Category: Other Motorsport – Superleague Formula, GP2, A1GP
With MotoGP moving to BT Sport from 2014, the BBC will be left with half the Formula 1 season and nothing else in terms of live motorsport. Where can it go from here?
I’d love to see the BBC throw its not inconsiderable broadcasting weight behind a British championship.
ITV did that with the BTCC, initially leveraging its F1 coverage to build a bigger audience, before moving it to ITV4 where it continues to be lavished with endless hours of airtime. Indeed ITV are now leveraging the BTCC, scheduling highlights of the new BRDC Formula 4 Championship directly after the live BTCC programme.
The problem is: which British championship? British Formula 3 would have been ideal, but it might be a bit late for that – it’s down to just four rounds this season. British Superbikes would be a similarly good fit, but that’s tied to Eurosport until the end of 2015.
Given that the World Rally Championship can’t work out how to do TV coverage, the British Rally Championship might be too much to ask. British GT doesn’t have a huge profile – but maybe that’s more of an argument for than against it. British Rallycross is probably even more obscure, but the fast-paced action could be an excellent choice.
Regardless, it feels like the sort of thing the BBC should be doing – supporting British motorsport, if not at the grassroots level, then at least a bit closer to it.
But that’s not exactly the way the BBC has tended to go when they’ve lost the rights to other sports. The other option I can see is standalone events.
They already do it in tennis, for example, covering Wimbledon but not all the Grand Slams. It’s not hard to imagine Formula 1 going further down that route, with the BBC perhaps only showing the British Grand Prix.
But there are more interesting directions the BBC could go, should they wish to curate a selection of motorsport events over the course of the year. The Dakar in January, Le Mans and the Isle of Man TT over the summer, the Race of Champions at the end of the season – to name just a few.
Imagine if the BBC gave Le Mans even a fraction of the treatment Glastonbury gets one weekend a year. It could be brilliant.
There must be a bit of budget going spare now, and a nice range of one-offs would surely cost the BBC less than an entire season at the highest level. It sounds good to me, anyway.
With the Olympic Games well under way in fancy London Town, it would be very predictable to write about whether motorsport should be in the Olympics. And doubtless I will be that predictable before long.
But much more interesting is something that I stumbled on while thinking about that: motorsport nearly was an Olympic sport in 1900. Sort of.
Paris 1900: more ‘motoring’ than ‘motorsport’
There were seven ‘automobilisme’ – or ‘motoring’ – categories in the Paris 1900 Olympic Games, and 16 events in total. But they were all exhibition rather than full Olympic events, and calling all but one of the categories ‘motorsport’ is rather generous.
The one recognisable motorsport category was essentially a rally, Paris-Toulouse-Paris, over three stages including timed sections. There were events for passenger cars, small cars and motorcycles.
The rest of the events were more like reliability tests than races, the vehicles having to cover a set distance on a given course, repeated on multiple days. These events were judged on the likes of reliability, fuel consumption, comfort. Really not motorsport, then.
Nevertheless, the full list of categories and events is quite interesting:
Some of the winners are notable, too. The small car class of the Paris-Toulouse-Paris event was won by Louis Renault; his brother and fellow Renault founder Marcel also entered, but did not finish. Peugeot were around and about too, competing in quite a number of events.
London 1908: just motor boats in the end
Motoring events were originally scheduled for the 1908 Olympic Games when they were due to be held in Rome, and also when they were moved to London after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. They didn’t take place, but motor boats did compete.
Sources & Further Reading
Motorsport at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games by Jeroen Heijmans is an excellent, fuller account of all this and more, from the Journal of Olympic History Volume 10 September 2002 Number 3, via the LA84 Foundation.
This week saw the launch of Angry Birds Heikki, the web game resulting from Rovio’s partnership with Heikki Kovalainen. It’s okay, as it goes: it’s just Angry Birds with a vague F1 theme. There’s only one level at the moment – Silverstone – with another unlocked after each race for the rest of the season. Though strangely it’s not in line with the calendar – so for example, after the British Grand Prix, it’s the Hockenheim level that’s unlocked.
Kovalainen is far from the first driver to lend his name to video game, of course, and for every Colin McRae, there’s been a Michael Schumacher – who lent his name to a handful of rather anonymous karting games.
The Jenson Button game that never was
In terms of licensing misadventure though, Schumacher’s got nothing on Jenson Button. He signed his name over to Tiger Telematics for their ill-fated handheld Gizmondo, specifically for a racing game called Chicane, subtitled ‘Jenson Button Racing’ or later ‘Jenson Button Street Racing’.
