For the second year in succession, FIA Formula 2 and Formula 3 will run with a revised race weekend format in 2022. Is the hybrid of previous formats the right way forward for the championships?
Extremely large gaps between rounds, a total lack of narrative and a format that is difficult to make sense of. The current weekend schedule for Formula 2 and Formula 3 has proven to not be overly popular with teams, drivers or fans alike.
When the split calendar was announced, with F2 skipping some absolutely cracking venues for the likes of Sochi and Yas Marina Circuit while F3 got Spa-Francorchamps and Zandvoort, it didn’t strike a huge amount of excitement into those who have closely followed the F2 of recent years that has often been intense, provided a thrilling title battle and utterly crazy races.
That’s not to say that 2021 hasn’t delivered in this regard. F2 has been wildly unpredictable in the first half of its season with a title narrative only now starting to shape up (frustratingly after Formula 1 silly season), and the racing in F3 has imrpvoed, thanks in part to increasing the reversed grid. Despite Dennis Hauger’s early coronation, the season’s been a corker.
F3 was also thrust more into the spotlight operating on different weekends. This could be undone with 2022’s move to unite the two series again. That is a bit of a shame, but arguably a worthwhile sacrifice, especially if it benefits F2 and takes pressure off the youngest drivers on F1’s support package, who have drastically increased their media commitments in 2021.
Next year’s format, which will drop the second reversed grid race, was announced in the middle of a Sochi weekend where the two series had been united again after F3’s visit to Circuit of the Americas was called off and it needed a replacement venue for its season finale. For teams racing in F2 and F3, it’s meant six races in what was originally a two-day schedule.
Unlike the previous two-race format used until 2020, the first race of each round next year will still use a reversed grid while the race on Sunday will have its grid determined by qualifying. Aside from penalties, results from race one won’t impact what follows. That’s different to this year, where Saturday’s second race has used a grid that reverses the race one top 12.
Scrapping that second race means more points can be earned in races with a grid set by qualifying rather than the other way around, but the difference between qualifying 12th and 13th remains absolutely seismic in a 30-car F3 field. It also prevents drivers from tactically finishing lower in the order in race one, as Clement Novalak did at Zandvoort.
This change does go some way to appease those who wanted things back to as they were, while also continuing to keep it fresh and inheriting at least some of the worthwhile changes made in the 2021 overhaul. Having the ‘main’ race run on grand prix day is certainly beneficial.
Formula Scout asked the series’ chief executive officer Bruno Michel in a special press conference whether there’s a chance that the format could change again in the future, be it in the short or medium term.
“We are always open to improve the categories, let’s put it that way,” he responded. “We had one change last year which was mainly driven by cost purposes. Now after long discussions that we had together, we decided to go back to what we are going to do for next year with the format I just explained. Let’s say that we’re not planning to do a change every year, and the first format we had for F2 and GP2 lasted for 15 years, so I hope we can plan on something like this.”
The cost factor, a hangover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, was a driving force in the format changing in the first place. Despite the global financial implications of the pandemic still yet to be fully realised, Michel seemed confident that the situation is not as severe as it was coming into this year.
“If we look what we have achieved this year, we put out this new format because we wanted to try tp simplify the cost issues. Because we knew 2021 was going to be a difficult season. But we also noticed that there was too much time between the races and that by doing that, we were losing a little bit of the excitement.
“So if you talk about the fans, that was an issue, and for the teams and for the drivers as well. There was too much time, and also the format which worked very, very well on the track was not so easy to understand. So that’s another thing that we wanted to simplify as well, and that will be for the teams and the drivers, and the fans as well.”
Michel went on to clarify how different the costs will be spread out, outlining that overall it shouldn’t be a huge change.
“I think now we know at this time of the season how the driver market is going to look like for next season, and I must say that for the moment it looks reasonably better than it was last year. The economic situation is better.
“What we need also to understand is that it’s not going to be a major difference in terms of cost, there will be a difference in logistics costs because teams will go to more events than they were this year, but on the other hand I think for F3 doing three races per weekend was possible, for F2 it was very, very difficult. Because we still continue to limit the number of operational people per team, to limit the costs, and we need to be quite careful about that. But we think that the difference is not going to be so high in terms of cost, and we think also that the categories will do quite well next year.”
As for the third junior single-seater series on the calendar – W Series – F1 chief Stefano Domenicali said that discussions are ongoing regarding the all-woman series. That is another championship that ideally could do with a format overhaul – something we will see when it holds a double-header at COTA – but this change may make it problematic for W Series to slot in additional races. That’s an issue, given it is currently at huge risk of delay if F1 qualifying overruns. Porsche Supercup exists as well, of course, and that too needs track time.
This will go some way to righting some of the wrongs of the 2021 format, but it will be imperative that the championships make it clear that the polesitter on Friday will start in the middle of the pack on Saturday, and then finally on pole for Sunday. The ‘main’ race needs to be a far greater deal than the one the day before.
As for the drivers, certain F2 stars who said they were “bored” during the long breaks will find the news welcoming, while FIA F3 drivers who expressed a bit of concern in finding themselves mid-grid for the first race of the weekend will continue to have to jostle for position on a regular basis. All of the drivers who would like extra practice time, however, will find themselves disappointed at this.
Ultimately, the calendar should be far more fluid next year, and the format changes shouldn’t take as long to get used to as they have done this year. That is only a benefit, especially to F2 and to the dedicated fans who follow these championships. From the standpoint of someone in the media side of things, it’s great that we just won’t end up with six races per weekend at every event…