Gian Carlo Minardi became FIA Single-Seater Commission president in May, tasked by the global governing body with building on his predecessors’ work to enhance safety and streamline the path from karts to F1
Minardi was, of course, the founder of the eponymous Formula 1 team which competed from 1985 to 2005 before its acquisition by Red Bull and subsequent rebranding as first Scuderia Toro Rosso and latterly AlphaTauri.
Throughout his more than 50 years in motorsport, Minardi has always had a reputation for identifying and developing young talents, including such names as Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli. And before entering F1 in 1985, his Minardi team was a frontrunner in European Formula 2, taking one win with Michele Alboreto in 1981.
Formula Scout sat down with Minardi, who has been president of Imola since 2021, in his office overlooking the circuit’s finish line to discuss his remit, his objectives and the future direction of junior single-seaters around the world.
The track sparkles in the May sunshine for the ACI Racing Weekend. Two weeks prior to our chat, F1 had raced there in far worse weather in the third year of its return.
For Minardi, getting F1 back to the circuit marked the circuit’s relaunch, and, above all, being able to stage the race with the public in attendance in 2022 was “very important for us,” he says, before adding that “the only problem was the rain”.
Minardi steps into the single-seater commission role as motorsport rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic which played havoc with calendars, imposed additional costs and forced events to be held behind closed doors.
“2022 is an important year for motorsport as we are trying to regain the time lost in the sport,” he says.
However, with significant financial, political and environmental challenges that will define the agenda for the coming years, Minardi’s in-tray is far from empty from that lost time as he gets his feet under his metaphorical FIA desk.
“I will bring my experience, and everything I have done over the years with ACI Sport. As the representative of Italy in the commission, I was always trying to bring my knowledge and love for the sport.”
His predecessors, in particular Gerhard Berger and current F1 boss Stefano Domenicali, undertook a major, and sometimes controversial, streamlining of the single-seater map below F1, establishing Formula 4 as a standardised international ruleset, launching Formula Regional and killing off Formula 3 as an actual formula but keeping the name alive with GP3’s replacement as the FIA creating and curated its so-called Global Pathway.
For Minardi, the current model will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future. “It is the model which is bringing us forward. The pyramid will be the continuation of the structure that leads to F1. For me, the pyramid is the only path that exists.”
He stresses that while he was not part of the commission under Domenicali that established the current pyramid, he was heavily involved through the ACI. There is, however, one aspect that he really does not approve of.
“I have to say that I really don’t like the name FRegional. Of course, we can’t now change the name of F4 or call FRegional Formula 5.
“When I left ACI Sport, FRegional was still called F3. Then Liberty Media acquired F2 and F3 and took away the name of F3. I fought to change it in the commission but was not successful in introducing the names of F3 and F3 International. I was the first to say that the name is confusing. It was not a choice that I made.”
One of the related topics which generates heated debate is FIA superlicence points, which are earned by racing in lower series in order to be eligible to race in F1, and the relative weight given to different series with their points allocation.
Minardi prefers to keep his own counsel until the commission has had the opportunity to discuss the matter but confirms that “it is one of the things that I have been asked to look at by FIA and FOM”, However, he politely dodges the ongoing debate about where IndyCar should rank in the points allocation. “I am only concerned for the time being with the pyramid,” he smiles.
Ahead of the first meeting of the commission under his presidency, he views the objectives as: “Safety, costs and performance, in that order.
“The first priority is to prepare all the technical regulations for the new cars due to appear in 2024 and 2025 – F2, F3, FRegional – and to begin the work on the improvement of the current cars. Above all, we have to do the steps agreed by FIA five years ago on the safety level.”
The timetable for the next generation of F2 and F3 cars is in line with the recent comments from Formula Motorsport’s chief executive officer Bruno Michel with the important caveat of “if the economic situation allows it”.
Minardi is well-aware of the financial pressures on teams: “For the commission, we have to reduce operating costs and the cost of new cars. It is not easy. But I have only started working this week.”
Interestingly, Minardi believes that one realistic way of reducing costs would be to standardize components between categories, delivering greater economies of scale and potentially reducing inventories of spares.
“In my opinion, it is necessary to look for ways to rationalise F2, F3, FRegional and F4 by standardizing the cars as much as possible, so that the parts can be manufactured in greater quantities in order to decrease the costs, both for new cars and for spare parts.”
F2 and F3’s cars are built by Dallara, with Tatuus’s FRegional chassis used in continental Asia and Europe, with different engine manufacturers supplying the various championships, while Ligier supplies the category’s American market.
F4 permits multiple chassis and engine manufacturers to build cars, with each national series contracting one chassis provider and one engine manufacturer rather than giving teams the choice to choose as F3 did in the past.
“If, for example, the monocoque used in F2 and F3 is the same, the cost goes down. It is clear that the lifespans of the individual categories are different from each other, so when F2 and F3 are due to be replaced, or FRegional and F4 are due to be replaced, we need to look for the right synergies so that they can be standardized eventually.”
