With all the complaints about F1 (and justifiable
in my book) there is a very interesting ‘alternative’ looming, and
just around the corner too. This is the A1 Grand Prix championship.
The concept has been bankrolled by an enthusiast
with the (unbelievable) name of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher
Maktoum Al Maktoum and is reputedly his idea. He is part of the Dubai
Royal family, and has more than a couple of shekels in his hip pocket.
The series will be a World Cup of Motorsport with
up to 30 franchises available, limited to one per country. Each
national team will be represented by a driver native to that country,
engendering strong local support and presence for the team. So instead
of Ferrari against BAR, we will have Italy versus the UK. Good
thinking. It works for the Olympics, why shouldn’t it work for
motorsport? So far, six countries have taken up franchises, including
the UK, South Africa, China, Pakistan, Lebanon and Portugal, with John
Surtees, ex world champion on two and four wheels at the helm of the
British franchise. Other country franchises are in the discussion
stage and include India that I know of.
Now here’s the next bit of the package. Italy
doesn’t get a ‘better’ car than the UK, the cars are identical
single-seater A1 racing cars, built by Lola, and powered by a 550 bhp
Zytek A1 Grand Prix V8 Engine. The idea is to provide a level playing
field with no driver aids allowed. No driver aids! Is this not what we
have been calling for? We, the viewing public, want to see the drivers
change gear and use the clutch, just like we do. We want to see them
manage their own starts, none of this “Renault have better starts
than the other cars” rubbish. We want to see if driver B can get the
drop at the start better than driver D.
The races are scheduled to take place during the
European winter in countries enjoying summer weather conditions such
as Dubai, Bahrain, South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and South
America, according to my sources from A1 GP, and might even include
Australia. TV coverage is also in place with Sky Sports taking up
broadcasting rights. Full coverage from each round of the
international FIA sanctioned series will be broadcast exclusively
live, with practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself.
To maintain the level playing field, so there is no
more of the “Bridgestone are better in the wet” or “Michelin
have been better at this circuit” nonsense, there will be one tyre
supplier, which is Avon (who have been supplying Formula 3000 for the
past years), so they know what they are about too.
Each three day racing weekend will have the same
format. Day one, a Friday, will be free practice, day two further
practice followed by qualifying and day three a 15 to 20 minute sprint
race which will determine the grid positions for the longer main
event, which will be for between 50 to 60 minutes.
So what our Sheikh has produced is a framework that
could actually work. It pits countries against countries, and provides
another opportunity for drivers all over the world to compete on the
world stage in equal motorcars. Lola will provide the chassis, Zytek
will provide the engines and Avon have the tyres. The ultimate winner
will be a driver of ‘real’ class.
The F1 wallahs should be looking very carefully at
this new category which will commence around this time next year. It
could very easily overpower the current F1 establishment. Mark my
The price of buying a franchise will be based on
the population and wealth of the country, with the United States,
Britain, Germany and China costing more than a team for Portugal or
Greece. As a comparison, Ferrari has an annual budget of about USD 400
million but the average team in A1 Grand Prix would operate on a
budget of about USD 40 million.
Now is there anyone out there who would like to buy
the Thailand franchise? I have the driver for you. He’s a little
older than most, but he’s very well experienced, with his own weekly
motoring columns, and the race suit still fits!