The rules and regulations of the future Formula 2 series are to be finalized in a few weeks’ time, thus we are throwing some ideas into the designated, purposeful box.
[GP2, currently the fastest single-seater series after F1 - photo by Jake Archibald, at Wikipedia]
The FIA wants an F2 series and they are going to do it soon - so much was said. This came with all the Superlicence changes the Federation proposed from this year - aka the “Verstappen-rule” -, which stops F1 teams to transfer junior drivers straight from low-tier series on the level of F3, F4 or even karting to F1, so the wheelmen/wheelwomen are forced to score points from various series on a ladder system. The higher you step, the more points you can acquire. On the top of the ladder - just below F1 - sits Formula 2, which does not exist just yet.
It is very much clear, then, that the idea of F2 came up with the drivers in mind. There is only one small problem with that.
If you watched the GP2 and F1 races in Bahrain - which was the first time the two series went back-to-back this year - and compared the lap times, you could see that the two Manor cars would have qualified 6th and 7th on the GP2 grid. Even if we excluded said team running - apparently - on coupons and discount meals, the top qualifier in GP2 would have only been 3.5 seconds away from Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull in P17 in F1. Moreover, 18 (!) of the 24 cars in GP2 would have been able to qualify for the F1 race within the 107% time.
The question is - obviously - whether the big circus of open-wheel racing - headed by F1 - needed another sub-tier series? Well, if we are looking at the example above, the obvious answer would be a ‘no’, regarding the speed of these cars. Except...
[the latest iteration of the now-defunct FIA Formula Two series - photo by Mieguy for Wikipedia]
Right at this point you could take a handful of series - like GP2, GP3, Formula Renault 3.5 or even AutoGP - and simply rename any of them “Formula 2”, job done. These cars are fast, agile and relatively cheap. But here lies another problem from the drivers’ perspective.
Since the FIA opted for a drastic clampdown on pre- and mid-season testing in F1, there have only been two drivers being able to win a race - coming after the ban was introduced: Pastor Maldonado and Daniel Ricciardo. This is a very sad piece of statistics and it shows how much proper seat-time is missing. In previous years, drivers could run multiple seasons’ worth of distance pre-season, starting the first race knowing the car and various strategies inside-out. Now that’s gone and it shows. One could argue of course, that those years since the testing-ban were filled with the dominance mostly by Red Bull, but it also shows that it took quite a few seasons for more fresh blood getting up to the highest level within the field. Even as of now, all the top teams are running veteran drivers - except Red Bull, which lost their two veterans within two years in succession.
[Daniel Ricciardo - the most successful and only second F1 driver to win a Grand Prix coming into the series post-testing ban - photo by Morio for Wikipedia]
The message is quite clear: whatever time you spend in sub-F1 series, it won’t substitute seat time in F1 per se. Even more so as of 2014. If you took the aforementioned open-wheel series and compared them, yes there are quite a few differences between them. But if you also parked an F1 car next to them, those differences would melt away in a nanosecond, because F1 is just a whole different ballgame. Mostly because F1 cars are turbocharged, equipped with a KERS and TERS system, open design - so every car is different, and it’s just an ongoing development as the season is progressing.
Sure, you could add a few extra horsepowers to the GP2 cars to make them faster than the F1 cars, even. If if was about speed only, GP2 would be a perfect fit for F2 (as it is its actual successor, anyway; the former F2 series turned into F3000 - and Formula Nippon, now Super Formula in Japan - , that turned into the current GP2 series).
[Super Formula - the series that is closest to F1 in regards of technology, featuring high-powered, turbocharged engines, the same that SuperGT and DTM will use in the future - photo by Morio for Wikipedia]
Since the aim for F2 would be to support experienced drivers into F1, what you would ideally need is a series with near-F1 cars - as a substitute for testing.
Formula 2, then, should be a one-make F1 series with slightly less power, so that both drivers and engineers could be transferred to F1 easily.
For example, Dallara or somebody else could build the chassis according to current F1 regulations - by e.g. using the Perrinn-design - or they should be allowed to copy the previous year’s Constructors’ Championship-winning car for mass production. Cosworth or any other engine builder could develop a power unit - completed with energy recovery systems - all within Formula 1 regulations. Aero kits should be stock and F1 compatible. Power should be limited in a way that so that the cars are somewhat slower than F1 cars, but also that the power units should last half or even a whole season.
These cars would be a lot more expensive to buy, run and maintain than GP2, FR3.5 or anything else, but all development and building costs would spread over a whole field of vehicles, so that everyone raced F1 on a budget. It would be the best stepping stone for a driver, an engineer or a whole team to step into F1. On the downside, it would render most of the rest of the series obsolete and would run them out of business if it happened so, but encouraged the wealthier ones to join F2 as the next best thing to F1 - having an opportunity in F1 itself.
[in the past it was quite common for drivers and teams to compete both in F1 and F2 - photo by ElHeineken for Wikipedia]
All in all, the series that were meant to feed F1 just cannot fill their purpose as efficiently as before - given the changes in, and the vast deviation on behalf of F1. That said, Formula 2 should fill in the gap where Formula 1 fails (i.e. testing) and where the rest of the championships are helpless (supporting cutting-edge technology).
It will be interesting to see the future Formula 2.