Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that Formula One is planning a masters series for former drivers. Several have already signalled their interest in getting involved according to articles in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes by Christian Sylt.
"A series with former drivers is a good idea," says Ecclestone. "We have talked about it and it is something we ought to do. Many of these old drivers are still absolutely good enough. You would put them in the cars they used to drive."
It is one way of dealing with the controversy surrounding the quieter V6 engines which have been introduced to F1 this year. Ecclestone of course has been one of the most vocal critics of the new engines so a return to the V10s or V8s from yesteryear would obviously please him. Former driver turned television commentator Martin Brundle believes it would also go down a storm with fans.
"A well structured F1 masters series would be very popular with drivers and fans, and therefore TV and new media channels and sponsors too," says Brundle. "Whatever the format I'd want to be part of it especially if it was supporting the F1 calendar."
Ferrari race-winner Gerhard Berger adds "I am sure that it will be successful and that all former drivers would like to participate."
One big question is whether the former stars would be prepared to take the risks that come with a return to racing. "To attract the household names of decades past I suspect the cars would need to be safer and less physical to drive," says Brundle. Britain's 1996 world champion Damon Hill adds that "most old drivers want to get home to bed early with a good book."
The core of a solution to the problem comes from Eddie Irvine, who almost won the title for Ferrari in 1999, and says that the format of the series could be "along the lines of Goodwood or a handicap system."
Fans aren't the only ones who would welcome a masters series. It would also boost F1's income which would no doubt please CVC, the private equity firm which controls the sport.
The plans came to light through a European trademark application which was filed in February by Formula One Licensing to protect the name 'Historic Formula One'. The application covers the category including sporting events which is an important step in the preparation of a race series as it gives ownership to the name.
It isn't the first time that a trademark has revealed plans for a new series. In September 2008 Pitpass revealed that F1 would launch GP3 and the following month it was officially announced.
There is good reason why the concept of an F1 masters series may not sound completely new. A similar series, known as Grand Prix Masters, was launched in 2005 and featured ex-F1 drivers over the age of 40, competing against each other in 3.5-litre spec single-seaters. It held three races - in South Africa, Qatar and at Silverstone, which was won by Eddie Cheever. The series was shut down in 2007 after failing to pay its bills. With F1's resources behind it however it isn't likely that its masters series would share the same fate.
There is also somewhat of a more successful precedent than Grand Prix Masters which shows the interest in the concept.
Although there is no masters series for former F1 drivers, there is a series called Masters Historic Racing which allows the owners of classic F1 cars to compete against each other. They visit ten historic tracks including Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Spa and the Nurburgring. Its championship is known as the 'Historic Formula One Championship' and F1 licenses the name to it.
"Historic Formula One is us," says Ecclestone. "We license them to use the name." As the license is under his control he could use it for his series once the agreement with Masters Historic Racing comes to an end.