It pays to be a league player

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The Superleague Formula, a self-styled ‘destination championship’, has a generous prize fund for F1 aspirants

The Superleague Formula is on our Money Tree, but series bosses don’t want it to be viewed as a route to Formula 1.

They think of it as a ‘destination championship’, stating “we want to be what World Superbikes are to MotoGP”. But are young drivers really content to aspire to Superleague? We’re not so sure.

Since it started in 2008 some have seen Superleague as a series where drivers go when there are no other options. This is perhaps unfair: the racing is increasingly exciting, the cars are proper machines with 750bhp V12s and vitally the prize money (yes, rare these days but this series has it) is good. If you win a race weekend Super Final you’re handed a cheque for €100,000. The 2010 series runner-up Craig Dolby made €1.8 million in prize money alone and his sponsor actually made money out of his success.

THE HISTORY
Superleague started off the back of an idea to unite football clubs and motor sport. The partnership between the two had been loated before with premier 1 grand prix, which was set up in 2000 but collapsed in ’03 without having held a race.

Second time around – with founders Alex Andreu and Robin Webb at the helm – the idea took off. David Rignon, The 2000 Italian F3000 champion, made the most of the identical panoz single-seaters to win the inaugural title for the Beijing guoan football club.

In its first year there were six race meetings with three races at each round. Come 2009 and there were 19 teams/clubs on the grid. In 2010 big changes were made with the number of rounds increased to 12 and the prize money fund bumped up. Andreu stepped down and alfredo Brisac took over as Ceo.

Last year may have been a season of change, but the football club link had started to weaken before then. In 2009 the self-proclaimed ‘World Cup of motor Sport’, A1GP, raced its last lap. and although Superleague co-founder Webb said the collapse of the series was “sad to see”, he went on to admit that, “it did take away some confusion and a competitor out of the market”. Although Superleague didn’t want to be a1gp it then had the opportunity to accept national team entries from the likes of New Zealand, which isn’t best known for its football clubs… as a result, in 2011 fewer than half the teams have a footie affiliation.

TOP DRIVERS WHO HAVE COMPETED

Yes, it is still a second-tier championship to F1 and we won’t see Fernando Alonso leaving the grid to carve a career in Superleague any time soon.

However, when you go through the championship’s (short) history, you realise that various notable drivers have dipped their toe in Superleague. Sébastien Bourdais, Narain Karthikeyan and Franck montagny have all raced in the series and sports car driver Neel Jani, 2009 F2 champion andy Soucek and ex-Jaguar and BmW F1 pilot Antônio Pizzonia are on this year’s grid.

It’s not those three you have to watch, however, as Team Luxembourg driver Frédéric Vervisch has looked particularly strong in the opening two rounds of the season. The 2008 German F3 champion won the well-paid Zolder Super Final and has finished on the podium on two further occasions. Vervisch’s team principal and ex-touring car racer anthony reid has tipped him for greatness.

INSIDE VIEW
“We got involved in Superleague on day one and we love it,” says veteran F3 team boss alan Docking, who runs Team australia. “It’s an intense series and you can win or lose a race on tyre choice. You might run used tyres in the first race and new ones in the second, but if you make contact on the new tyres that can ruin your race plan.

“There’s also the push-to-pass [button]. unlike the a1gp car – where you were given a bit more at the top end of the engine – it’s a big bang. If the driver behind uses his button he’s coming through. “As for the destination championship tag my drivers have no plans for finishing in Superleague. They’re using it as a stepping stone. It’s a far better option than GP2 as that’s expensive. We’ve got big cars with lots of grunt and drivers have to use their heads to get the best results out of them.”

Ed Foster