Easing the strain

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If Grand Prix drivers thought that the annual rush down to La Source was tight at the start of the Belgian GP, they’d find it’s nothing compared to the squeeze just below F1. Right now, there is an appalling log jam in motor racing, and its epicentre lies somewhere between Formula 3000 and F1.

Admirable as the junior formula’s record is for pushing its graduates directly into Grand Prix racing, fewer and fewer of them are getting through the crush. In 1989, no fewer than nine of the previous season’s F3000 crop appeared in Grands Prix.

Last year, the figure was down to four (Comas, Morbidelli, van de Poele and, at the season’s end, Wendlinger). This year? Christian Fittipaldi and Andrea Chiesa have secured places with Minardi and Fondmetal respectively; the rest must sit and wait.

As we closed for press, seven seats (two apiece at Tyrrell and Leyton House, one each at Larrousse, Ligier, Jordan and Andrea Moda Formula) were known to be available in F1. By our reckoning, there were at least 18 drivers with the credentials to fill them, one of these being triple world champion Alain Prost.

Nelson Piquet’s recently announced retirement temporary or otherwise – has hardly eased the situation. The list of F1 hopefuls chasing those seven seats would have topped 20 had not several of them, such as Damon Hill and Emanuele Naspetti, already committed to a further season of F3000. Both find themselves in competitive situations which many other drivers would envy, but it’s hardly positive career advancement. In addition, it also fills up a couple of prize F3000 seats on which the leading contenders in last year’s F3 championships had set their hearts.

This in turn causes a blockage further down the motor racing ladder. How long before we find that F3 grids, usually the stomping ground of precocious teenagers, are filled by frustrated 30 year-olds?

So what happens to those who miss out on an F1 berth? One or two may wander over to Japan, where wages are good but career prospects are poor as far as F1 is concerned, unless you happen to be Japanese. Anybody heard Eddie Irvine’s name mentioned in connection with an F1 seat recently? Or Thomas Danielsson’s? Or Ross Cheever’s?

For the rest, there’s the prospect of a couple of months banging heads against walls, trying to persuade sponsors who would bend over backwards to have their name on the front wing endplate of an F1 car that Formula 3000 is televised a little bit, honestly.

Plus of course there is the Sportscar World Championship. We’ve said in this column before that the SWC offers an important outlet for drivers to ply their trade in a professional manner. As we closed for press, the SWC appeared to be recovering from a blow that, before Christmas, looked as though it might be fatal. The patient’s chances of recovery are strong, though efforts must be made in 1992 to ensure that the present impetus is not lost. Group C must not be allowed to limp along until it stumbles into a fresh crisis of confidence.

At this time, when gainful employment in the upper echelons of the sport is so scarce, sportscar racing’s survival is imperative. SA