domiciled Frenchman argues. “Number one [they] are changing from one team to another, all teams are not having the same cost. And number two, where we have to be quite careful is the difference between the costs that the teams are really incurring, and then how much they’re charging the drivers, which might be two different amounts.”

Michel is adamant that comparatively speaking costs have hardly risen – if at all – since he placed drivers in Formula 3000 – F2 and GP2’s forerunner – well over a decade ago.

“For F2 and F3,” he says, “what needs to be understood is that the cost, if I speak about F3 first, the costs are more or less the same that they were 20 years ago in European Formula 3. For F2, if you look at what the costs were in GP2 when we had two [series] – GP2 main division and GP2 Asia – which was about 15 years ago, the costs are the exact same as well.”

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“Why is that possible?” he asks. “Because we’ve done everything that we could over the last 15 or 20 years to keep the costs down. I can give you many examples of decisions we took to ensure that costs are not increasing. So, when I hear that the costs are getting crazy, I think it’s a completely unfair statement.”

Alpine and others place their junior drivers in F2
As examples of cost savings he lists: “We’ve limited the number of staff for F2 and F3 [by designing] the car to ensure it can be operated with a limited number of people, 12 people per F2 team with two cars, 10 in F3 for three cars; we’ve completely limited testing, we extended the life of present cars for the next few years to ensure teams don’t have to spend more money.

“We are renegotiating permanently with our suppliers to make sure that costs are kept as low as possible. There are many, many other things that we’re doing all the time.”

“That’s the first part. [But] the real question is ‘How drivers can get funded to go to the next category and to get to Formula 1’, not the costs themselves, but how [drivers] get funded to race. We need to understand how this works.

“That’s why I want to be sure that people, when they say something, understand how it works. The most active academies are Alpine, Ferrari, Red Bull. They’re not putting full budgets for the drivers, but they’re helping. Williams also is helping some drivers; Sauber is helping some drivers.”

Others may have been funded on the way up by their families but motorsport has always been and will always be thus.

“I [also] want things to be fair towards drivers that are from wealthy families,” Michel says. “I’ve got a list of drivers that are from wealthy families in F2 and F3. That helped the whole team and the other drivers to finance their seasons. I only can thank people like (Artem) Markelov, people like (Nicholas) Latifi and others.”

But a million and half in any major currency is still a huge pile of money, I suggest, regardless of how it is financed.

Bypassing Formula 2 did Verstappen no harm
“There can be a very simple way,” Michel argues, “and that is to take the F3 car and rename it F2, because F3 is more or less half of the price [of F2]. But the other problem is that our job is to prepare drivers for F1. If we don’t prepare drivers for F1, if we give them a car that is not really good enough for [the next step], then we’re not doing our job.

“We’ve seen in the last seasons, with Charles Leclerc, with George Russell, with Lando, with all the drivers that came from F2, we’ve seen them completely ready when they get to F1. If we want the smallest budgets [it can be much easier] but then what is our job? It is to prepare drivers.”

The stand-out Red Bull driver of recent years is Max Verstappen, who did not come through F2’s ranks, nor, for that matter, Michel’s version of F3, which was then known as GP3.

“He went directly to Formula 1,” Michel acknowledges with a chuckle. “He was young, they took a risk and they were right to do that. But I think now it is not possible to do that,” he adds, alluding to the introduction of F1’s superlicence points system which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to bypass F2 en route to a grand prix car..

F2 and F3 source rolling chassis from Dallara, then assemble the cars by adding power units supplied by precision engineering company Mecachrome – better known as primary sub-contractor to Renault’s F1 engine operation – and Hewland transmissions, plus electronics from Magneti Marelli. Complete cars are supplied to teams, with each being as identical as possible. Is this, though, the most efficient business model?

Michel is certain costs have been minimised in F2
“Oh, yeah,” Michel shoots back. “We’ve been working with Dallara and Mecachrome for the past 20 years. I’ve been around in the market to try to find substitutions, and I can tell you they are in terms of quality and cost the best people we can work with.

“They know exactly what we want, they understand exactly our philosophy, which is to try to make a car which [performs] on track but is also easy to operate because that’s a very important part of our cost control system.”

The structure of F2’s calendar, too, has come under fire this season, particularly as only eight fixtures – admittedly comprising three races each – are listed, with am eight week gap between the first and second weekends. Then, of the eight legs, three are in Europe (Monaco, Britain, Italy), with the Middle East hosting three (Bahrain, Saudi and Abu Dhabi) and Azerbaijan and Russia one each. Is that truly cost-effective?

