'High-cost' GP2 faces threat of new F2 series

The on-off war between FIA president Max Mosley and Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone reached a new peak at the recent World Motor Sport Council meeting when it was announced that Formula 2 will return next year as a low-cost feeder for F1. The FIA said that F2’s budget should be €200,000 ($315,000) but a new report has revealed how tough this may be to achieve.

Dickie Attwood, Lola T61-Cosworth, leads Mike Spence, Lotus 44-Cosworth, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Matra MS5-Cosworth and Eric Offenstadt, Lola T60-BRM. REIMS F2 1966

Dickie Attwood, Mike Spence and Jean-Pierre Beltoise in Reims F2 '66 Photo: Motorsport Images

The report, Formula Money, lifts the lid on the finances of GP2 for the first time and although the results show a giant gulf between that series and F1, it reveals just how inaccessible it still is for the typical team owner.

GP2’s 86 sponsors bring in a total of $36.1 million, a drop in the ocean compared to the $896m generated in F1. This sum is supplemented by a further $35.9m paid to the teams by the drivers. It gives the 13 GP2 teams total resources of around $72m which works out at just over $5m on average for each two-car outfit.

Team running costs (including staff and travel costs) make up around half the expenses, with half of the remainder spent on engines. Testing costs are estimated to be around $750,000 and direct car costs slightly less at $600,000.

"The report reveals just how inaccessible F1 is for the typical GP2 team owner"

For a series only in its third year, GP2’s roster of sponsors is impressive. The biggest spender, Telefonica, practically covers the Racing Engineering cars for an estimated $3.8m but this doesn’t make the team the best-sponsored outfit.

Campos and Arden are the top two (with budgets of $8.3m and $8m respectively) and are supported not only by title sponsors but also partners such as Red Bull and Santander, which have a strong standing in F1. The sums are much smaller with the average payment per sponsor just $0.4m in contrast to $4.3m in F1, but the partner portfolio allows GP2 to credibly sit alongside F1. It brought it under the radar of F1’s owner CVC which took control of GP2 last year.

CVC picked the right time. This year a quarter of the F1 grid is made up of GP2 graduates and, off track, GP2’s latest accounts show it made a $267,000 profit after just two years. In contrast, other series such as A1 GP and Grand Prix Masters racked up huge losses or went bust after their first two years.

Ernesto Viso leads the field into the first corner of 2005 GP2 race

GP2 is producing its share of F1 stars Photo: Motorsport Images

Ecclestone’s private company Formula One Promotions and Administration still owns the trademark to GP2 Series, so a rival to GP2 would be a blow to him as well as CVC. It looks personal. The original name of GP2’s commercial rights holder was even F2 Motorsports and the GP2 series took over from the FIA’s F3000 category which replaced F2 in 1985.

Whether F2 can compete financially remains to be seen. No details are available about the specification, the tender or the series’ structure. In fact, given the ever-changing nature of Mosley and Ecclestone’s relationship, it’s not unimaginable that plans for the series could even be shelved.

If the $315,000 figure applies purely to the direct car costs, that wouldn’t put its finances far off GP2. However, if the figure refers to the entire team costs it would seem totally unsustainable, particularly since the prefix ‘Formula’ suggests that it would be multi-make which would in itself push up costs.

One would expect F2’s performance and costs to sit between F1 (780bhp) and F3 (220bhp), but F3 driver budgets alone are around $1m. Only lower level single-spec series such as Formula Master have team budgets under $315,000, with the $150,000 cost of its car able to be amortised over several seasons.

To stand a fighting chance, the FIA needs to speak to suppliers such as Mygale, which was recently linked to a possible buyout of F1 team Toro Rosso, and Lola, which supplied the F3000 spec car from 1996 to 2004. If not, its F2 aspirations may end up in smoke.

Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid