What’s in a name?
Last month, we pointed out that Formula 3000’s name meant very little to the world at large, and that it sounded more like a brand of furniture polish than the final proving ground for young drivers with an eye on Formula One.
A few days after Motor Sport closed for press, the F3000 teams regrouped at Le Mans for the penultimate round of the European Championship. During the weekend, team representatives met with FISA’s Yvon Leon to discuss proposals geared towards reducing costs. After various topics had been bandied around, the question of changing the category’s name to Formula Two was raised. By and large, the suggestion met with approval. Its eventual acceptance or otherwise rests on the somewhat unpredictable shoulders of FISA’s World Motor Sports Council.
Formula 3000 is of course the modern equivalent of the old Formula Two, the name change occurring when radical new regulations were drawn up for 1985. In the last few years of its European life (it carried on for a couple more seasons in Japan), Formula Two had been in poor health. Honda supplied its purpose-built V6 only to the factory Ralt team, and the rest of the field had to make do with BMW’s worthy, but aged, production-based four-cylinder unit. In 1984, the Ralts were not once beaten in a straight fight, mechanical problems accounting for their defeat in just two of the 11 races.
With entries having dwindled to around a dozen, something had to be done. At the time, a change of name seemed like a good idea, so poor had the public’s perception of F2 become. With hindsight, that was clearly a mistake. Nowadays, Formula 3000 is consistently confused with F3, and race meetings promoted with F3000 as a main feature mean nothing at all to the layman or casual spectator.
“It’s very difficult to explain F3000 to a sponsor,” says Paul Stewart, who is in the unique position of being both a driver and a team owner. “I am forever being asked by guests what it is like to drive an F3 car. They simply don’t understand what F3000 is. If it was called F2, its place in the overall scheme of things would be immediately apparent.”
That same Le Mans weekend, the penultimate round of the British F3000 series was also taking place, across the Channel at Silverstone. The following day, The Daily Telegraph headline referred to Fredrik Ekblom’s “F3 success”. It is easy to see why those involved in the formula are dissatisfied. Attempts to promote it as a bright international racing formula peppered with the F1 stars of the future have thus far met with disinterest; a few years ago, Brands Hatch promoted its F3000 meeting as the Brands Hatch GP, and the crowds came trickling in as usual.
The French make a better go of it. Pau, being a street circuit in a highly populated, sprawling town, has something of an unfair advantage, but it works hard at attracting the public. Part of the programme now comprises night racing, to which admission is free, followed by a fireworks spectacular. Birmingham tried to bring a splash of carnival flair to Britain’s only street race, but the whole event proved too costly. Sadly, it was dropped for 1991 and there is no immediate sign of its reinstatement.
Despite the public’s apathetic response, Formula 3000 remains healthy on the surface, but how long entries in excess of 30 cars can be sustained is debatable. For too long, teams have been sailing rather too close to the wind for comfort. This season, GA Motorsport was forced to close its doors — after just two events in a 10-race season.
Some of the topics tackled at Le Mans, including the introduction of control fuel (chemists have played almost as big a part as drivers for much of the 1991 season), the banning of spare cars, carbon brakes, ABS and free-for-all testing, will certainly help stem spiralling costs, but many insiders place equal importance on a fresh — or leastways revived — identity.
Given that FISA is unlikely to be changing Formula One’s name to F3500 in the near future, readoption of the F2 name is vital to the formula’s future credibility. — SA