Quite a lot has happened since my last article, and it looks as though some resolution is in sight, but it is not one that I like. Teams need to be able to commit to what they are going to do next year and until they can do that they are in no position to start negotiating with drivers.
Stéphane Ratel held his press conference at Spa at the end of July and what he said made a good deal of sense. It was pretty much what I expected, but with an added twist which, to me at least, made it even more attractive on the face of it. British F3 would run alongside the Blancpain Endurance Series at four venues in Europe –Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, Paul Ricard and the Nürburgring, plus the UK at the Silverstone. There will only be these five BES rounds. The other British rounds would be at Oulton Park, Rockingham, Snetterton and Brands Hatch GP. The reason for this is that Ratel also proposed that the British F3 International Series should be combined with the FIA European Cup. This would leave the Formula 3 Euro Series out in the cold unless they chose to come along and play.
The unexpected extra was that Pau would be included again. To me this sounded like a sweetener to the FIA and Gerhard Berger in particular. He remains the FIA supremo so far as F3 and the other junior formulae are concerned.
There was even a proposed calendar:
30 Mar Oulton Park International with British GT
14 Apr Monza ITA with Blancpain Endurance
05 May Rockingham with British GT
19 May Pau FRA Grand Prix de Pau
02 Jun Silverstone Grand Prix with Blancpain Endurance
09 Jun Snetterton (tbc) with British GT
30 Jun Paul Ricard FRA with Blancpain Endurance
27 Jul Spa-Francorchamps BEL with Blancpain Endurance
22 Sep Nürburgring GER (tbc) with Blancpain Endurance
06 Oct Brands Hatch Grand Prix with British GT
I remain convinced that Berger favours the F3 Euro Series and that if the FIA European Championship is to combined with anything he would like it to be with that.
It is the whole idea of the FIA European Championship that has thrown Formula 3 into turmoil. Berger is probably harking back to 1983 when he raced in such a championship, but those days are long gone.
Formula 3 was probably at it peak in the years prior to 2003. There were separate British, German and French Championships. They all raced with good grids. So far as competitiveness was concerned, they were pretty similar. We used to say the British was the best and it did produce several F1 drivers, but the other two were just as good really.
A couple of times a year the best drivers from the three championships competed against each other. The first time was at Zandvoort for the Marlboro Masters of Formula 3 and when the season was over there was the annual pilgrimage to Macau for the FIA Intercontinental Cup, which was like an unofficial one-off world championship. If you won Macau you were on your way. The Japanese joined in for that as well, so it really was the best of the best. There was also an F3 European Cup in Pau, which was a great street circuit venue, but it never became a must-do event like the other two.
Somewhere along the line I was invited to sit on the FIA Single Seater Technical Working Group on behalf of the Formula Three Association (FOTA). In those days the Group was run properly. The meetings were chaired for a while by Charlie Whiting and then by Jo Bauer, so clear-thinking, knowledgeable and impartial FIA people ran the show. The other members were representatives of car manufacturers, principally Dallara, but Lola and Mygale as well, and also engine tuners such as NBE, Opel, and latterly, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I remember very well when they appeared for the first time. The tone of the meetings changed and more than ever I felt it was right that the competitors should also have a voice.
This period of happy co-existence ended in 2003 when a strong German lobby pushed for and succeeded in creating the Formula 3 Euro Series. The intention was to create an F3 super series supporting the DTM. The German and French Championships combined and what’s more the German and French motorsport governing bodies, the DMSB and the FFSA, put financial and logistical support behind it. All the MSA has ever done for British F3 is take money from it by way of large permit fees etc.
However, there is another factor of major significance. I alluded to it in my previous article and this is the time to bring it out into the open.
This year has seen the introduction of new chassis and next year was supposed to see the introduction of a new engine, cheaper than before, but with a 28mm restrictor, many standardised parts and a significant increase in power. The tuners are talking in terms of 235bhp, but that’s conservative.
This part is boring is boring, but has to be said. If you want to run an engine in 2013 you had to notify the FIA accordingly by the end of March this year. Neil Brown Engineering did so and as did Spiess from Germany. They used to prepare Opel-based engines and have latterly been responsible to maintaining the Volkswagen engines. Tomei, who produce the Nissan-based engines that T-Sport use, also signed up, as did TOM’S and a couple of lesser known companies.
It was all looking quite promising, except that the two main engine suppliers at present, Volkswagen and Mercedes, steadfastly refused to join in. They were relying on their combined muscle to be able to change things later on, i.e. for the FIA to say that the present engines could still be used. This would, of course, be in breach of the FIA regulations, but some companies seem to think that they are more important than the sport’s governing body.
Initially the FIA stood firm and said that the new engine would definitely be introduced and this was confirmed by Berger at the Norisring meeting I mentioned in the last article, although after the official announcement he had a meeting with the team owners and seemed to be sending out mixed messages, so they ended up rather confused.
Then he decided to invite himself to Silverstone on the test day prior to the most recent British F3/GT meeting, bringing along a couple of lackeys from the MSA. There were meetings all day and it was clear that Berger was trying to use a divide and conquer technique.
There is a World Motor Sport Council meeting to be held later today, September 28, when all this should be discussed and an announcement made to resolve the situation. It may all be Chinese whispers but what I am expecting to be announced is a completely botched solution in an attempt to give everyone at least something of what they want, but not all.
The new engines will run next year, but so will the old ones, and to avoid the obvious danger of the new ones running away with things there will be some kind of equalisation formula. This is why I say it will be a botched solution. They may try to increase the power of the old engines, but there is not much scope. Even when I was on that FIA committee some of us were pushing for the size of the restrictor to be increased to 28mm. The Mugen-Honda engines that NBE were running at the time were strong enough to be able to take the extra power and the Japanese were quite keen, too, but VW and Mercedes were not, so they vetoed the plan. It will be very difficult to come up with an equalisation formula that works fairly straightaway, so I can see it having to be tweaked as the season progresses, which is highly unsatisfactory.
It’s likely that the equalisation will mostly be a restriction on the new engines. It’s amazing how much difference can be achieved by changing the size of the restrictor. NBE and I were experimenting with the National Class engines once. We wanted to give them a little more power so they were more on a par with the International Class cars in terms of overall lap times. We experimented at a FOTA test day at Snetterton. We found opening out the restrictor to 26.5mm was too much, but 26.3mm was about right. The change was introduced for the rest of that season, but the problem was that at some circuits it made the National Class cars faster in a straight line than the International Class ones. My argument was the latter were run by the best teams and had the best drivers, so should be able to cope, but the teams did not see it that way, so it was dropped after a year, which I felt was a shame. Maybe it’s why the National Class has faded away to virtual obscurity.
Coming back to now, this botched up engine solution will be run, thank goodness, only for next year. After that everyone will have to run the new engine.
British F3 will continue to be a stand-alone series. Berger is determined that the FIA European Cup must go ahead. He has made it impossible for SRO to run it in addition by demanding a whole new set of fees, even if all or almost all the rounds were run at British F3 rounds. I don’t know if the F3ES will take it on-board or if some third party will enter the fray. Whatever, it would be ridiculous to me for there to be three separate F3 championships. Barry Bland, who was Berger’s predecessor, knew Formula 3 inside out and understood that. It seems that Berger may not, but the next few days will tell.