“That’s also to save costs,” he says, “because obviously there are less events.” He reckons logistics costs are cut by up to 30% while offering drivers the opportunity of participating during grand prix weekends – both for sponsor exposure and the overall experience. Drivers would, he says, obviously prefer more races; equally F1 feeds on as many support events as possible.

F2’s uneven 2021 calendar may be a one-off
“It’s true that having only eight events in 10 months, it’s not ideal, I completely agree with you, but that’s the best balance we can find if we want to limit costs. We’re always trying to find the right balance between the number of events to ensure the championship is strong, and attractive for drivers. The same for testing: we limit testing but the drivers, of course, would like more.”

Indeed, so “not ideal” is the calendar that since the interview was conducted sources have suggested that the calendar structure may well change, but it is clear that whatever format is agreed upon needs to offer the same cost savings and regional spread.

Michel is adamant that F2 and its in-house F3 feeder series are doing their utmost to reduce costs of competing in the two rungs below F1 – which, incidentally, has capped budgets which are many, many multiples higher than those of F2 teams – while preparing its best drivers for F1. It seems strange that the most outspoken critics of junior category costs are those who benefit most from the largest F1 budgets…

The current F2/3 system may not be “ideal” but it has done a fair job of delivering qualified drivers to F1 within their overall cost structures, as Michel outlined. Can karting and F4 can claim the same?

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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...

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  • 30 comments on “Is F2’s $3 million admission price good value for aspiring F1 drivers?”

    1. For me, sim racing is the future of grass roots motorsport. We’ve already seen E-sports champions win real world racing drives, and with sim set-ups becoming more and more realistic, a young racer can really hone his/her skills at home, practicing with simulated cars and skipping karts altogether. Most importantly, sim set-ups are much cheaper too, greatly reducing the barrier to entry. A good quality Playstation or Xbox with wheel set-up can be bought for less then £500, which, not quite as cheap as a ’round leather object’, is far less than a junior racing career. So to really open up the entry pool and make motorsports accessible to people from all backgrounds, E-sports seems to me to be the best way

      1. Really good point there @swh1386, the level of simulation software/games that is out there nowadays and the availability of it to so many people can really create a pathway forward to allow more of the talent worldwide to get access to the real thing.

        The next step should be a better connect between e-sports and top talents being offered a path to show what they can do on a physical race track. I am sure that F1 and F1 teams can do a lot, as some are already starting to do (see McLaren and their e-sport facilities in the HQ). It really should become an integral part of our approach to racing and building out that pool of talent.

    2. Skip karts altogether? OK. So your 16 with no real experience, no relationships with teams and personal and you’re looking at doing F4. You still need to find $500,000

      1. You highlight exactly what is wrong with the sport. You need to have contacts and a tonne of cash. It’s not open. It’s not inclusive. It’s not a meritocracy rewarding talent. I suggest a system (already piloted) where an F4 team awards the most successful esports racers a contract / scholarship. Maybe sponsored by there likes of gran turismo or fanatech who would gain brand value from their route to motorsports being successful

        1. Why would an F4 team do this? What benefit is there sticking someone in a car to lap somewhere mid-grid in a national F4 series. The return on investment for a company like Fantatec is actually quite small. The viewing numbers for F4 are dire.

          If an F1 drive is north of £50m then it’s largely a waste of time and resources. You’ll also struggle against kids now who both kart and do eSports. he sole ‘eSporter’ will be a thing of the past very soon.

          It’s not longer interesting having an eSport driver go into real world racing because it’s been done already. Gran Turismo/Nissan have been there and got the t-shirt.

          1. On the contrary Alan. Nissan have proven that video games are a genuine pathway to real motorsport success. They have opened the path for others to follow.

            1. I mentioned GT Academy. The point is the idea of bringing an eSporter into real competition isn’t a big deal. Teams still need money, and sim races, pure sim races, tend to not bring any.

              Also, most F4 drivers are what now? 14 or 15. An eSport competition looking for drivers of that age will probably be dominated by kids who are racing karts too. The landscape for eSports is changing very fast. The big spending ‘real’ racers have caught onto it.

    3. “The current F2/3 system may not be “ideal” but it has done a fair job of delivering qualified drivers to F1 within their overall cost structures, as Michel outlined. Can karting and F4 can claim the same?”

