How to save Formula One’s next generation

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    Max Verstappen: If you're good enough, you're old enough. (Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

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    Quick quiz: can you name the current top three drivers in Formula Two?

    Once you’ve completed the requisite Google search and returned the correct answer – Charles Leclerc, Oliver Rowland and Artem Markelov, for the record – can you identify those drivers’ best races of the season to date? Or perhaps their single-seater career highlights?

    We’re now well outside the realm of Wikipedia assistance, but no matter – the correct answer isn’t the point; it’s the fact that so few would be able to respond confidently that is of interest.

    The discourse regarding Formula One’s next generation of drivers has long been a bit of a mess. It’s largely dictated by the various investments some of the sport’s larger teams have in young drivers, with the likes of Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon, and Lance Stroll all good examples of the big teams buying in early and giving favoured young drivers a leg up into the F1 world.

    All three warranted high-level interest, to be clear, but their shortcutting of the bulk of the junior ladder rather than their impressive junior performances is what has made them noteworthy, and this underlines a key issue for the state of motorsport’s F1 hopefuls.

    The FIA is now tantalisingly close to realising its restructure of the motorsport ladder to create an effective path from Formula Four, Formula Three and Formula Two into Formula One.

    Thanks to F1’s new owners – also the owners of GP3 and the former GP2 – GP2 became F2 this year, and the remodelling of GP3 into an international F3 with a regional ‘lights’ series will be completed in due course.

    But the junior series remain detached from Formula One. These categories are still seen as somehow lesser – in 2017 Formula Two gets only 11 rounds on the Formula One calendar while GP3 makes do with just eight appearances.

    The result is that the drivers can become only minimally relevant in the broader world of top-tier motor racing – something to watch after Formula One qualifying if you don’t have anything else to do, but not much more.

    It is little wonder, then, that second-placed F2 driver Oliver Rowland says he feels overlooked in the F1 driver market.

    “I don’t see any reason [for it],” he told Motorsport.com.

    “I think I can be as quick as anybody, and I’ve showed that I’m consistent, so I don’t see any reason why I can’t be in the frame.”

    In an ideal world – a world in which Formula Two and Formula Three comprise the F1 undercard at every round – Oliver Rowland would naturally have a place in driver market speculation as the junior championship’s second-placed driver. Likewise we’d be free to debate which Formula Three drivers have what it takes to make it to the next level and perhaps go all the way to Formula One.

    The same accusation of disjointedness certainly could not be made of the motorcycle world, where Moto2 and Moto3 bask in limelight almost equal to that illuminating MotoGP.

    A MotoGP weekend is a neatly packaged affair at the track and on television, with no obvious delineation between the categories in terms of weight – unlike in Formula One, where junior series are lucky to get television time in the first place.

    The sport reaps a double benefit of having Moto2 and Moto3 rides making names for themselves in their own right and also of having the likes of double-Moto2 champion Johann Zarco and teammate Jonas Folger, along with Sam Lowes and Alex Rins, blossom into fully-fledged senior drivers, adding new chapters to long-running narratives established in the lower series.

    Formula One drivers don’t get that full benefit, as Oliver Rowland can attest. Even the likes of Verstappen, Ocon and Stroll were denied their origin stories.

    Would Verstappen still have courted such controversial headlines if his impressive rookie Formula Three season had been part of the F1 show? Would Ocon’s 2015 GP2 championship or Stroll’s utterly dominant 2016 F3 campaign have changed the way they were received in F1?

    All three entered Formula One with hype rather than narrative, and while Verstappen’s place at a front-running team has delivered on that promise, midfield berths for Stroll and Ocon – not to mention Stoffel Vandoorne – risk having their names lost because their previous achievements are left unrecognised.

    For this reason Formula One and its new commercial owners must prioritise – admittedly among a burgeoning list of priorities – the integration of the junior ladder into Formula One as a comprehensive event rather than tag-along support categories.

    Not only would an F1 weekend benefit from the effective tripling of racing, but the sport’s key assets – the drivers – would have the right to make names for themselves as they try to knock on Formula One’s door.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart — but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (10)

    • Roar Rookie

      July 4th 2017 @ 11:11am
      Jamie Mills said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:11am | ! Report

      Thoroughly enjoyed reading this Michael. I couldn’t agree more.