As we speak, the transporters of the Italian F4 championship’s teams are aligned behind the Imola pit boxes. For what is an entry category to the sport, F4 has undoubtedly become an ultra-professional series with costs far beyond what was originally envisaged for the formula a decade ago. Is there still space for small family-run teams to compete?
“As the base of the FIA’s pyramid it is clear that F4 remains open to all who respect the sporting and technical regulations,” Minardi says.
“As well as the big teams, with four or five cars who have been present in F4 for eight, nine or 10 years, there are small teams which have arrived this year and who, in my opinion, are doing a good job of organising themselves and will remain in this championship. The small teams who come in can progress ‘step-by-step’ to become like Prema and Van Amersfoort.”
Of course, not every team aspires to become the next Prema or VAR, but Minardi highlights the father-and-son Cars Racing team of Albano and Andrea Frassineti, as well as the Swiss Sauter Engineering + Design equipe in ADAC F4 as “typical examples of a father and son with a little truck. It is very important that teams like Frassineti and Sauter can compete in F4.”
Within the FIA’s single-seater hierarchy, F4 was always intended to be a national-level series. As such, there are limits on the number of rounds that can be held outside the home country, something which Germany’s ADAC F4 series in particular has struggled with as young drivers look for grand prix circuit experience while the country is absent from the F1 calendar.
Minardi, however, sees no reason to change the restriction. “70-80% of the races in the national country and then the rest on other circuits, so the drivers have a better opportunity to learn,” is, he believes, the right mix.
The Italian federation took a leading role in the creation of both FRegional and F4. “FRegional was born thanks to ACI Sport but the merger [with the Formula Renault Eurocup] has made it stronger and is a very good step for the move to F3. We, as ACI Sport, are very satisfied with this combination and with Alpine we are doing a very good job.”
For 2022, FRegional European Championship has introduced a push-to-pass system in an effort to improve overtaking, although it is, in Minardi’s opinion, too early after just two rounds to assess its impact.
“Today in all categories at a higher level it is not easy to overtake. This was introduced to start preparing the drivers for DRS,” he explains.
“As you see now also in F1 in the new rules it is easier to follow the car in front and the racing is more competitive. From now onwards, it is one of the objectives of FIA to try to make overtaking easier.”
The FIA’s new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem stood for election on a platform that highlighted doubling participation in motorsport worldwide, strengthening diversity and inclusion, and sustainability. Unsurprisingly, these goals can be expected to feature strongly in the priorities of the Single-Seater Commission.
Minardi does not see the need or, indeed, the space to add a further rung of the ladder below F4 to encourage youngsters into racing. The secret to wider participation is, he believes, in encouraging young drivers on the path from karting to F4.
He highlights a new initiative from ACI Sport where “we start following the children in karting from 12 years of age; we provide courses, psychological and physical training”.
“When the young drivers do step up to F4, ACI instructors are present at all the F4 events. After each race they do a briefing for all the drivers to show them where they’re making mistakes. This has been very appreciated by FIA and this is the first year we’re doing it.”
On the sustainability front, junior single-seaters is making its own advances as much as F1 is. The world championship has introduced a 10% biofuel requirement with fuel this year, and Minardi sees F1’s next major technological overhaul in 2026 as the point where it “will be only ecological”.
He is convinced that junior series will go in the same direction, as “if F1 does one thing we in the pyramid have to follow”, and notes that F2 will be ready to run with 50% biofuels “within a year”. French F4 switched to biofuel this year, F2 and F3 will be the next to change, and by 2026 all junior categories overseen by the FIA could be running with 100% biofuels.
Minardi strongly believes that motorsport offers an arena where men and women can and should race against one another on equal terms, rather than in separate championships such as W Series, but concedes that, “there is a lot of work to be done”.
“I think that women should compete with men as the differences are not that big,” he says, adding rhetorically: “What is the limit that women can achieve? I think it is high.”
In his opinion, it is up to the national sporting authorities, the ASNs, to take the lead in helping female participation in motorsport. Many already have their own initiatives, as does the FIA.
“The most important schools are karting and F4,” Minardi explains, emphasising the role ACI has played in Italy in working with the Ferrari Driver Academy as a model for other ASNs.
Interestingly, he feels, “we can’t do much within the pyramid just for women; it should be for the ASNs to introduce similar schemes to what exists in Italy, for example with FDA”.
As Minardi points out more than once, he has only been in this new role since the start of May. A pre-meeting of his commission in Rome is planned to discuss the progress made to date and the immediate priorities for the official World Motor Sport Council gatherings later this year.
As Formula Scout leaves his office, Minardi adds that we should “come and talk again in four or five months to see the progress we have made”. We look forward to it, signor Minardi.
More on junior single-seaters’ future
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USF Juniors to swap F4 car for USF2000-based chassis in 2023