All for one, one for all
1995 will mark the 11th, and ultimate season of Formula 3000. While awaiting news of the FIA's intended replacement, the current participants have dear views on what should be done...
And so it's official. At midnight, on December 31 1995, Formula 3000 will cease to exist in the eyes of the FIA. It will be replaced by something, though the powers that be haven't yet told us precisely what. All we do know is that chassis, engine and tyres will be the same for everyone. Formula 3000's core suppliers have staved off the threat of a one-make series in the past, but this time there was little vocal opposition. The FIA's decision was accepted with a resigned air of inevitability.
One of the key factors behind such a move was cost, but the FIA needs to be careful if it thinks a monotype formula will automatically prove to be a financial panacea. Sure, it limits production costs by curbing the necessity for ongoing development, but the fact is that the price of Formula 3000 has already been pruned to what most would consider to be a manageable level. Many are those who have completed an eight- or nine-race season on around £400,000. OK, that might not include all the testing you require in an ideal world, but if you consider that figure in the light of what it costs to do Formula One, then the price of the technology is actually very reasonable. After all, there were several instances in 1994 of the fastest F3000 cars being quicker than F1 tail-enders when the former appeared on a Grand Prix support programme.
All that F3000 has ever lacked has been the right image to attract investors, and that particular problem could have been addressed if the FIA had taken the trouble to promote the series in the first place...
Discuss the topic of the 'new' F3000 with any of the parties involved engineers, team owners and managers, tyre technicians and their response will always be similar. If it has to be a one-make series, then the only solution is to adopt an existing chassis/engine combination. As a driver training formula, engineers argue, with reason (and they've got plentiful evidence, to name but David Coulthard and Olivier Panis), the current F3000 is about right.
If that is the path which the FIA follows, the consequences will still be brutal for some. Reynard or Lola? Cosworth or Zytek-Judd? How does one choose?
In this context, performance is largely irrelevant. If everyone is to get the same equipment, it won't matter that one chassis could, potentially, be 0.2s per lap faster than the other. It will all boil down to the ability to provide a quality service at a reasonable price. Lola can point to its productive association with America's monotype Formula Indy Lights series; Reynard's CV includes a spell as supplier of Formula Vauxhall chassis and a new association with the revised Venson British F2 Championship, which will be a 'one-make' category for the first time in 1995, using the Reynard-built VR1 chassis, a mild derivative of its latest F3000 car.
Both manufacturers have arguments in their favour, yet it remains conceivable that neither's tender will be accepted.
The same possibility exists for the current engine suppliers. And if that happens, then the FIA's plea for cheaper racing will forever be labelled a red herring. Why go to the expense of developing new technology to replace something that is, by common consent, perfectly acceptable to begin with?
The general feeling is that existing technology will be deployed, though the selected engine may perhaps be rebadged to accommodate manufacturer backing.
That in itself would be no bad thing commercially, though it is hard to see such as 'Formula Honda', 'Formula BMW' or 'Formula Whoever' being perceived, by the world at large, as the final stepping stone to Formula One, which has long been one of F3000's bugbears. In that situation, the new nomenclature could present a tricky problem. F3000's record as a training ground for F1 drivers should be reflected in its title. In the past, calling it something along the lines of 'Junior Grand Prix' would have been apposite. In its new guise, 'Alfa Romeo Junior F1', or similar, might not be too much of a mouthful. Always assuming, of course, that the popular rumour about major manufacturer involvement proves to have substance...
When questioned by one F3000 supplier, the FIA responded that the switch to a monotype formula was dictated by the wishes of the teams.
This is news to the teams...
"The last time we actually met to discuss things with the FIA was at the start of 1993," said one principal, "and that meeting was convened because they'd announced that they were going to replace F3000 and we were all against the idea of a one-make formula, which had been mooted. They honestly haven't approached us since."
Ask any F3000 team director whether there has been any contact on the FIA's part and they'll tell you the same thing.
"We were simply told what was going to happen," said one interested party. "We'd been fighting to reduce costs, and that much had been achieved. The one-make thing was presented to us as a fait accompli, though. We weren't consulted."
But, while most teams are satisfied with the existing F3000 situation, which allows enough technical scope to keep engineers interested, most accept that a one-make series will be tolerable, always assuming the regulations don't completely stifle free thinking. "It needs to be close to what we've got now," explained another insider. "There have to be certain changeable parameters on the car. They've got to choose between Lola and Reynard, Cosworth and Zytek. If they go elsewhere, prices will escalate because we'll have to absorb all the development costs, particularly if anything proves unreliable to begin with. I just hope the FIA has taken that into consideration. If we're going to cut expenditure, it can only be achieved via cars and engines. The cost of flights and hotels isn't going to come down.
"If a manufacturer comes in to badge the engine, that should save money. At the moment, an engine contract costs me £110,000 per car per year. You should be able to halve that, I reckon."
Engines are perhaps the most popular topic of conversation. "You could slice the cost in two by detuning them. Knock off 40 bhp or so. What would it matter? It would still be a suitably powerful formula, and the engines should be more reliable, and able to complete a greater mileage between rebuilds. You could get the cost down to £100,000 per season for a two-car team."
The price of fuel, too, has come under close scrutiny. At present, teams must use a control brew, supplied by Elf on behalf of the FIA. It works out at something in the region of £11 per gallon. "That is a ludicrous situation. What we should do is open the fuel contract to tender. Whoever gets the contract, we carry their logo on the cars, the team truck, the mechanics' overalls... That ought to be an attractive idea for any company, and it should provide us with cheap fuel, maybe even free fuel, in exchange for good publicity. I've seen similar things work well in the States. We used to carry the logos of a hotel chain, too, and we got rooms for half-price all over the country. Introduce a few deals like that, and we could reduce the running costs to around £300,000 per annum."
Or about the price of a competitive season in British F3. Back in 1992, the asking price (albeit rarely the actual price) was around £750,000…
The more you listen to the teams pontificate, the more it appears a shame that nobody has actually taken the trouble to canvass their opinions. Between them, they possess some bright ideas, and in the past two seasons they have acted as a cohesive force in order to negotiate workable costcutting measures with their suppliers.
They are also keen to increase the number of Grand Prix support races. "The structure is already in place," they argue. "The race meeting is happening anyway, and so what if we have to work out of awnings instead of pit garages? That's a minor inconvenience compared to the benefits of racing in front of an F1 crowd."
For those fearful about the implications of the new FIA initiative, President Max Mosley has some soothing words: "I think the cars will look and sound and be very much like the present ones, but at probably less than half the cost. The fundamental problem with F3000 at the moment is that however carefully you do the regulations there is a research and development element. If you're making the cars you've got to try and make them half a second quicker and r&d is extremely expensive. As F3000 is a training ground for F1, it's not necessary, there's nothing to be gained by finding another half second with an F3000 car. You need to get the cost down so the biggest selection of drivers take part."
That should come from set-up and driver effort, not facile technology...
"They all start from the same basis, and that is what I think is going to happen. I think it would be a big step forward. The biggest problem that motorsport as a whole has, is that it's so expensive, and you eliminate a huge proportion of the potential talent simply because they're never ever going to get into an F3000 car, but if you cut the cost you increase the selection."
One hopes that the old adage will apply. If it ain't broken, don't mend it...