but where’s the glory?
It’s been so bloody quiet, its a joke. The guys have been kicking their heels, taking four days to complete a job that normally takes one. There’s not much else for them to do.” Dave Stubbs, team manager of Paul Stewart Racing’s Formula 3000 team, chuckles at the situation, but you sense that behind his observations there lies a sense of frustration. Here we are, in the middle of July, three of the nine races have been run, the last of them was almost six weeks ago and the next is another 10 days away, at Enna-Pergusa.
Despite the lengthy hiatus, teams will then be expected to haul their material all the way from central Sicily to the outskirts of Heidelberg, in time for scrutineering at Hockenheim just four days later. From the surreal to the ridiculous . . .
After his splendid third place in the last race, at Pau, Paul Stewart himself finds it all rather anti-climactic. “I’ve been really restless, trying to find ways to keep myself motivated.”
However, not everyone has been perturbed by the lull. “We’ve been able to accomplish some really good, positive testing,” asserts Dave Sims of Tom’s GB whom, for reasons he could only describe as ‘political’, might have a longer break than most. There was a real chance that his team not actually be entering the Enna event (which took place as Motor Sport was being printed; full report next month). “We’ve also been building some new developmental bits for the car,” he continued. “I’d say we’ve put the time to good use.”
In that, he was in a minority. For most, silly calendars are all just part of the enduring frustration of Formula 3000 life, and there are a few more potential trip-wires lying ahead.
After the trials and tribulations of last winter, when the formula’s long-term security was put in doubt by a somewhat casual FISA directive, F3000’s longevity is again being called into question. Will it be replaced in 1996 by a new single-seater formula, based around the current two-litre touring car engine regulations? The RAC MSA has started canvassing teams to solicit opinions, prior to a meeting between the FIA and national ASNs in September, when the issue will hopefully be resolved, one way or the other.
There are some who see the new proposal as commercial common-sense, such as Pacific Racing’s Keith Wiggins. “It would be a good thing for the teams if it gets the same sort of promotion as touring cars currently get, though I have to say that, in the spirit of the sport, an overgrown Vauxhall-Lotus isn’t going to be very exciting. And I think the only way they could make it viable is if a major manufacturer came in and supplied the same engines to everybody. If you’ve got a control formula, you can obviously control the costs much better.”
What lies ahead, of course, doesn’t concern Wiggins directly, as his postponed F1 project looks likely to materialise in 1994, with Bertrand Gachot as one of the two drivers. Predictably, Cosworth is one of the strongest opponents of radical changes to the engine specification. This year, it has launched the new AC. “We have to fix our pricing structure according to the stability of the formula,” explains engineer Geoff Buttle. “If they were to stop Formula 3000 at the end of 1994, for instance, we wouldn’t have recouped the cost of developing the AC. We’d be facing a large financial loss.”
One can sympathise. It isn’t, after all, as though Cosworth is behaving like the average football team, subtly altering its strip every season in order to suck gullible parents to the local sports shop to keep their fadconscious offspring happy. Cosworth’s last three-litre V8, the DFV, is presently into its 27th season of racing, and it’s still competitive. The AC is simply an investment for the future; it’s just that the horizon has become somewhat fuzzy since the project was originally given the green light.
“We’ve done two-litre touring car engines,” continues Buttle, “and they’re not cheap. If they’re looking at this as a way of cutting costs, they won’t save much money on engines. I know much depends on what happens to the F1 regulations, but they’re going to have to have at least 500 bhp in my opinion, or they’ll look a bit sick alongside IndyCars. A two-litre formula would still be a long way short of F1 power outputs. It might have 270 or 300 bhp, but you’d be straying away from the F1-style of car that a young driver should gain his experience in. F3000 as it stands is very good in that respect. In terms of performance, the actual equipment is very good value for money, too. It’s just hard finding sponsors to pay for it when the series receives so little promotion.”
Like Cosworth, Tom’s GB has an active interest in both F3000 and the BTCC (preparing parent company Toyota’s Carinas) at present, and Sims is aware of potential pitfalls. “I accept that they may have to change the rules if the new Fl regs make the cars too close to F3000 as it is. We mustn’t be fooled by the idea of a two-litre formula though. We prepare both, and I can tell you that it wouldn’t be cheap.” Stewart, one of the most lucid drivers in the series, agrees that changing engine rules makes little sense. “There’s been all sorts of funny talk, about 3.5-litre engines, 10,000 rpm limits and what have you. That’s a nonsense. As it stands, it’s a really good formula. The only reason I can see to change engines would be to get manufacturers involved. That could make sense. I’m not talking about a one-make formula. I’m strongly against that. If there was open competition between manufacturers, however, it could sharpen teams up a bit and prepare them better for F1.”
Sims, however, isn’t so sure that manufacturers would bite. “I don’t think it would interest Toyota. If they’re going to promote themselves through a two-litre formula, they’ll do it in touring car racing, something people can immediately identify with.”
For Stewart, the bottom line is ‘image’. “Talk of reducing costs is very defensive. We need to look at making it viable through effective promotion. That’s the key. It doesn’t matter how much money you save if people still don’t know what the formula is.
“I can’t understand why we have to wait until 1997 or whenever it is before the name reverts to Formula TWo. The International Formula Two Championship, that would mean something. It’s so difficult explaining F3000 to sponsors. They come with me and watch the races, and they still think I’m an F3 driver.
Nordic Racing is new to F3000 this year, and proprietor Derek Mower says it may be a short-lived venture if sweeping changes are afoot. “If they’re considering something radical like a two-litre formula, I’d have to take a look at other options. We’ve already got Formula Three and Vauxhall-Lotus. How many two-litre formulae do they want?
“I think the weight and reaction of the current F3000 cars and the power to grip ratio provide excellent preparation for F1. Every driver who jumps out of F3 and into one of these for the first time has his eyes out on stalks. You can’t learn about levels of grip like this in an F3 car. Ask any engineer how an F3 driver responds the first time they sit in one of these, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s a proper racing car, and it’s good physical training, too. You can’t replicate the sort of neck exercises you need in an F3 car or in the gym. You can in one of these.
“I think the cars are great as they are. They bridge the gap from F3 to F1 perfectly.
“If we want to save money, we should look at other areas. Why are we paying £11 per gallon for control fuel, for instance? Why can’t we all run on fuel which costs £2 or £3 per gallon? At the moment, our fuel bill (for a one-car team) is around £1000 per race weekend. Crazy.
“Also, we spend as much running the truck to and from tests as we do actually going to the races. I know not everybody is in favour of going out to races a day earlier, but if we abolished testing and just had an official test on the Friday before the meeting, the extra night in the hotel would be nothing compared to flying the team out and back twice a year rather than once. Also, it would be far more relevant. What’s the point of testing at Magny-Cours in March when the race is in October?” It’s a fair point, and the message is clear enough. There’s nothing wrong with the basic ingredients. It’s just the packaging which is in need of some attention. This is what the FIA needs to consider before it starts pursuing any other funny ideas. S A