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Formula 2 can be brilliant, but there are a couple of ways to make it into a killer junior series to the big show

Formula 2 is not without its flaws. And like almost every single other sport, the conventional route into the elite level involves ability and a generous slice of luck. Unlike almost every other sport, getting a seat in F2 also requires a massive chequebook (or digital transfer, seeing as it’s 2023). 

Imagine being a top prospect in the NFL Draft at quarterback. In the past, you’d probably get a scholarship i.e. your costs to study are covered while being the big cheese on campus. Now, you can actually make millions before turning pro via Name, Image and Likeness payment clauses. Before the advent of NILs, players could not be paid for any of the extra-curricular stuff they did. Now imagine being a top college QB and paying millions for the privilege of starting? 

Or being a scholar at a top Premier League club, and paying to slot in at right back for the under 21s? 

That’s sort of what these drivers are doing. Yes, most of them are covered by a driver academy, and getting a foothold in one of those is a mission in itself, but the business model for an F2 team is worth a look.

First of all, you pay for the car and the staff. Some fairly austere headquarters and give yourself a snazzy name. Maybe name it after yourself and a title sponsor. Pay your entry fees to the FIA. Now, you have a couple of cars and you need to fill them. Hundreds of drivers send you an application, and you need some way of sorting them that doesn’t involve a reality show whose concept is somewhat past its time.

So to find your next apprentice, it’s almost a straight up auction. Pick two of the higher bidders but there are two twists in the story. You get prize money from the authorities based on your team standings, so while the money from the drivers is welcome, you have to ensure that they also have the ability to score you points, because you’ll make even more money.

The other twist comes from those driver academies. When one of the big teams comes to knock on your door and offers you money to put their driver in your car, turning them down can be a diplomatic disaster if done the wrong way. 

So, after scary amounts of money have changed hands, you have a team, two entries, two drivers and you can start the season on the Formula 1 undercard. You agree a deal with one of those teams to use their gear, try to agree some unique sponsors and away we go.

What could go wrong? Well… kind of, everything, if the latest F2 races are anything to go by.

The Italian races were a mess in Monza with expensive bits of carbon fibre going everywhere. There was crash after crash and that led to frusration via extended safety car periods.

It also means there are no team orders. If your drivers have paid to be in the seat, why should they move across for someone else? We saw that magnified during Monza, when ART’s Victor Martins (Alpine Academy) was being chased by his teammate Theo Pourchaire (Sauber Academy). Martins could meekly move over, helping the championship leader, but it doesn’t help Martins. Both the ARTs were trying to overtake race leader and eventual winner Oliver Bearman (Ferrari Academy) and the fact that he won not only helped his PREMA team to valuable points, but it stopped Pourchaire extending his lead further over title rival (and the other PREMA driver) Frederik Vesti (Mercedes Academy). 

There are so many subplots when the lights go out in Formula 2 that the support races (one on Saturday, one on Sunday) are well worth your time. It’s a bit like watching pro wrestling. I know its about 65% real - one guy got down to 53%, they had to let him go - but if you refuse to suspend your disbelief, you’re watching more than one story. 

There’s the story in the ring, and the behind-the-scenes narrative taking place at the same time.

Still, Formula Tag Team is great fun, but it could do with a few improvements, and I’ve detailed a couple of ideas below.

YOU ONLY GET 75

This junior series is meant to be your final finishing school on your road to F1. It is a mark of failure if you’ve managed to spend more than three years at this level. You’re no longer learning anything, and all you’re doing is stopping someone new taking your seat. You are the bottleneck in a sport that hates obstructions, and so this is the rule I would add.

You are allowed to race 75 times in F2 maximum or three seasons, whichever you hit first. You’re allowed to complete the current season you’re in when the threshold is reached. If you win the title, and you don’t have an F1 drive, you’re allowed to defend your title for one more year.

The likes of Jehan Daruvala, Ralph Boschung and Roy Nissany have done everything they’re going to do in this Championship and F2 really should not have “veterans” in it. It feels utterly bizarre to be talking about Boschung’s 100th race in the series when the goal should be progression, rather than inertia. Nissany has been involved in several incidents which in 2022, got him a race ban for accumulating too many penalty points.

He missed Monza then, and made up for lost time this year, picking up another couple of penalty points by taking out Zane Maloney on the main straight. What is he still actually learning?

“It was a really good race actually. I was P14 after the first lap. When the crash happened, I was probably net P10, and we’d have already made up 10 places which is a good day at the office. Pace was good. I was just driving down the straight and then one second later I’m heading to the wall.” - Zane Maloney, on F2’s website on his Monza crash.

Under this rule, Boschung, Daruvala, Nissany and Pourchaire would all be eliminated after the current season under races run, unless Pourchaire wins the title. A few more might be up for the chop on seasons, but because of COVID etc. you can forgive them by giving at least one more year. But who would replace them? Well, I’ve got an idea for that too.

THE F3 CHALLENGE

Because F2 loves the drama, or maybe it’s to add support to the season finale, the final round of the season follows F1 at Abu Dhabi. All well and good, except that between this season’s Monza round and the UAE, there is a 93-day gap. This is sub-optimal at best, and combined with the lack of quality media coverage the series receives as a whole, means that by the time the finale does come, you need to be a serious fan to remember what it is these young drivers are fighting for.

This year, and continuing in 2024, F2 tried something a bit different. They had an extra flyaway race in Australia. With the European F1 season over, there should be an extra round - maybe at COTA in Texas. But this round would be non-title and no points would be given. Run it as an exhibition and add a challenge element to it too.

The top 22 drivers from Formula 3 get a chance to drive the faster machinery and prove they can cut it. The winner of this race gets an automatic seat at the season finale. Yes, the drivers have paid for their seats, but it will be on the F2 team to give a partial refund as one of the F3 generation get a chance to audition for their single-seater future.

The series produces its own version of Drive to Survive, entitled Chasing the Dream. What better way to prove that these young drivers are doing just that by giving one a chance to prove themselves on merit and show that they can be competitive at the next level?

The future looks very bright for Formula 2 as a series. It has a presence in the official video game, increasing visibility of these drivers. You can recruit them into F1. You can do the same on the F1 Manager game, if you can bear to play it for more than a couple of seasons.

There is a new car coming into play next season, so F2 will look more like a mini-version of F1, which in some ways is an accurate way to talk about it. Next season, they’re going to Qatar, reducing some of that gap between rounds, although it is still significant. 

There are exciting names coming up from Formula 3, with 10 different drivers winning a race this season, ensuring there is a talent pipeline coming through. What they need more of now is interest, and this 3-month gap between races really hurts the series as a whole.

How would you improve Formula 2?

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