With all the uncertainty surrounding the future of Formula 3, it was rather reassuring when Euroformula Open revealed its plans for the 2019 and ’20 seasons a fortnight ago.
EF Open, originally called Spanish F3, is a continental F3 championship that uses the same Dallara F312 chassis as FIA European F3, but with the pre-2017 aero regulations and spec Piedrafita-tuned Toyota engines.
Although grid sizes this year have been weak, not helped by the culling of the usual group of drivers who use EF Open as a learning championship ahead of European F3, the series has been controversy-free and provided great racing. Six of the eight rounds are held at current Formula 1 venues, with the two other rounds forming part of the six-race Spanish F3 championship.
Following the news that EF Open would be open to new engine manufacturers next season, the CEO of championship promoter GT Sport, Jesus Pareja, sat down with Formula Scout to explain in further detail what the changes meant to the series, and F3 at large.
“Having a multi-engine formula is an idea we’ve had for the last couple of years, because some of the teams discussed pursuing it,” Pareja says. “With the FIA changing GP3 to International F3, I thought it was the right time to do it.
?I had meetings with Spiess and HWA, the VW and Mercedes-Benz [FIA F3] tuners, and they?ve agreed to help us with plans to have a Balance of Performance (BoP) for the engines. The top power of the engines are the same, but the big difference is the torque, and that is where really the [FIA F3] car becomes two seconds quicker.
?We thought the solution would be making the same power curve in all three engines, which the tuners are already working on so we can have the same technical spec on all cars. The opinion of the tuners is that it?s not a problem, and Dallara say they?re the same chassis so it?s not difficult [to achieve parity].”
GT Sport has BoP expertise and experience through its titular International GT Open championship, which EF Open supports. Pareja’s idea is that existing European F3 teams will come to his championship with their existing cars, have their engines tuned and then appear on the grid with minimal hassle.
?There are some small parts of the Dallara chassis maybe we can take off or add, like the nose and rear wing, that will be free for the teams to choose what they want to keep between F312 and F317.?They can choose the nose and the rear wing, and then the rest is the same on every car.”
“In the winter time teams will decide which aero is the best. It?s not expensive to buy the new nose or keep the other, and same with the rear wing. Maybe we decide at certain circuits we swap to one rear wing or to the other. With the nose, one thing is clear, it doesn?t make any difference [in performance]. The rear wing doesn’t always make a difference, but with all the possibilities they have with different planes, obviously at some of the quicker circuits like Spa-Francorchamps, having one over the other would make it easier to drive the car.
“I prefer to leave the decision to the teams because it makes the championship more challenging for everybody; even the drivers can learn more [with a variety of aerodynamics].”
Although the plans have only just been announced, track testing for the calculation of the BoP has already been planned for next month, and is set to take place at the last two EF Open events.
?If the engines are ready, the first BoP test will be at the Jerez round, and the [BoP] parity will be done before the end of November. We?ll have a Euroformula car and a FIA F3 car testing. After that test we will evaluate the situation, then we’ll maybe do another test after our last race at Barcelona to try to [get more data].”
Carlin will provide the VW-powered mule car, but no teams have opted to be the guinea pig for the Mercedes-Benz powerplant. This is primarily because many of the teams are racing nearly every weekend in various championships, and are unlikely to be willing to put extra mileage on their F3 race engines ahead of the season closing rounds.
?Euroformula Open will have a big jump in terms that we will be the only single-seater series in Europe below F1 with three different engines. It?s a really big challenge but on the other side is nice because it opens our horizons.?This formula could be the future for 2019 and ?20 [that teams want]. It not only opens the possibility for the teams that have this kind of package [already], but also to Euroformula Open teams that want to change engines.
“Think how many Dallara F312s are in Europe, it?s a lot. With this change in the power curve, the break risk of the engines goes down. Essentially the torque makes the car quick, but the risk of component failure is at a point, where in my opinion – and I?m not an engineer – having a less steep torque curve making make it a little bit more reliable. You can potentially do more kilometres on the same engine [because the components aren?t stressed as much]. But I think all the F3 engines are more or less the same anyway.”
Famous Euroformula Open drivers of the past?
