Former McLaren and Benetton Grand Prix driver Martin Brundle has spoken out about the rising cost of competing in today’s single-seater ladder system.
Talking exclusively to TheMotorsportArchive.com, Brundle feels that the numbers needed to fund drives no longer make sense.
Brundle, whose some Alex raced in F3 and GP3 before switching to sportscars, jumped straight into Formula One having narrowly missed out on the British Formula 3 title to Ayrton Senna in 1983; however the 53-year-old now also believes the route to F1 has become too complex.
“You could stand back and look at [the ladder system] and say ‘this is crazy’ – it is certainly fragmented and difficult to understand,” Brundle admitted
He added, “British F3 was so strong, but there was a time when German, British, Italian and European F3 were strong and you needed a master series to bring it together. The bottom line is if the kid is winning championships, it probably doesn’t matter to an extent where, just as long as you are moving forward, but it is a bit of a nightmare as to where you go…”
Now a Sky Sports F1 pundit, Brundle is confident the FIA Single Seater Commission, led by Gerhard Berger, can attend to some of the neglect. “I spoke to Gerhard the other day about this and when you listen to his logic, it does make a lot of sense.
“When I came through, it was just as competitive – there was [Ayrton] Senna and Berger and a lot of people like that to beat all the time; it wasn’t easy, but there wasn’t as many of us. If you stood out in British F3, as Senna and I did, you could go straight into F1 – that has gone and I feel sorry for the lads of today.”
The budgets required to compete in the upper echelons of the ladder system have also struck Brundle as out of kilter with the real world – it is a factor that he hopes will be addressed. “If you have got an expensive series as you do with GP2 and GP3 where you really need at least two seasons, the numbers are just terrible. For two seasons of GP2, you will not get away with less than £3.2 million and there are a lot of lads going into their third and fourth season – who is going to find that [money]?”
Continuing on this theme, Brundle said, “These championships are so competitive with quite complex cars and they get so little track time that you need a couple of seasons at it and it just becomes prohibitive. You look at it and think ‘there is no way through the single-seater system at the moment, unless you are absolutely incredible or you have got a vast amount of funding behind you. If you look at what has been spent by Max [Chilton] to get to the point he is before engaging with an F1 team, it is out of reach.”
Where Formula One may be losing potential stars, many young drivers are being diverted to other forms of motorsport – a factor the former Le Mans 24 Hours winner is well aware of.
“I always think of it as an escalator that’s blocked at the top and they’re all spilling out and they’re spilling into GT, LMP1 racing and others just disappear off the scene. But there are so many of them and you have this escalator or teenagers and early-20s that are mechanically, physically and psychologically prepared and conditioned to be professional racing drivers and there is nowhere to go.”
Recession, too, has played a part in how drivers are – or potentially are not – funded in the junior categories, but for Brundle, the manner in which sponsorship is obtained has altered dramatically. “I think what’s changed in the UK is that everyone has become much more accountable. When I came through, there was a couple of guys that sponsored me through their company, because that was what they wanted to do, the tax man doesn’t allow for that sort of thing now. Now everybody is so much more accountable and that has cut a lot of it out.”
Explaining further, Brundle notes, “That’s all stopped and just like the world of media, it’s all become diluted, because there are so many places to spend your sponsorship money, whether it’s the Internet, TV or in-sports sponsorship, everything has developed into such a competitive environment to raise that money. Silverstone used to put money into young drivers and a few others put their own hard cash in and that has virtually disappeared.”
Irrespective, the wheels of junior formulae keep turning and next weekend will see both the GP2 Series and the FIA European F3 Championship kick off their 2013 campaigns.
Whether the true top talent succeeds or loses out to better-funded drivers remains to be seen, but realistically the days of young drivers getting through the maze on talent and a shoestring budget have long since disappeared.