In the auspicious setting of the Ayrton Senna Theatre at Williams' state-of-the-art F1 Conference Centre at Grove in Oxfordshire, the new FIA Formula Two Championship was launched yesterday - with Jonathan Palmer promising to unearth the next Formula One star during the series' first season.

Formula Two in its original incarnation ran from 1948 until 1984, when it was replaced by International F3000 - itself supplanted by GP2 in 2005, a championship that the new Formula Two will ironically be in direct competition against. The thinking behind the original Formula Two conception was to provide a low-cost alternative to the top flight - and more than half a century on, not a lot has changed.

"The return of Formula Two after 25 years is an enormously significant moment in the history of motorsport," affirmed Palmer, whose company MotorSport Vision (MSV) won the FIA tender to run the new category according to the world governing body's sporting and technical regulations. "It's always been a surprise to me that there has been such a long hiatus since 1984, as Formula Two is clearly a step to Formula One.

"There has been concern that the cost of motor racing at levels at which drivers need to compete in order to get to Formula One is now so high that it is preventing so many from having the opportunity. In that context, the return of Formula Two - which will be run at a sensationally low cost - is perfectly-timed.

"We have made progress by the hour, let alone by the day or week. It's a very, very exciting time, and everyone at MSV is delighted to have won the tender to supply the cars to the championship."

Indeed, in 1952 and 1953 all Formula One World Championship grands prix were actually run for Formula Two cars, Scottish racing hero Jim Clark was tragically killed whilst competing in a Formula Two race with Lotus at Hockenheim in 1967 and later the same year the legendary Jacky Ickx made his grand prix debut at the N?rburgring at the wheel of a Formula Two machine.

The series' roll call includes such motorsport luminaries as James Hunt, Jody Scheckter, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Carlos Reutemann and Mike Hailwood, with Ickx, Gianclaudio 'Clay' Regazzoni, Ronnie Peterson, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Patrick Depailler, Jacques Laffite, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Rene Arnoux all having gone down in the motor racing annals as Formula Two Champions.

Palmer - himself Formula Two Champion in the series' penultimate year, 1983 - expects the 20-car grid to be considerably over-subscribed. Prospective drivers - who will need to be in possession of either an International 'A' or 'B' licence - present at the launch ranged from competitors in British F3 to the Formula Renault Eurocup. The category has been conceived to bridge the gap between F3 and F1, and at just ?195,000 for a full campaign is less than half the cost of the latter, and six times cheaper than a season of GP2.

"It is absolutely clear that the ability of drivers to generate high levels of sponsorship and funding is going to be significantly reduced in 2009 and 2010," Palmer underlined. "MSV had already been planning a new series as a big step-up from Formula Palmer Audi (FPA) - a series that has established itself as a proving ground for young talent. The problem is that drivers have found it hard to progress from the ?60,000 that a season of FPA costs to the ?500,000 for Formula 3 or ?1.2 million for GP2.

"I think it's important at this stage to make clear that we at MSV are not magicians; there's no fairy godmother funding Formula Two, and there will inevitably be some differences compared to other, more expensive series'.

"Saying that, I think people will be amazed at how much we are going to pack into this championship for a budget which is less than a sixth of that required for GP2, and less than half that of F3. There will be some compromises, yes, but there will be advantages in other areas too."

The car design, the 51-year-old former F1 star explained, will follow the future direction the top flight is taking and prioritises high durability, low running costs and most crucially of all the highest possible safety standards - the cars must all comply with the demanding 2005 FIA Formula One technical regulations and will feature 2009 F1-standard driver head protection. The minimum weight of each car will be 620kg including the driver, and there will be neither pits-to-car radio communication nor power steering.

Running to the same aerodynamic philosophy as GP2 to generate high levels of downforce, high torsional stiffness will moreover allow for the cars to respond to small changes whilst - in common only with F1 - the front wing will be adjustable by the driver using steering wheel-mounted controls. That, Palmer asserts, will enable the driver to potentially fix problems him or herself rather than having to pit and lose as much as ten minutes in the process.

On the engine front, a turbocharged Audi 1.8-litre powerplant will produce 400bhp at 8,250rpm, with ten, six-second 450bhp power boosts per race, as is seen in both FPA and the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. The overall performance level, Palmer estimates, will be somewhere close to that of a 3.5-litre Renault World Series machine.

A final unique feature will be two on-board cameras on every car, affording both a drivers'-eye view and rear view and allowing for on-track footage to be recorded, examined and compared against on-screen data - as well as facilitating the task of stewards in racing incidents.

"It's very important that Formula Two not only provides the possibility for driving talent to be evidenced," Palmer went on, "but also for drivers to set up their cars. We are eager that the drivers should have the greatest opportunity to learn what balance problems when addressed have the greatest impact on improving the lap time. That's what Formula One engineers want to hear most from drivers."

The cars will be prepared at FPA's Bedford Autodrome in-between races, with equality being very much a buzzword of the new championship, and three official pre-season tests and two more days of running scheduled for during the season, with a maximum mileage of 300km per day, and 50km per day for shakedowns at Bedford.

Likely benefiting from Eurosport television coverage, the series will run over eight meetings, each encompassing two 30-minute practice sessions, two 30-minute qualifying sessions and two 110km races. The second race will feature a mandatory ten-second pit-stop - again intended to accustom drivers to the skills they will require in F1 - but with no tyre change or re-fuelling, the ability of pit crews to impact upon the eventual result is largely eradicated.

The calendar - much of it featuring on the highly popular World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) support bill - is due to begin in Valencia on 31 May, going on to visit Brno (A1GP), Spa-Francorchamps (Formula Two), Brands Hatch GP Circuit (WTCC), Donington Park (Formula Two), Oschersleben (WTCC) and Magny-Cours (Formula Two), before winding up at Monza (WTCC) on 4 October.

"Formula Two is here to produce the best portfolio of driver talent," Palmer summarised, "and the one that wins has got to be very, very special. Talent will be crucial."