Home Featured Why the Formula 2 format overhaul may be short-lived

Why the Formula 2 format overhaul may be short-lived

by Craig Woollard

Photos: Formula Motorsport Limited

Formula 2 and Formula 3 both brought in a drastic format overhaul for 2021, and their CEO Bruno Michel was honest and frank in a recent media session about what’s working well and what is not with the changes

Change has been in the air this year in the Formula 1 circus. Sprint qualifying was added to F1’s own schedule, W Series joined the support alongside Formula 2 and Formula 3 – both of which have overhauled their race weekends considerably.

The catalyst for this was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced both series to tighten up financially. While it seems counterintuitive to have more flyaways, the splitting of their calendars and reduced number of events for each was inspired by the need to keep teams afloat. With less events, there’s now an extra race per weekend – also a drastic change.

As a result of less rounds, the gaps between them can now be extreme, with a huge, 10-week gap between F2’s round in Sochi and the back-to-back rounds to close the season in Jeddah and then Abu Dhabi.

This is one of several complaints raised by fans on a wide range of platforms. In a recent roundtable with select media including Formula Scout, F2 and F3’s chief executive officer Michel was open with his assessment of the format as a whole.

“Now if we look objectively at the situation, I would say that number one, there is too much time in between events,” he said.

“And that’s something that we understand and the feedback we have from the fans is quite obvious about it. It’s more difficult to get involved into a championship when you have one month, one-and-a-half months or even two months between two events. When we go to Silverstone, everybody forgot about Baku. That’s the problem.

“You get there, and people don’t really remember where Guanyu Zhou is, where Oscar Piastri is, so that’s something that we really need to carefully look at because we don’t want to lose fans because of that. And obviously that’s an issue.”

And Michel’s right. It comes after a season in which nine of the 12 rounds occurred in just over 10 weeks, with a proper title narrative. We don’t have that this time. We’re halfway through the season, the rounds just spring up every now and then, and there’s no story to the season, bar having four different teams and drivers owning each weekend.

“The second thing that we can say which is more in the cause is that the format is a little bit more complicated to understand, and we need to explain it and explain it and explain it again, and the fact we have races every month or every month-and-a-half doesn’t help to understand the format because you need time to go back to it,” Michel added.

He wasn’t asked directly about the length between rounds, rather being asked about whether there is a chance that alterations could be made. In fact, there were several drawbacks scribbled down in a notebook ahead of the media call which were ready to be asked about. Michel didn’t need the questions, he summarised the negatives anyway.

But he was asked if the extra sprint race of 2021 could be dropped for 2022, and moving to a format closer to the old one.

“Well, we’re looking at, before making a decision like this, like we’ve done last year before making the decision to go to this new format, we’re looking at all the pros and the cons and it’s always quite interesting to see after a few races what we can see from this format. If I can summarise a little bit of what we’ve seen: number one, we’ve decreased the costs for the teams, for sure, because you have less events so that’s quite simple, the logistics costs are becoming less.

“It doesn’t mean that all the costs have been decreased because all the teams have to support quite heavy costs for the pandemic protocol that we’re following. Most of the teams are spending – not all the teams are spending – a lot of money on PCR tests and you can imagine it’s quite a heavy thing. I’m sure you guys are doing the same when you go to races, you know what it means when you have to do it for the whole team.”

It’s unknown whether costs have actually reduced, or just become more manageable, but every team has indeed survived.

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“We’ve increased the number of F1 races where we can support the race, between F2 and F3, now that it’s separated. The fact that we only have 30 cars or 22 cars to look after in terms of track assistance also increased the reliability of the cars. So that’s something that is very, very important.”

While arguably there are fewer issues across the board – especially with DAMS’ second car that had a trouble-prone 2020 – they do still seem far too frequent, from spectacular engine failures and water temperature issues to gearbox issues and more. Clearly, there’s still plenty of work to be done on that front.

Michel says “definitely we’ve increased massively the visibility of F3″, particularly when it was the only junior series on the support bill at the French Grand Prix, and the digital and television reach of F2 has also grown for 2021. No doubt helped by Mick Schumacher’s 2020 title success and the F1TV series about F2.

“I would say the sporting objectives that we had were altogether met,” said Michel.

“Which means we have exciting races, we have mid-grid drivers that can have interesting results on Saturday and that’s something that is very, very important for our category.”

Fans do want to follow F2 and F3 on the same weekened though, which Michel agreed would be a positive but would mean his organisation would be at less grands prix. The format that’s come with the increased presence across the whole of the 2021 F1 season has meant “for F2 a three-race weekend is a very, very heavy workload for the teams”.

If there were future changes, F2 could well revert to a two-race format. Having already significantly cut its track time for 2021 (unlike F3), there would likely be even less racing for F2 drivers if that was the case.

There is no reason why both championships should keep to the same number of races or a similar format as each other. Anyhow, F3’s three races does at least hark back very loosely to predecessor GP3’s rival: the FIA European F3 championship. Two races almost feels perfect for F2 though, even if the three-race format has been a worthwhile experiment in itself.

“We’re considering all this and I gave you the pros, we look at the cons and that’s why it’s not an easy decision to make,” Michel concluded. “Altogether I would say this new format works very well on the track, and I’m quite happy about it. The question is does it make real sense in terms of the calendar, let’s put it that way. That’s where we are discussing at the moment with the FIA and with F1 to know where we are going to go for next year.”

It’s a big sticking point for 2022, because drivers could spend millions over two years and visit fewer F1 circuits than in lower categories if the format and calendar stay the same. But to add one circuit you must remove another, and exiting markets can make sponsorship harder to come by unless you introduce a (very difficult to manage) rotation system with the calendar that has so far been ruled out. The hands are tied at this point.

What the wish list consists of for any fan, driver, team manager, journalist or championship organiser and what is realistically achievable are all highly different things. Of course, F1 will take precedence with its own format (whatever that may look like) going forward, and the support categories will have to slot in around that.

Personally, an F2 season that’s shorter than nine months (but may even include an extra round or two with two races each) and a ‘purer’ format where the total sum of points from the reversed grid races doesn’t exceed that of the single regular race of each round would be perfect going forward. Although that may be too much to ask as one or both series will inevitably end up having further flyaway rounds.

Formula Scout asked for a general summarisation of the championships so far from Michel’s perspective.

“So at half-season, we have a very high-level grid I would say [in F2]. there are at least five or six drivers that are still in the fight for the title. It’s very close. It’s difficult to say who, at the end, will finish on top,” he said.

There is a feeling that the changes have worked better for F3, even if some results feel somewhat hollow with reversed grids, and Michel’s summary of the season was pretty much spot on. He also said the title fight “is still open” like in F2.

“For F3, I would say the same thing, we had some very, very interesting racing as well, which is what we’re all looking for this season. Both for F3 and F2 the excitement for the races is part of the DNA of the categories. One driver now is having a little bit of an advantage in terms of number of points, and he’s been the most consistent. Dennis Hauger, of course.”

In summary, Michel gave an open, honest reflection of this far-from-perfect format, which is under consideration of revision. That’s not to say that the old format is returning, because that is unlikely to be feasible, but there should be alterations.

Whatever that solution is will likely have to be some compromises made which will inevitably irk some, but fans of F2 and F3 should be confident of a better, more streamlined format going forward.