      It is not karting’s responsibility to deliver drivers to F1.

      However, the 2013 World CHampion (beating Verstappen to the title) was a postman at the itme. 2017 World Champion is a normal kid by the name of DAnny Keirle. What we ahve witnessed recently is F1 distorting the karting market. The insane costs you seen in the CIK classes are not reflective of the sport. They are reflective of weird market dynamics which have as much to do with F1 sticking it’s nose in where it isn’t wanted and people exploiting that.

      If Toto Wolff cared, he could take a 5 minute driver from Brackley, and visit a Whilton Mill clubby. Plenty of talent on display. But alas he won’t. He’ll moan about karting being too expensive.

      1. Since you are familiar maybe you can help me figure out why it’s so expensive because I’m honestly baffled. A kart is not a piece of advanced technology. Why can’t a karting series just say, here are some karts with the same chassis and engine and tires, choose one for this heat. And I would think that talent scouts would be more interested if the equipment were truly level.

        1. Well, that’s would be desecration of karting as a motorsport. It has World Championship status and has done since the 60s.

          Secondly, karting IS accessible – https://youtu.be/Fni_bBrZEPY

          Thirdly, F1 is responsible for the tiny niché of the sport where costs are silly – https://youtu.be/LsBBWmjAxTY

          Karting isn’t there to SERVE F1. Kart racing was started by some dudes in America who wanted to race round parking lots. F1’s involvement has been largely negative.

    4. There seems to be this inherent assumption that motorsport should be as cheap as football.

      When you need a team of people to build and setup a car (in any class) it’s never going to be cheap. Then run that program in different countries around Europe or the world and is it any wonder it costs at least a few million?

      Expecting any motor racing to be open to normal kids is just silly.

      1. Yes, its hardly and apples to apples comparison is it?

      2. The issue with a sports ladder being expensive and super tough on everyone around the athlete is not something that exists only with Motorsport though.

        Sure, operating a team, having the equipment, travelling, costs like engines, gearboxes, tyres and replacing damaged parts are always going to add up. But I know people who have a kid doing Ice Hockey, and wow, that is also quickly becoming a full time job for half of the family, as well as costing them thousands a month for the gear, special food, training, travel to (more or less) mandatory training sessions etc.

        The issue is, if we want to sport to have a broad appeal, and to tap into as large a pool of talent as we can, then we need a way to get that talent to 1. be interested, 2. get involved and 3. to be able to grow into the future Hamiltons, Oveckins, Federers, Biles etc.

    5. Buzz Lightyear
      28th July 2021, 13:18

      The fact that Toto has anything to say about cost controls is laughable. A person who does everything in their power to control Formula 1 with corporate & financial flex is literally the last person on earth who will have relevant comments on anything related to cost-savings in racing. Toto’s idea of competition and sport is nothing more than one person winning everything because they spent more than the other competitors.

    6. F1 Should make F2 and F3 cheaper somehow.

      1. Remove Super Licence points. Nothing cheaper than doing less years in car racing that necessary. Max did one year of cars. Getting to F1 for him was a bargain.

        FIA and F1 need to take full responsibility for what has happened.

        1. Doesn’t that also largely reflect the extensive connections his family have in the world of motorsport? Very few people would have the same privileged access and connections to make things as easy as it was for him.

          1. Him and his dad won the KZ World Karting Championship together against the biggest hitters in karting, then he jumped into an F3 seat with not with the best team. So it wasn’t ‘easy’.

            1. So Alan, you really think Jos connections in motorsport didn’t help?
              Off course it helped, and saying so doesn’t diminish the driving talent that is Max.

            2. @X303

              I witnessed, with my very own eyes, the graft Jos and Max put in. Jos was building Max’s engines to a world class standard and driving across Euope. ‘Easy’ is not he word I’d use for what they achieved. Others, who weren’t from F1 stock, had it far easier. Most parents drop their kid off to whatever team is winning, and disappear onto their phones (or simply not be there at all).

              Did his name help? It’s hard to say, I think others benefit more than some, but in Max’s case, the level they were at, I take umbrage at the term ‘easy’. You don’t win a KZ World Championship easily.

            3. Alan Dove, interesting that you’ve chosen to focus on Jos – who said that it was just Jos who had links within the motorsport community? Horner has pointed out that he happened to know his mother fairly well from the days when they were both in karting competitions – you don’t think that happening to have that sort of personal connection with the team principal of Red Bull just might have given him a quite useful advantage?

