With F1 doing its level best to shoot itself in the foot, the
people behind alternative formulae must be laughing themselves silly. One of
these is the new A1 Grand Prix Series, the brain-child of His Highness Sheikh
Maktoum Hasher Maktoum al Maktoum (the name is ‘real’), a member of the
Royal family of Dubai, which seems to have caught the imagination of everyone.
Despite initial claims that it was just a publicity stunt, or would be a flash
in the pan, it looks as if the A1 Grand Prix is here and rarin’ to go!
To refresh your memory, the A1 GP series will have up to 30
franchises available, limited to one per country. Each national team will be
represented by a driver native to that country, making for 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 motor sport?
Currently there are at least 25 countries who will be
represented on the 25th of September at Brands Hatch in the UK, when the first
two rounds kick off, including the latest team from Brazil, bank-rolled by
footballer Ronaldo and ex-racer Emmerson Fittipaldi. Even if the entire 30
places have not been sold, 25 is still 19 more cars than we saw at Indianapolis
for the F1 series!
Countries ‘in’ at this stage includes Pakistan, India,
Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and China, South Africa, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE,
Australia and the UK, plus Sweden, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy,
Greece, Turkey, Russia, Canada, USA, Brazil and Argentina.
A1 Grand Prix series presents a level playing field. The cars
are identical single-seater A1 racing cars, built by Lola, and powered by
identical 550 bhp Zytek A1 Grand Prix V8 engines.
To keep the playing field level, 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 gears 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.
To maintain the level playing field, so there is no more of
the Bridgestone versus Michelin debate, there will be one tyre supplier, which
is Cooper Tires (Avon), who have been supplying Formula 3000 for the past years,
so they know what they are about too.
To keep the world informed, 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 races themselves.
Each three day racing weekend will have the same format. Day
one, the 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
The different countries are taking the series very seriously
as well. China has been having driver shoot-outs, with top two hopefuls Ma
Quinghua and Jiang Tengyi being sent to South Africa to continue testing and
familiarization with the single seater race cars. The UK has also been
attempting to assess four drivers, with this being done under the watchful eye
of the legendary John Surtees, the only man to have won the world championship
on both two wheels and four. The only problem the UK has been having is to find
a day where the weather remains constant (and dry) for all four drivers! The
Australian entry also has Alan Jones, a former world champion at the helm, and
this will be another serious entry.
Here is the (almost) finalized A1 GP calendar:
25 September, 2005 Brands Hatch UK
9 October Eurospeedway,
23 October Estoril, Portugal
6 November Eastern Creek, Australia
20 November Sepang, Malaysia
11 December Dubai, UAE
15 January 2006 TBA
(Indonesia or Singapore)
29 January Durban or Cape Town, South Africa
12 February Monterrey, Mexico
26 February San Antonio, USA
12 March Laguna Seca, USA
26 March Beijing Goldenport,
At each venue, two rounds will be held, making it a 24 round
series (F1 has 19 this year). There are also two street races (Durban and San
Antonio), as well as some fabulous circuits such as Laguna Seca in the US and
Eastern Creek in New South Wales, Australia. (I have raced there and it offers
many passing opportunities, as well as being a great driver’s circuit.)
The A1 Grand Prix series looks like it will provide the
spectacle that the motor sport enthusiasts have been calling for, and with the
strong Asian involvement, we will all have a ‘local’ team to support! F1
should start seriously looking at itself.
Automotive News in the US reported some good news for GM, a
company that despite being Number 1 in the world, has had more than its fair
share of battering in the last few months. To pump up sales, GM offered everyone
the chance of having “employee” discount, pushing the total sales in June
this year up to almost 50 percent more than June 2004. This gave GM almost a 33
percent market share for June, the best it has seen for some time.
World number 2, Toyota Motor Corp, also had a rise in sales
compared to June 2004, but its healthy 14 percent pales into insignificance,
compared to the General’s results. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, FoMoCo saw a
less than 1 percent rise compared to June last year.
Mind you, sales were down for BMW and VW, a little worrying
for the German car companies, although DaimlerChrysler did show a 5 percent
Good retailing and marketing seemed to be the answer for GM,
but the question remains - can they keep it up?
The first thing we learned is that Alonso has really come of
age and is turning out to be a driver worthy of a championship. An all the way
win, and deservedly so.
The second item worth noting was Raikkonen’s drive from
13th to 2nd. Alonso is not home and hosed by a long way yet.
We also saw some great disparities between driver
performances, which certain team managers must be looking at very closely.
Trulli, for example, is out-performing Schumi Junior, Schumi Senior consistently
out-performs Rooby Baby, Alonso is making Fisichella eat humble pie, and
Raikkonen is head and shoulders above J-P Montoya. Now it can be said that these
second guys are just “unlucky”, but it is final results that teams look at,
and “luck” is ignored. Quite frankly, if I were team manager at McLaren, I
would be looking closely at JPM’s contract. I know that statement will bring
all the JPM fans out and he missed a couple of races, but just look at the
numbers, chaps, look at the difference in championship points! And for interest,
here they are: Alonso-Fisichella 49 points, Schumi-Barichello 40, Raikkonen-JPM
29, Trulli-Ralf 9.
While also looking at contracts, I still say that Jenson Button will be mad
to make a dive to Williams for next season. The BMW powered cars are not setting
the world alight, and next year Williams will have “customer” engines, not
“works” engines, which will go to the new BMW (ex-Sauber) team. Button will
score more points in this second half of the season too. JB should stay where he
is, for my money.