I think it’s an absolute disgrace. It’s obvious to me that nothing has changed. Really, nobody gives a toss, do they?”
The speaker, despairing, did not wish to be named. He doesn’t want to waste time creating a fuss, nor arguing with the authorities when there are better things to be done.
Like trying to source around half a million pounds with which to go motor racing.
The object of his wrath? The 1994 FIA European Formula 3000 Championship calendar, all eight races of it. . .
This time last year, Formula 3000 was fighting for its life, trying to obtain a reprieve following the FlA’s rather cursory announcement, in December 1992, that it intended to discontinue the category on the grounds that it was too expensive.
The formula’s key suppliers turned white.
Most of them had already committed substantial long-term investment to future supplies. During the year, ways and means of reducing running costs were discussed in detail, and finally a set of regulations that was (apparently) acceptable to everybody was agreed. Lola, Reynard, Cosworth and Zytek-Judd promised to make cars cheaper for 1994, and a two-year stability rule added to the formula’s improved long-term viability.
In return for this unprecedented outbreak of common sense, all that was asked for was a sensible calendar, for instance 10 races with at least a fortnight between each.
The schedule that emerged from the FIA’s Paris headquarters in December was laughable. A paltry eight events represented a huge kick in the teeth for all those who had striven to resurrect the formula in a workmanlike way.
Eight races? It’s not exactly what you’d call representative, is it? Should you fail to score points in a couple of races, which only takes one blown engine, or one stray stone in the throttle slides, and the chances are that your championship hopes will be irreparably compromised.
Coincidentally, eight is the minimum number of races required for the series to be granted championship status.
“Not a lot of thought has gone into the calendar,” says Dave Stubbs, team manager of Paul Stewart Racing. “So long as they’ve got their eight races, they don’t seem to care where or when they take place. The worst thing is the short gap between Enna and Hockenheim. That’s a major headache for all the teams. Everyone comes away from Enna with damaged cars. It’s just that sort of race. Then we’re expected to perform before the Grand Prix teams at Hockenheim six days later, looking professional, and half the cars are held together by tank tape!
“We choose to do this championship, so we just have to put up with it. There are times, though, when we’re promised one thing, and we have to make do with another.
“Reducing the number of races increases the cost per event for all of us. It may cut a little from the travel and hotel bills, but the price of the cars and engines is the same whether there are eight races or 10, and there are still salaries to be paid.
“We could do with an extra couple of events. Actually, 12 would be an ideal number, but I can’t see it getting back to that. An extra two, preferably supporting Grands Prix, would help to make the formula more saleable. It would also give drivers a realistic chance to catch up if they suffer the odd problem.”
Ron Meadows, of Vortex Motorsport, thinks the Grand Prix support race concept should be extended still further.
“As it stands. the calendar’s just a joke. Why are Enna and Hockenheim so close together when there’s a seven-week gap beforehand?
“We do need more races. Ideally, we should just follow the F1 series around during their European season. Why not? Testing opportunities are limited in F3000, and the drivers’ next stop is Formula One, so why not let them learn the F1 circuits, which will be relevant to them in the future, and race in front of the F1 crowds?”
Certainly, most of the existing circuits have the facilities to cope. Any takers out there on the planet Apathy?
The core suppliers feel much the same way as their clients.
“The season runs from May to October,” points out Geoff Buttle of Cosworth. “Effectively, that means teams have to tick over for six months of the year with no business to support them.
“There should be a decent gap between the races, and there should certainly be more races. In addition, we feel that it is important to avoid clashes with the British F2 Championship. Teams should be able to do both series with the same equipment and the same personnel, but probably different drivers. That would be a good way of generating extra work, and its cost-effective. After all, these are businesses were talking about, and they should be able to operate as such.”
Bill Gibson of Zytek, which services the Judd KV engine, concurs entirely. “I know a lot of people think that we look second-rate, being stuck out in the middle of the paddock somewhere at F1 meetings. So what? We’re supposed to be a school for F1, and I don’t mind if we play a supporting role. We need more races, ideally another two. If they could be F1 support events, I’d be well happy.
“As things stand, the calendar is not sufficient, and the Enna/Hockenheim situation . . . well, it’s just crazy. Completely crazy.”
Notice any recurring themes here?
“Lola essaying to return to the European championship this season, isn’t particularly enamoured with the market as it stands. “Because of the total lack of promotion, the formula was already very difficult to sell,” reflects the company’s F3000 project manager Nick Langley. “With only eight races, they are making it almost impossible.
“Look at Alessandro Zampedri. He was 100 per cent committed to doing another year in F3000 (it would have been his third – SA), but he was having trouble finding the money. Then he goes to the States, and five minutes later he’s managed to fix up an IndyCar drive.”
Adrian Reynard’s chassis have won five of the past six European F3000 titles, and despite the obvious problems caused by the inadequacy of the calendar he remains guardedly optimistic. “Technically, I think it will be really good. We’ve stabilised the rules, and the price of the hardware has come down. Against that, eight races is not enough, but I have reason to believe the situation will improve.”
Certainly, Jean-Paul Driot patron of 1993 championship winner DAMS is known to have been working behind the scenes to forge a better deal for the formula. Like everyone else, he wants more events and higher-status races.
It isn’t yet clear what progress he has made. The string of bleeps on his telephone answering machine suggested that we are not the only ones who have been trying to get hold of him recently.
For the sake of the formula, one hopes that the time he has spent away from the office has been profitable. Henceforth, it won’t matter how much the cars cost if there’s nowhere for them to race. S A