            4. (replies don’t go far so anon you’ll just have to catch on)

              With regards to the karting, it was purely a Jos and Max affair. Jos building engines, doing set up work, and driving the van. The reach the top of World Karting. No one else on the grid comes close to achieving the level they achieved if I am being completely honest with the way they did it.

              His performance in F3, in not the best team, was outstanding too.

              I don’t like nepotism/dynastical nature of motorsport most of the time as, but anyone trying to talk down what Max was doing clearly wasn’t around to see it.

    7. 120.000 for a 10 year old kid’s karting season, I’m more familiar with 10 years working for 120.000.

      1. The issue here is Reuters were looking for people spending a lot. They could have easily spoken to other parents and found people spending a lot less… but that doesn’t get headlines.

        Actual budgets in karting is such a weird complex thing. It’s not really representative of anything without detailed analysis, which Reuters and the like do not do.

        1. True but as with most forms of motorsport, you won’t be able to spend 10k a year and compete with someone spending 100k. I did karting on the cheap for many years with my dad and we both had great fun doing so but we were not in one of the more expensive categories, we raced locally so we didn’t have to stay over, we only got a new set of tyres every 3 or 4 races and it meant that when someone showed up who was spending a lot more money, we weren’t competitive.

          Even in F1, drivers are often underestimated because they are driving for slower teams – and we know they’re driving slower cars! How do you stand out in karting when your dad has a fairly basic knowledge of how to set the kart up, you’re using a second hand kart, and old engine, old tyres and so on…

          If you spend a season karting and do it on the absolute minimum budget possible, that already excludes a massive amount of people either because they can’t afford it or because their parents lack the knowledge or desire to support you. You could do something like Club 100 where you don’t have to own a kart but even then, it’s not cheap and you’re not competing with drivers who are going to make it to F1. It’s like playing 5-a-side football for a few years and expecting to get signed by Man Utd.

          1. THIS is the point. There are people competing on a small budget. If F1 really ‘cared’ about talent, their scouts could waltz into any paddock and pick drivers who demonstrate talent. It doesn’t take long to embed yourself in a scene and know whats what. You know who is awesome and isn’t rich, you know who is rubbish and rich. You know who is really good and rich. it’s not rocket science if you know what you are looking for.

            But instead they don’t actually do that. They just moan ‘kaRtInG is ToO ExPenSiVE”.

            1. Well, to be fair, a good portion of their daily live is spent managing their own team. I do get your point, they could easily (well, call it marketing, right, then it’s not in the budget cap) appoint a talent scout to do that sort of stuff I suppose Alan Dove.

              Now, I can see that you are both passionate and knowledgeable about Karting, but you also seem maybe a bit too biased against F1 to give those of us with less knowledge (my parents have been close to anti motorsport, so guess what we certainly didn’t do karting in our youth, and F1 only after sneaking into living room to watch early morning races, late ones and indycar!) a better understanding of things that apparently you believe this article doesn’t quite cover. I have heard from others I know in NL, who do have more connections with the karting world whose experience was a bit similar to what @petebaldwin describes.

              It would be nice if we could get some sort of connective tissue with the view shown in the article versus what your experience has been.

            2. I am anti-F1 in terms of its involvement with karting. I am not anti-F1 as a default position. I’ve spoken about it at length here https://www.youtube.com/c/karting1vids/videos – if you want more detailed analysis of what I think.

              One of the main issues is people use ‘karting’ as a generic term but then refer to F4/F3/F2 which are specific formulas and classes. Karting isn’t a homogeneous lump. Saying karting costs 250k per year is as nonsensical as saying car racing costs 100m a year because of F1.

              This lack of ‘nuance’ (for want of a better word) causes actual harm to a sport which I think really is the closest thing we have to a ‘Motorsport for the masses’. It’s like we have some propaganda war against it.

    8. $120,000 on a season of national-level junior karting

      Are they paying the competitors to not turn up? How is that even possible for Go-karting.

      1. Test only on new tyres, buy the best engines (aided by single-make racing becoming popular). Paying for a really good team to supply the kart and awning space. Usually these figures are slightly misleading too because they don’t account for testing and other stuff. They don’t always equate to actual results.

        I know people racing competitively on a fraction of that, but that doesn’t get headlines.

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