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 Nürburgring 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.