This was back in 2004 – doesn’t he look young? – when Button was at BAR, and the driver closest to challenging Ferrari in an utterly dominant year. He was a reasonably attractive property, then. Said Carl Freer, MD of Gizmondo Europe:
Oh yes, Will.I.Am was going to do the music too.
It didn’t get very far, though. US studio Handheld Games were set to develop the title, but by mid-2005 they were suing Gizmondo Europe and Tiger Telematics for at least $75,000 for breach of contract, alleging that they hadn’t supplied the development kits and license information required.
The game was, unsurprisingly, never released. That didn’t stop Chicane from appearing on Gizmondo’s release schedule months later, though. Quite where they thought they were going to get the game from is anyone’s guess.
Gizmondo: a bit of background
The company positively threw money around – a launch party attended by Sting amongst others, a Gizmondo store on London’s Regent Street, lavish pay and benefits for executives and their partners. But they didn’t really get much money in, selling maybe 20,000 units.
You don’t need to be an accountant to what that means: massive losses.
And now: Eddie Jordan
By the time liquidation inevitably came in 2006, there had been plenty more lawsuits: marketing agency Ogilvy, MTV over sponsorship of the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards, and only bloody Jordan Grand Prix.
The sponsorship deal with Jordan was announced in 2003, when the device was known as Gametrac. The car carried the Gametrac logo at the British Grand Prix that year, and was due to for the duration of the 2004 season.
Always good with predictions, Eddie Jordan described them as “a smart company setting the trend in an innovative industry”. And you can see EJ proudly showing off his new signing in this photo on autosport.com.
Finally: Le Mans
That’s not the last motorsport link in the Gizmondo tale though. In 2005, a Gizmondo-branded Ferrari 360 Modena GTC took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Appropriately enough, it didn’t finish the race. Helpfully, someone filmed one of its pitstops and shoved it on YouTube:
One of the drivers of that #92 Ferrari was Stefan Eriksson, the Gizmondo executive who achieved huge notoriety when he destroyed a Ferrari Enzo in a high speed crash in California in 2006. On Wikipedia, Eriksson is described first as a criminal – just one of a number who were involved in the Gizmondo mess.
So you’d have to say, on balance, it was probably best for Jenson Button that the game was never released. Proof – if more is needed this week – that motorsport can’t choose who takes an interest.
We’re firmly into in Formula 1 launch season, which as always provides a stream of photos of largely familiar looking cars and empty soundbites. Far more interesting is what’s going on over in TV land.
GP2 & GP3
On the good news front, a TV deal for GP2 and GP3 has been announced: as widely hoped, they will be broadcast live on Sky Sports F1 HD. It’s only sensible; after all, they have a whole channel to fill. As Ted Kravitz reported Jenson Button as saying at the McLaren launch yesterday:
He’s not wrong. GP2 and GP3 is a very good way to fill a bit more of the schedule on race weekends: dedicated fans want it, the casual viewer might just find something they like, and it’s great for the series to have live coverage on a serious channel. It’ll probably also tip the balance for a few undecided viewers to sign up for Sky.
While common sense has triumphed for the Formula 1 support classes, it’s still trying its best to do so in the WRC. iRally is the place for an up-to-date, blow-by-blow account, but let’s summarise.
WRC commercial rights holder North One Sport was bought by Convers Sports Initiatives in 2011. Later that year, the company went into receivership, following the activities of Vladimir Antonov. That sort of screwed everything up, just before the 2012 season was due to begin.
Eurosport stepped in and provided coverage of the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, doing a good job at short notice, by all accounts. Eurosport, having experience from running and broadcasting the IRC, were – and are – the obvious choice to take over as promoter and broadcaster of the WRC. There’s been little word from the FIA, but the latest from iRally suggests that both sides want to make it work, but European employment law may be the latest sticking point.
It is a quite staggering mess. I complained last year that there was no free-to-air coverage in the UK, but this is another level of badness for the sport. Common sense says that a deal will be made between the FIA and Eurosport; let’s hope it triumphs in the end.
Last year, I wrote a typically meandering blog post about the joy of an orange livery. To my surprise, this solicited comment both here and on Twitter, pointing out examples that I’d missed. Turns out I’m not the only one to enjoy a nice bit of orange.
So, since 2012 is apparently the year of orange, it’s fitting that I get around to a follow up. Peel back your eyelids, here comes the orange.
