Is this the future for world open-wheeler Motorsport?

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 words.

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!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked what was the first 750 cc engined MG to break 100 mph? It was EX 120, a special M type Midget, de-stroked to 745 cc, with the engine force-fed by a chain-driven supercharger.

So to this week. This should be simple. What 7.5 litre V8 engined production sedan car connected the torque convertor to the gearbox via a chain? Clue - think of the late 60s.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!

BMW Hydrogen powered Boomer

BMW set nine speed records in France last month. So what? The “So what” factor was the fact that these records were set with a hydrogen powered BMW.

BMW’s new hydrogen car, the H2R, is powered by a hydrogen fuel 6 litre V 12 power unit that produces 210 kW, clocking zero to 100 kph in six seconds with a top speed of over 300 kph.

BMW works drivers Alfred Hilger, Jorg Weidinger and Gunther Weber set the records including a 14.9 second quarter mile, an 11.9 second flying kilometre and a standing-start kilometre in 26.5 seconds.

“BMW technology has come a long way. Now, together with politicians and the energy industry, we must turn our vision of sustained mobility into reality,” said BMW board member Professor Burkhard Goschel.

BMW have decided not to go down the ‘hybrid’ petrol/electric route, but have been developing hydrogen fuelled engines instead.

The company expects to produce a production version that will be a dual mode 7 Series built some time during the production cycle of the current car, which ends in 2009.