      MotoGP definitely has the right idea with Moto2 and Moto3 all featuring as they do. Rather than playing with the Formula 1 format of adding extra races to the weekend like I’ve heard talked about to build more excitement, I think they would do better to incorporate F2 and F3 as you suggest, and feature them like MotoGP does.

      Win-win for everybody as far as I’m concerned.

      • Columnist

        July 4th 2017 @ 4:46pm
        Michael Lamonato said | July 4th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

        Spot on. If F1 considered the junior categories as part of the overall format, there wouldn’t be such a need to tinker with the F1 schedule so much. Plus the junior categories tend to be more action-packed, so every weekend would feature good racing no matter the circuit. Thanks for the comment!

        • July 6th 2017 @ 11:45am
          Bamboo said | July 6th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          Well as the sporting market gets more and more saturated, and peoples time becomes more and more time poor I think motorsport as a whole need to work together a bit more.

          Cost wise, its unrealistic to be sending F2 & F3 cars, plus crew and equipment around the world. Achievable in MotoGP yes, but the equipment is less, bikes are smaller, as are the crew.

          Perhaps some cohesion which assists in establishing a clear pathway in single seater racing. Have a British F3 championship, but then a European one, an Asian one, a Middle East one and a Pacific/Tasman one. These can serve as certain raisers for F1 races in their respective areas. Most of these areas have some form of junior single seater comp already, so why not have it affiliated with F1, where all cars are the same across all regions?

          From there a F2 championship where being entered in X amount of F3 races is a prerequisite for racing establishes a pathway, with it very difficult for drivers to enter the sport outside of this.

          It creates a funnel of talent, which restricts how/where F1 teams select their drivers from.

          • Columnist

            July 6th 2017 @ 5:36pm
            Michael Lamonato said | July 6th 2017 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

            Indeed the costs for F2/GP3 are more prohibitive to travel, but a certain extent of F1 teams’ travel costs are subsidised by F1 itself. Adopting all three under one brand — not to mention making efforts to cut costs in those junior formulae to ensure drivers aren’t priced out in the first place — could bring a universal calendar into reality.

            As for the regional F3 series, the ‘F3 light’ programme should fill that space where a number of F3 categories of varying success already exist. How will that fit with the broader programme? I suppose that’s the question! But having them support key F1 rounds, as you say, is a good place to start. To draw another MotoGP comparison, regional bike series often act as support races.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 4th 2017 @ 8:28pm
      Chancho said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

      This article is really spot on Michael, well done! And I totally agree with Jamie’s comment above re the MotoGP format into the race weekend.

      Quite sobering the test you put forward at the start… but this has been a problem for F1 for a while, the cannibalistic nature of this formula over the others. Having said that, the FIA hasn’t done single seater/open wheel racing much good either with the myriad of pathways to F1

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 7:15am
        Michael Lamonato said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:15am | ! Report

        Thanks, mate! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

        Like you say, it’s been a problem for some time. However, I think we need to give credit to the FIA and especially to Jean Todt in this area — a major part of Todt’s platform across his two presidential terms has been to harmonise the junior ladder. A lot of the effort has gone into establishing Formula Four in a whole lot of territories, including Australia, and now that these series have some traction the questions of F3 and F2 are being answered — indeed we could’ve had F2 sooner, but talks with Bernie Ecclestone on the matter broke down before he was ousted by Liberty.

    • July 5th 2017 @ 6:21am
      Lynette said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:21am | ! Report

      I agree completely. I would love nothing more than to have F2 & F3 on the same calendar as F1. Bring it on! And, yes, I did know the top two F2 drivers in the current standings!

      • Columnist

        July 6th 2017 @ 12:50am
        Michael Lamonato said | July 6th 2017 @ 12:50am | ! Report

        Nailed it! One of the best parts about the European part of the season is that we more or less consistently have F2/GP3 to keep an eye on.

    • July 5th 2017 @ 6:13pm
      Laurie organ said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

      I love motor racing but why is always about Lewis Hamilton he has caused crashes before and last year with Robert just race stop moaning . please no my Hamilton every other word

    • July 23rd 2017 @ 4:35am
      NaBUru38 said | July 23rd 2017 @ 4:35am | ! Report

      The calendar is nor the problem. The problem is marketing.

      How often do F1 drivers talk with GP2 / F2 drivers, let alone appear together in public?

      Also, F1 and F2 often have different tv partners, and they are treated separately.

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