I can’t resist starting with the Dakar, since it always makes for stunning photos, and it’s on now. I covered Robby Gordon’s exceedingly orange Hummer last time, but luckily we have some new orange: Leonid Novitskiy’s Mini. Novitskiy doesn’t get all the fun though; the other Monster Energy X-raid Minis are equally delightfully bright colours: green for Peterhansel, yellow for Roma, red for Dos Santos.
One I realised that I missed just after publishing the original post, and was pointed out to me shortly after by @badhedgehog in the comments – is Henning Solberg.
Before he started messing around with his livery, it was spanking-bright orange, thanks to his sponsor of the time, Expert. This is, I’ll grant you, not the clearest view of his 2011 Ford Fiesta RS WRC, but it is a stormingly good photo.
Another suggested to me, by @a_lost_irishman on Twitter, was the many incarnations of the Jagermeister Porsche.
As Wikipedia points out, it’s not just Porsches that Jagermeister sponsored – though that was perhaps their greatest success, winning the 1986 World Sportscar Championship with Brun Motorsport. They even cropped up in that fancy Formula 1 lark, with March Engineering in 1974 and EuroBrun in 1989.
How did I miss KTM last time? There are few companies quite so orange.
The only problem is, they’re not bad at attracting sponsorship for their factory efforts so, for example, their Dakar livery this year is pure Red Bull – barely a hint of orange. At least their Motocross World Championship livery, though also Red Bull flavoured, has room for a little more orange – as you can see.
That’s enough orange for now. Suggestions of what I’ve still missed are very welcome.
So, we’ve established that the racing at Brands Hatch on Sunday wasn’t exactly scintillating. But! All the more time to try to get half-decent photos of the more interesting liveries on display.
Livery of the day
We go straight to International GT Open, and the number 11 Ferrari 458 GT Italia run by Kessel Racing, driven by Philipp Peter and Michael Broniszewski. It only finished 10th and 17th in the races, but by jingo it had the best livery around. A delightful shade of yellow and a spider’s web, you say? Sold!
The top liveries were better rewarded in Formula Two.
Lotus Cup UK / Europe
It’s not particularly associated with Lotus, but there were a couple of Gulf Oil liveried entries in the Lotus Cup UK / Europe. Pete Storey’s Lotus 2-Eleven, above, was a particularly pleasing example of that most distinctive of colour combinations.
The Formula Two meeting at Brands Hatch at the weekend was not terribly well attended. Sunday tickets were £17 in advance, which struck me as reasonable. But when World Series by Renault at Silverstone next month is free, suddenly it doesn’t seem as cheap.
It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the day – it made it easy to get in and out of the car parks, and there was no jostling for position at the inside of Druids. But it does make me question whether Formula Two is working.
Headline or support
After two seasons spent largely as a support category for the WTCC, F2 moved away from that for 2011. The stated reason was to visit more Formula 1 tracks, but presumably it was also an attempt to take more of the limelight. It’s not really worked though.
F2 now shares a bill with the International GT Open at most meetings. Even at Brands Hatch – a circuit owned by MotorSport Vision, the company which also runs Formula Two – it was a joint headline event. The Monza and Barcelona meetings are advertised purely as International GT Open – not even a cursory mention of F2.
The pecking order
So Formula Two has failed to build itself much of a profile.
It’s one of only five FIA world championships, yet in reality it’s certainly below GP2 in the motorsport pecking order, and possibly GP3 too. It probably sits alongside something like Formula Renault 3.5 – on the aforementioned World Series by Renault bill – in terms of notoriety.
F1 feeder series
So what is F2 for? Well, when it was relaunched, then FIA President Max Mosley said:
Clearly the intention was that F2 would be a Formula 1 feeder series – the prize of a Williams F1 test backs that up.
But it isn’t. Andy Soucek has been stuck in Superleague Formula since winning the 2009 title. Not what anyone hoped for.
Cheap route to GP2
With GP2 tests for the drivers who come second and third in the overall standings, there’s an implicit admission that F2 is more of a GP2 feeder series.
Which is possibly not such a bad thing when the other objective does seem to have been achieved: F2 is significantly cheaper than GP2, GP3, FR3.5 or F3 – at least according to its own website.
As a result, it has a healthy grid. But it’s still not that cheap – Will Bratt, for example, had to miss the Brands Hatch meeting due to lack of budget.
Perhaps if we give it a few years, Formula Two drivers will start to properly filter up to GP2 and eventually Formula 1. Which, I think, would constitute F2 working.
And in the meantime, at least Formula Two can be used as a promotional tool for MotorSport Vision boss Jonathan Palmer’s son.
