Something came up during the week that at first I assumed would be pretty simple to throw together.
A conversation on Twitter between Sam Collins of Racecar Engineering Magazine and fellow user Davin Sturdivant was brought to my attention when it turned to costs and the nature of the regulations and how their framework affects engineers – or potential engineers.
The latter will be addressed in another post, but touch on the former. Admittedly the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I either did not have the answer or did not have up-to-date answers.
Speaking to an active F3 team principal on Thursday, who wished to remain unnamed, a few details were fleshed out.
It is important to remember that while the regulations remain tight, Formula 3 is not a spec series and as such incurs costs that are not strictly present in single-make categories, such as GP2, GP3 or Formula 3.5 V8.
On the other hand, when one considers the open nature of technical regulations in Formula One and in LMP1, one might consider the benefits of an open-reg formula such as Formula 3 to be pivotal in the development of both drivers and engineers.
We must not forget – and we so often do – that the likes of Formula 3 are learning categories. They exist to develop drivers (and to a lesser obvious extent engineers) in the practical world of motor racing.
Totting up superlicence points is all well and good, but is utterly irrelevant if the driver does not learn and this is why a category such as Formula 3 matters. But that is an argument for another day (and oh boy, is that an argument)!
Anyway, according to the unnamed team boss, “The minimum cost [for a full season of European F3] is about €600,000, but that is if you exclude a winter test programme, which for ten days can add up to €100,000. There are also twelve test days during the season – six private and six official.”
From an initial standpoint that does seem like a hugely expensive season; however the amount of track time available for drivers in F3 is significant compared to similar categories, where testing is heavily restricted and race weekend track time is poor.
For example, a race weekend in the European Formula 3 championship consists of ninety minutes of practice, two qualifying sessions and three races that run to approximately thirty-five minutes apiece. In some instances, drivers are clocking up close to 8,000 kilometres of track action per season (although this would most likely be in the higher spectrum of track testing, etc.)
Continuing, he notes, “You also have to consider covering hotels, food, travelling, accident costs, spares, etc., which can add another €40,000.”
The team manager acknowledges that (unsurprisingly) manual labour is the most expensive cost – your driver will be teamed with well-qualified engineers working to an extremely high level. “After that, it’s engines and tyres.”
It is key to note at this point that the FIA have acted to reduce costs for next season onward by banning wind tunnel testing by teams and ensuring that the cost of engines for the year is capped at €65,000 (for 10,000km of usage), which will also cover installation, ancillaries, maintenance.
Previously, the engine costs were €50,000, but the wording of the regulation meant that cost only covered the engine block and omitted elements such as maintenance. The rewrite of this regulation is believed could save teams approximately €20,000-40,000 per season, depending on who you talk to; however while admitting the savings, the manager was rather disparaging commenting that, “It’s a little bit like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.”
One of the drawbacks of spec series’ or categories that utilise spec components, is that it closes the market and can allow to a manufacturer to set their own price range, which at times is not representative of the actual market value; however our unnamed team manager commented that Dallara – who provide chassis and spares – are fair when it comes to pricing, but he notes, “All suppliers do cheap deals when they enter, but then there is generally a leap in prices to make it work. You also work with ATS wheel rims, which come to around €25,000 for the season.”
The Formula 3 regulations are now locked in until the end of 2019, but as I reported in a feature for Racecar Engineering earlier, this will bring life of these regulations to eight years.
Given that there will unlikely be any new cars bought by current teams (unless warranted by excessive damage), many of the cars on the grid will be eight years old by the time 2019 finishes. To combat concerns regarding the structural integrity of chassis, the FIA are introducing a safety upgrade kit to bolster the life and strength of the cars, but as one might imagine, the teams will cover this cost. “Next years regulations help in some ways, but then again, there will be a €25,000 upgrade kit and then another €10,000 for spares with that.”
At a time when sponsorship can hard to come by, Formula 3 remains an expensive business. “All-in-all, you might need between €750,000-800,000. That doesn’t include Macau, which would, maybe, be another €50,000. Something like GP3 is cheaper, but then it has fewer events and they test far less.”
Formula 3 has a lot of positives and negatives. Open regulation cars and tonnes of test time in support of a popular series like DTM and – thankfully – no reverse grid nonsense to artificially boost the morale of otherwise mid-grid drivers; however it is still a hugely expensive category and it is the sheer scale of that cost that saw drivers numerous drivers turn to other championships in 2016.