If the tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists are to be believed, Formula Two was only resurrected as means for Max Mosley to interfere in Flavio Britatore’s profits.
When the series was brought out of hibernation by the FIA in 2008, it was billed as a low-cost alternative feeder series; in competition to the similar GP2 category that Briatore had created with Bernie Ecclestone’s support.
For young aspiring drivers, the cost of realising their ambitions with a drive in Formula One is extremely high and often extremely prohibiting. In GP2, a driver would be forking out around £1.25 million in a season, whereas a year in F2 would cost in the region of £275,000.
In his recently released biography, Ecclestone couldn’t hide his anger at Mosley’s decision to launch a rival series, suggesting that the former president of the FIA “did (it) to damage me and ruin a good business.”
Whatever the real reasons for F2’s revival, one thing has become clear over the past two years: F2 is not an F1 feeder series in the mould of GP2.
It may have the gravitas of the F2 moniker and the link with the Williams F1 team, but from what we’ve seen thus far, a typical F2 graduate is nowhere near ready to participate in F1.
The success of any series depends on its graduates, especially its champions. In year one we had Andy Soucek, who went on to impress in his Williams prize test run and landed a reserve-driver role at Virgin Racing – the best he could have hoped for – before that went sour and he left Branson’s outfit mid-season to step into Superleague Formula.
Year two’s champion was Dean Stoneman, who strung together a series of dominant wins and finished the season 42 points ahead of nearest rival Jolyon Palmer. The 20-year-old had looked set for a season in Formula Renault 3.5, but unfortunately due to illness, his racing exploits have taken a backseat for 2011.
Would he have shown his worth in FR3.5 and highlighted F2’s ability to produce drivers of a high calibre? More than likely because, let’s be honest, the leap up the racing career ladder isn’t exactly a gigantic leap.
Both he and Palmer did well last year and fully deserve a chance at the true next level, GP2. But F1? Honestly, both would be well out of their depth if they were plonked into a top-flight drive, which goes against the original mission statement set out by F2.
And that’s the confusing thing about F2: where it lies in the saturated racing market.
It’s still to prove itself as the cost effective series that allows drivers an opportunity to use it as a stepping-stone to the big time. The emergence of GP3 last year did it no favours and left it with slim pickings as far as raw talent was concerned.
It appears that F2’s niche in the market is to try and push drivers that can’t afford the spiralling costs of a drive in F3 or FR3.5 into GP2, whilst dangling a large carrot in the form of the Williams F1 test prize at the end of the season. A real coup when you think that there are GP2 race winners that would chew their right arm off for such a chance – and to bag an FIA superlicence at the same time.
So what does 2011 have in store for F2?
Well, impressively the series sported a full line up at the opening round of the season at Silverstone last weekend. In this current climate such a feat should be applauded, especially when rival formulae are experiencing dwindling grids.
But is it a case of quantity over quality? Without wishing to unfairly write off anyone ahead of time, it’s difficult to pinpoint who will emerge as the star of F2 this year. The title fight looks like being a three-horse race at best, with a couple of still-developing drivers in with a shout of victory depending on the circumstances.
You would have to say that returnee Will Bratt and former Red Bull-backed driver Mirko Bortolotti are definite title contenders, and rightly so. Both have vast experience in F2 already and it goes without saying that winning the championship this year is their ultimate goal, anything less will be seen as a disappointment.
Watching from the sidelines at Silverstone though, it was Spaniard Miki Monras that impressed me the most. If he doesn’t emerge as the best of the rookies and challenge for overall honours this year, I will gladly eat my hat.
And that’s what F2 should be about: nurturing young talent and providing them with a platform to catch the attention of a wider audience. That is still to happen and, until it does, the reputation of the series will continue to trundle through the foothills of averageness. The best drivers will look elsewhere and the quality of the field will remain questionable, and so will F2.