And, of course, a nice big double page spread in the programme for the Brands Hatch round, putting an unerringly positive spin on his as yet pointless – in the literal sense – rookie season of GP2.
I’m very partial to a bit of Brands Hatch, so what better place to spend my 30th birthday? It’s just a lovely place to wander around – and even better with engines roaring all around you. So, yesterday, off to the Formula Two meeting I went.
Not the most exciting race
It turned into a glorious day by the time the F2 race kicked off. Just as well, because it wasn’t the most exciting of races.
Ramon Pineiro made a storming start to take the lead around the outside at the first corner, and disappeared into the distance. Jack Clarke looked like he might challenge Mirko Bortolotti in the early laps, but they soon settled into comfortable third and second places respectively.
The racing might not have been remarkable, but Pineiro looked incredibly happy with his first Formula Two victory, and on a sunny day who could begrudge him that? Especially in what F2 commentator Jack Nicholls neatly described as a highlighter pen of a car.
Incidentally, it’s worth watching the highlights of the race on YouTube. The start is decent, but really it’s all about Jack Clarke spraying champagne in an unfortunate grid girl’s face – skip to about 7:41 for that. Her reaction suggests something along the lines of: “IT BURNS!” – I do hope she was okay.
Pastor Maldonado has been announced as racing for Williams next season. This was widely expected, so the news needs another angle. There have been two favourites: that he’s Venezuelan, and the last time there was a Venezuelan in Formula 1, Maldonado wasn’t born; and that he brings a lot of sponsorship money with him. But that’s not what I’m interested in.
Maldonado is the 2010 GP2 Series champion, and that will have gone some way to securing him the Williams seat for 2011. There is a strong history of GP2 champions moving to Formula 1 the following year:
But there’s a year missing from that list: 2008. And that’s why I want you to spare a thought for Giorgio Pantano. With Maldonado’s move confirmed, Pantano remains the only GP2 champion, in its six season history, not to get a drive in Formula 1 the following year. Poor bloke.
Why didn’t Pantano get his chance? It’s tempting to suggest that it’s because he’d already had a crack at the F1 whip, at Jordan in 2004. But the same can be said of Glock. Literally the same: he too drove for Jordan in 2004, before his time in GP2. In fact, Glock replaced Pantano in the team. Small world.
Pantano can perhaps take comfort in the knowledge that there is a Facebook group also being angry on his behalf. Though it’s a bit quiet now.
Since taking the GP2 title, Pantano has been keeping himself busy with alternative – for want of a better word – international single-seater series: Superleague Formula in 2009, where he finished 7th for AC Milan; and AutoGP in 2010, finishing 11th.
We await details of Pantano’s plans for 2011. Formula 1 is looking unlikely…
The Race of Champions might do the trick. There were world champions, current champions, multiple champions; names like Loeb, Schumacher, Doohan, Prost, Vettel, Priaulx, Kristensen, Plato.
But the surprise Champion of Champions was Filipe Albuquerque. Surprising particularly because the last time he was champion of anything was 2006, with a couple of Formula Renault 2.0 titles. I last saw him driving for Portugal in A1GP – where he did a fine job – and since then he’s been racing sportscars in Italy. It’s not unlike when Heikki Kovalainen won the title in 2004.
So is Albuquerque the best driver of 2010? Could be. But perhaps a series of knock-out head-to-head races isn’t the most reliable methodology. Maybe we need to turn to science.
The Castrol Rankings could be the answer. Drivers in major domestic and international championships are ranked based on their performance, weighted by how important that championship is deemed to be. That might not sound scientific – you could almost accuse it of being entirely arbitrary. But no, it’s called the ‘Castrol Index Score’, and it uses a formula, so it must be very, very clever.
The FAQ assures us that the Formula 1 champion won’t automatically top the rankings:
This F1 season was indeed very close at the top, and by contrast Sebastien Loeb was very comfortable in taking the WRC title. Nevertheless, it’s Sebastian Vettel atop the Castrol Rankings; Loeb is third, behind Mark Webber.
So clearly it’s a load of old nonsense, utterly failing to compare performances across championships in any meaningful way. Rendering it useless.
But it’s put together by autosport.com, and it’s amusing to see them trying in vain to create news out of it. Yesterday, for example, we had the revelation that the top placed DTM driver in the Castrol Rankings is the man who won the DTM title – Paul di Resta. Well, yes. Obviously.
So I think we can discount the Castrol Rankings as a way to decide the year’s best driver. Which leaves us with only one contender: the little-known Portuguese man. As many people have said already: hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque!