One of the biggest rumours doing the rounds in F1 right now is that the grid will be supplemented with so-called Super GP2 cars following the collapse of Marussia and the financial problems being suffered by the other smaller constructors.
The Super GP2 cars would effectively be customer cars provided by a single manufacturer with an up-rated engine that would enable them to “almost” compete with the regular F1 machines. The use of these vehicles to create a 2 tier Formula 1 would transform the sport, giving it a similar structure to WEC where LMP1 and 2 Cars race on the same track as the slower GT class vehicles.
In the recent Russian Grand Prix, the fastest race lap by Marco Sørensen was 1.47.502 compared to Lewis Hamilton’s 1.40.896, which means it would have just been within the 107% rule – although over the race distance Sørensen would have finished around 3 laps down on Hamilton. In theory the times would have been competitive with Chilton or Kobayashi – although both failed to finish the race.
With an uprated F1 power engine, it’s likely that the Super GP2 cars would be somewhat faster, although they’d undoubtedly lack the finesse to be able to get complete parity with the bespoke F1 cars. At this stage, there’s been no official information about how the rules would work, or who the constructor or engine supplier for the vehicles would be. GP2 cars are currently produced by Dallara and have a v8 Mechachrome engine that produces around 612HP, well down on the output of the hybrid V6 power units used in F1.
Team Principals of Sauber and Force India discussed the idea of the Super GP2 cars in F1 and suggested that the move was part of a wider agenda to restructure the sport with 5 manufacturers and 5 customer teams. Customer cars were a big part of the history of F1, but the modern vehicles are highly complex and rely on extensive IT support trackside and at the factory. It’s not clear about how this would be supported, and whether a team such as Sauber would simply lease a customer Ferrari on the track with one of their drivers and sponsorship while the parent team would handle development and management.
Customer cars are different from the GP2 cars that have been suggested by the latest rumours, but smaller teams would struggle to compete effectively with the manufacturers creating a 2 tier championship and limiting their options.
Customer cars would make sense for the larger teams, as it would enable them to get more value from their research and development budgets and also provide a guaranteed income. Taking the requirement for development away from the smaller teams would make them more sustainable in an environment with limited sponsorship, however it would also undermine their entrys.
This weekend’s meeting between CVC, Ecclestone and the team principals is likely to provide more clarity on the direction of the sport for the next few years, but it appears that following the collapse of two teams in 2014, the introduction of customer cars – whether GP2+ or hand-me-downs is likely to remain a contentious issue for some time.