Report: FOM considering American support series
13 November 2012
Formula One Management is considering establishing a new American support series to help establish the popularity of F1 across the continent, according to media reports over the weekend.
ESPN revealed that company documents showed that FOM is actively discussing the formation of a new regional championship in the US, Canada and Brazil, similar to the existing GP2 and GP3 Series in Europe. Such a championship would act as a support series at American Grand Prix events and help develop local driving talent for and grassroots interest in F1.
All of this is aimed at ensuing that Bernie Ecclestone's recent push into the US is a success. If it proves to be, then it would certainly open up lucrative new sponsorship markets for F1 teams in the future.
The ultimate ambition of the move would be to put open-wheel racing in the Americas in the same sort of footing and popularity that it enjoys in Europe. Currently, stock car racing is by far the biggest motorsport in the US in the form of NASCAR, although the single biggest motor race of the year remains the Indianapolis 500, which is part of the struggling open-wheel IndyCar Series.
The reports that FOM is considering setting up a new American series come ahead of the first US Grand Prix in five years, which will be held this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. While a second US event planned for New Jersey has had to be postponed until 2014, there are still events at Circuit Gilles Villeneueve in Montreal, Canada and at Interlagos in São Paulo, Brazil that would also benefit from the establishing of a support series.
It is not currently known whether a new American championship would seek to also stage additional stand-alone events away from GP weekends at other venues across the US, Canada, central and south America. The plans still have to be formally green-lit, and there's no indication on when such a series would actually launch.
Currently, European F1 events have the support of two open-wheel feeder series championships, GP2 and GP3. GP2 was launched in 2005 and taken over by FOM in 2007, which added a junior feeder series in the form of GP3 in 2010. Combined, running the two series contributes $44.8m in revenues, or 2.9% of the total, to the group - although the income is expressly separate from the F1 prize money fund.
GP2 has since expanded out of Europe into also supporting events further east and now stages additional rounds in Bahrain, Malaysia and Singapore during Grand Prix weekends, as a result of folding in the short-lived GP2 Asia Series winter spin-off.
Using similar but lower-spec cars and equivalent regulations to F1, GP2 has been credited with ensuring the continued supply of top driving talent for F1 teams, with past series champions and runners-up including Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, Nico Rosberg, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov, Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen. However, GP2 has come under some fire for driving standards in 2012, after two of its graduates - Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado - repeatedly found themselves mired in on-track incidents and controversies during the season. Grosjean was even banned for a race after his driving error caused a dangerous accident at the start of this year's Belgian Grand Prix.
Even so, F1 appears keen to set up a 'championship of the Americas' to expand F1's driving pool beyond its primarily European base at present. In the past decade, the only high-profile attempt at developing driver talent in the US has been Red Bull's American Drivers Search, which helped deliver Scott Speed into the sport. The drinks company was also said to be mulling a 'Stars and Stripes' F1 team earlier this year, but nothing has come of it; a 2010 attempt to set up a USF1 team also fell parat because of a lack of funding.
There are no US drivers currently on the F1 grid, although Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi are test/reserve drivers at Force India and Caterham respectively. The sport does have drivers from elsewhere on the continent, including Mexico (Sergio Perez), Venezuela (Pastor Maldonado) and Brazil (Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna.) The only American to drive in GP2 this season was Jake Rosenzweig.
Moves to establish a new F1-style junior regional championship may impact the current IndyCar Series, which is already struggling for viability and recently fired its chief executive.
However, IndyCar is not in a position to provide a basis as a feeder or support series for F1: it runs a very different technical specification as its cars are designed to run on both oval and street tracks as well as F1-style permanent courses. Rubens Barrichello's recent experiences transitioning from F1 to compete in this year's IndyCar season showed that there was little overlap to help to develop and train Grand Prix drivers in practice.
In any case, IndyCar tends to pick up more experienced talent such as former F1 drivers Barrichello, Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais, and French sports car star Simon Pagenaud who joined the series this season. IndyCar has its own feeder series in the form of the Indy Lights championship.