Sebastian Vettel?– 2010, ’11, ’12, ’13 F1 world champion, 5th in 2007 FV8 3.5? – 15th in 2005 EF Open
Sebastien Buemi -?2015-16 FE champion, 2014 WEC champion, 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours winner – NC in 2005 EF Open
Roberto Merhi?– 19th in 2015 F1, 3rd in 2014 FV8 3.5, 2011 F3 Int. Trophy champion, 2011 F3 Euro Series champion – 13th in 2008 EF Open, 17th in 2007 EF Open
Jaime Alguersuari?– 14th in 2011 F1, 6th in 2009 FV8 3.5, 2008 British F3 champion -?7th in 2008 EF Open
Carlos Sainz Jr?– currently 12th in F1, 9th in 2017 F1, 2014 FV8 3.5 champion -?NC in 2010 EF Open
Ed Jones?– currently 14th in 2018 IndyCar, 2016 Indy Lights champion, 3rd in 2015 Indy Lights -?2013 EF Open champion
Spencer Pigot – currently 13th in 2018 IndyCar, 2015 Indy Lights champion, 2014 Pro Mazda champion -?16th in 2013 EF Open
Daniel Juncadella?– 2011 Macau GP winner, 2012 Masters of F3 winner, 2012 European F3 champion -?NC in 2015 EF Open
Nicolas Prost – 3rd in 2015-16 FE, 3rd in 2011 LMS, 2008 Auto GP champion -?3rd in 2007 EF Open, 4th in 2006 EF Open
Formula 3’s status as possibly the ultimate learning formula looks to be tarnished next year, with Europe, Asia, North America and Britain set to run spec formulas using the F3 name.
“We come to Silverstone, which costs a fortune to race at, because we think it is of important value for drivers that want to do F3, who want to learn the circuits and the competition. To make them set-up their own cars. Many know already that this car, this circuit and the possibility to drive it with three different engines -?I don?t believe this will make a difference [in how to drive] – but make it cooler.”
Two weeks prior to EF Open’s Silverstone visit, European F3 held its British round as an undercard to the World Endurance Championship. The races were entertaining, fast and a tad controversial, and reiterated why F3 is so popular for drivers and spectators.
EF Open’s is the only European-based championship above Formula 4 with concrete plans for 2019, with GP3, European F3 and the Formula Renault Eurocup all set to end, and with limited understanding of what will follow them. It’s a level of certainty that the EF Open teams appreciate.
“There are so many changes in single-seater series now. F4, F3, GP3 that will become F3, and Formula Renault that has been announced to end with us at Barcelona. It’s a challenge for everybody to attract teams [already]. What we?re looking for in our series to keep the parity, to open the possibility to other teams, are target is to get three more teams for 2019, and maybe introduce a new car for 2021. This experience is something that?s very important to us, because to decide what happens after the next two years, we will have the feedback from the teams, drivers and partners and everyone to take in so we can make the decision on what we have to do for the future.”
“I would like F3 to go in this direction. All around the world, all the single-seaters run practically in one brand and engine. Is it cheaper? Of course, but FIA F3 has two. But from now everybody will be with one brand in F3.”
Its GT Sport’s experience of BoP that Pareja thinks can keep open formula single-seaters continuing in Europe.
“We have the experience to make a Balance of Performance because it has worked in International GT Open. In GTs it [BoP] has been the best solution to make impressive cars and an impressive series. For sure the BoP is the main reason for the success of GT racing this decade. Our experience with BoPs has been with big-difference cars.”
In GT racing, there are heavy cars like Bentleys competing on par against the likes of Ferrari thanks to BoP. VW and Mercedes-Benz are already a close match for each other in F3, despite what some teams may say, meaning introducing a BoP and keeping them on an equal level shouldn’t be as difficult.
“We have the knowledge and tools to balance the engines, in order to look in and assist and to work with two or three engines in the same series [as in Int GT Open]. This will bring the possibilities for the teams and drivers to get the support of some manufacturers [as VW and Merc has done in the past]. At the moment it?s just a test, but I would like it that if we open this possibility and it works well, I think there is something that can be another network for the teams and drivers.”
Pareja’s comments of manufacturer support, in addition to tuner support, is optimistic. VW decided in March to end its commitment as an F3 engine supplier after 2018, the last of its international programmes to be culled after the 2015 emissions scandal. Its tuner Spiess still has a good relationship with the teams, but could never offer the level of support like VW did with Edoardo Mortara and the Signature team in 2010’s F3 Euro Series.
Signature was also part of a failed attempt by Renault and ORECA to supply F3 engines in 2014, a plan which both French manufacturers are attempting again.
Mercedes-Benz has supported drivers and teams, often with the intention of taking drivers and engineers to the DTM, but that commitment has also stopped for 2019. Comments made by Toto Wolff, executive director of the Mercedes F1 team, have questioned the future of the firm’s young driver programme after all three of its members look set to miss out on a 2019 F1 seat. Toyota meanwhile is heavy involved in Japanese F3, but its relationship with EF Open is also through its tuner.
“Toyota has a history in F3 engines. Our engine came from a standard engine, and we’ve kept it because it is fantastic as a standard engine. As the running cost is not ridiculous in terms of cost, it has allowed us to increase the power, and keep more or less the same power as [European F3]. Obviously in some parts of the engines, the performance quality is much better in FIA F3 because the development of the engines is so much more compared to us.
