Getting to Formula 1 these days is a complicated business. There are a plethora of confused (and confusing) championships and drivers must judge where it is best for them to be as they try to work their way up the ladder to F1. The news that the Formula 2 Championship has disappeared is actually good news because it clear the way for a bigger and better Formula 2 in 2014. The current model was thrown together in a hurry and while the concept of it was good, the cars were not quite right. What is needed, and what the FIA will soon be working on, is a Formula 2 that provides the right stepping stone into Formula 1 at a sensible, cost-effective price.
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s there was a very successful Formula 3000, which provided the perfect stepping stone for youngsters from all the different regions. If you could cut it in F3000, you were good enough for F1. Teams charged a lot of money to run cars and, as happens in many formulae, greed eventually weakened the series. At that point in stepped a punch of buccaneers with a series called GP2, which they claimed would bring costs under control and blah, blah, blah. It was all pretty cheap and nasty at the start with some embarrassing mechanical troubles early on because of the thrown-together nature of the beast, but once these were sorted out and GP2 won the right to accompany F1 races (not hard given that the buccaneers involved included Bernie Ecclestone) the series became the place to be. It helped that its coverage was often “bundled” with F1, which meant that TV stations had to carry it.
But greed is never far from motor racing and soon enough the monopoly on parts supply was being exploited in pretty outrageous fashion, with wild overpricing, way above the market value of the parts. CVC Capital Partners, being into moneymaking and caring nothing for the sport, bought the business and integrated it into the F1 empire but the exploitation continued and gradually the back end of the grid has been taken over by pay-drivers with little or no chance of ever getting to F1. Renault offered a better alternative in its World Series and now many of the best drivers go that way. GP2 produces some decent racing and the top guys are pretty good, but it is now far too expensive.
The challenge for a new Formula 2 is to create a TV package that can stand on its own two feet. CVC is not going to give up GP2 unless it is forced to do so. It is a nice little cash calf alongside F1. The situation is indicative of the problems facing all non-F1 motorsport these days. The answer, probably, is to bundle F2 with other major championships, such as the World Sports Car Championship and the WTCC. This way getting crowds and better TV coverage becomes easier. To make it more attractive the new F2 will need to have the best of the best youngsters and to get them it will need to provide the right training for F1 and, at the same time, be sufficiently cheap to make it affordable. If that happens the lure of GP2 will weaken.