Formula 2 under the microscope

19th August 2009

Donington Park hosted round five of the new Formula 2 championship on August 15/16 and inevitably it was the most crucial so far in the series’ inaugural season. This was the first weekend since the tragic death of Henry Surtees, the first weekend F2 was a stand-alone event and the first weekend it was joined by the Historic Formula 2 series, an obvious reminder of the category’s celebrated past and what it has to live up to.

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In memory of Surtees, a tribute of a minute’s silence was observed at 9.30am on Sunday with all the drivers assembled behind his car, which was placed on pole position on the grid. There was a sombre mood that lingered over the rest of the day, which was fitting given the loss of a driver noted for being one of the most talented – and popular – in the new series. The freak accident in which the wheel of another car bounced across the circuit and struck him on the head was a stark reminder of just how dangerous this sport still is.

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The F2 series has raced thus far in conjunction with the World Touring Car Championship. But its own headline event at Donington, supported by the likes of the GT Cup and the Heritage Grand Touring Car Challenge, gave the drivers a chance to take centre stage and prove their talent in a more focused event.

There has been heavy criticism of the driving standards in the new F2 – as well as the racing spectacle. The statistics show that out of the 10 races held so far, seven have been won from pole. What’s more, out of the 18 drivers in the field, only two haven’t had any retirements through accident or mechanical failure this season. Julien Jousse’s win from pole in the second race at Donington was an example of how it’s been: once a driver takes the lead, the challenge tends to be over by the end of the first lap.

Whether this is due to the strength of the car in clean air or the drivers’ lack of confidence to challenge at the front is not yet clear. However, with these drivers trying to catch the eye of Formula 1 team bosses, many will need something other than their talent to recommend them if the racing continues like this.

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From the HSCC, Historic F2 joined the new F2 for the weekend, with cars from between 1967-79 returning to the track in a series which celebrates the era that introduced the likes of James Hunt, Ronnie Peterson and Niki Lauda into mainstream racing. Classics such as the March 772 races against Lotus 69s and Brabham BT30s, giving a new generation of racing enthusiasts the chance to appreciate them. Speaking with many of the spectators, this seemed to be an unexpected highlight to the weekend, and I believe that keeping Historic F2 and the new F2 on the same schedule will be beneficial to the growth of support for the modern series.

Sadly the weekend did little to disperse doubts about Donington being ready to host the British Grand Prix in 2010. With diggers and mounds of earth spread sparsely around the track, it seems minimal effort was put in to hiding the ongoing work and developments. Everything the circuit had to offer just felt tatty and, with time slowly ticking away on the old Dunlop tyre clock, my faith in the GP plans continues to decline.

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All in all I believe this weekend was successful for F2. It’s important to remember that this series is still in its first year – despite its heritage – when considering whether it is able to deliver drivers to F1. Right now I don’t think it is, but once the organisers have had time to iron out the errors, I’d have more conviction that it really can work.

Claire Lorenc

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