“For the future, at the moment I think all the manufacturers, especially in Europe, have gone to turbo engines. The spinning speed of turbo engines is fantastic. The power that you can get from turbo engines is the cheapest one. You can’t get such cheap power through the normally aspirated engine. At the moment I don?t know what will happen [regarding turbos in F3]. For that I would like to see up close over the next couple of years. But the future of motorsport is the turbo engines. If I were to be realistic with future assumptions I will have to see what happens first, and also maybe talk to manufacturers to do that.
“Maybe tomorrow some company will present an engine with three cylinders or five, that is very good [and we may go to that]. At the moment, we follow the FIA rules. Pure F3. Like the Spanish Iberian Ham. We keep the same idea that has been a success in our company. Pure ham.?The technical rules of F3 has been a very long success in single-seaters. One of the longest successes in FIA rules.”
This metaphor translates better in British as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and the rulebook lengthiness is a comparison that stands up when put against other areas of motorsport stewarded by the FIA, such F1, touring cars and rallying. Although regulations often do evolve, there are just as many examples of them being incapable of doing that that, getting torn up and having completely new ones written.
Returning to the FIA’s concept of regional series using the F3 name, Pareja reflects on when the FIA told it to change its name from ‘European F3 Open’ ahead of 2014.
“We don?t say anything about the FIA. I think the FIA is necessary. The rules, the safety; they work well, they make many things. It?s difficult even I think for them. What I think as a promoter, what I?m looking for is to make the best racing series for the people that love this sport, and it?s F3. What is F3? When the FIA said to me it would be better to take off the F3 name. I said: OK, we use Euroformula. It will work. We could not be named F3, even though we fall under F3 rules, but BRDC British F3 can name it ‘F3’, and the regional car that doesn’t have any F3 technical rules can use the F3 name.?We have kept to F3 rules for 17 years, and we couldn?t continue with the name. And now they say the new GP3 can be named F3!”
Many consider F3 to be strictly defined, as a class of single-seater racing with high mechanical grip, a low dependence on aerodynamics and a variety of chassis and engine suppliers. The changes in store for 2019 perhaps make it little more than a brand name and a promotional tool that the FIA can apply as it sees fit. The use of that name, coupled with the FIA’s ability to set the superlicence points, will likely sway many young drivers to its concept of F3, even if the outgoing formula is considered a better development tool.
“Essentially the market says if you?re right or not. I?m always looking for what I would like to drive if I became a 17-year-old driver again and my target was F1. With that in mind, I?d choose this. Obviously I will always check all ideas with the teams and the drivers because I am always in the paddock, and I?ve seen what?s happened in the other series. But the future is difficult enough [without the upcoming F3 overhaul].
All-time Euroformula Open statistics
|H Scott?12||Scott?11||Risatti?12||J M Perez-Aicart?22||Garcia?479|
|M Barba?10||D Martin?9||Cortes?12||Stuvik?22||Soucek?439|
|M Cortes?9||K Tereshchenko?8||B Mendez?8||Mendez 17||Perez-Aicart?395|
|D Fumanelli?9||Drugovich?8||M Barba?8||Cortes?16||Barba?361|
|F Drugovich?9||Vilarino?7||N Schiro?8||Risatti?15||Tereshchenko?361|
|L Pulcini?8||Fumanelli?7||S Stuvik?8||Pulcini?15||Scott?340|
|A Vilarino?6||M Cortes?6||L Pulcini?8||Scott?14||Schiro?338|
“We?ve had the Euroformula name now for four years. It?s been OK. No problem. And now, when we open this possibility to the different manufacturers, well the FIA has lost that for their ‘F3’. The market is there for us. The tuners, manufacturers, and teams have came to a point where they have no definite future [because of the uncertainty]. Sorry. You are very welcome with us.”
With EF Open carrying the F3 mantle so to speak, it begs the question whether the championship will have an involvement in the keystone events of the F3 calendar: the Pau and Macau Grand Prixs.
“It?s an option, that we follow. But our main issue is to make this championship and the BoP run well, we have to attract two or three more teams. And then after November, we will look at the different options. Because our 2019 plans are already a challenge for our championship [to focus on], to be sure we have taken the right decision and the answer has been right, then it will be the time to look at Pau and Macau. The possibility is nice.”
It’s an enthusiastic and positive view to what may be F3’s future, but the plans should be taken with a pinch of salt. At this point last year, sources revealed to Formula Scout of similarly optimistic ideas for the future of the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship, which ultimately came to nought. But the clarity and decisiveness of EF Open’s plans are in contrast to its market rivals, giving it a head start on attracting the best drivers for 2019.