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GP3 splutters before it starts

NEWS STORY
09/03/2010

If you think that F1 has it bad at the moment having only recently found out how many teams will be on the grid for Sunday's season-opener in Bahrain, spare a thought for the people behind its sister series GP3.

Last week GP3 had its first ever official test but, according to the series organiser Bruno Michel, "of the drivers who are doing the championship, about two-thirds have signed." The series itself isn't scheduled to begin until the 7 May in Barcelona but given the fund-raising needed, Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt says that GP3 could have an uphill struggle ahead of it when it comes to securing enough drivers to fill the grid.

Sylt broke the news worldwide about the launch of GP3 on Pitpass in September 2008 and, as we stated then, the idea of a low-cost entry point into F1 raised its head in June 2008 when beleaguered FIA president Max Mosley announced that he would re-introduce F2 with a budget of 150,000 for each of a team's two cars.

This move was widely seen as an attack on GP2 due to Ecclestone's suggestion that Mosley should resign following his role in the well-publicised tabloid scandal. Ecclestone's retaliation against F2 was believed to be the launch of GP3 since the series is owned by the same firm which ultimately owns F1.

In principle it sounds like a good move but as the world's economies went into meltdown GP3 looked like a tougher sell. In itself it doesn't do motorsport's environmental and corporate credentials any good that during a recession F1's owners made the wise move to launch a new series. The key problem is the structure of the series which is meant to be a low-cost entry into motorsport. As can often happen, good ideas aren't always followed through and once GP3 was finally formally announced in October 2008 it was revealed that it would have 10 teams with each fielding three drivers - an even more ambitious line-up than in F1.

Having three cars per team instead of two gives the environmentalists more fuel (pardon the pun) to use against motorsport and it also naturally increases team costs. This leads to perhaps the series' biggest irony which is the cost of competition for each GP3 driver is well over 450,000 (€500,000). With such a high entry cost can GP3 really proclaim that it is reaching down to the grass roots?

Pitpass is aware of at least one GP3 team which has yet to announce three drivers and was asking for 590,000 (€650,000) for a full season. Indeed, according to GP3's official website only three teams have so far announced three drivers. It's perhaps no surprise that several GP3 teams have been formed from partnerships, such as Mark Webber and Arden and Hitech and the CRS GT outfit. Given that F1's teams are not exactly awash with sponsorship one can only imagine how tough it must be for GP3, with uncertain television coverage, to attract partners.

Sylt knows more than a thing or two about the finances of GP3 and not solely through his work authoring Formula Money which analyses F1 and GP2 funding. For full disclosure Sylt admits that he had an involvement with the Planet Rock Racing team and wrote its investment prospectus. The team was one of many which failed to get a GP3 grid slot and one wonders whether there would have been as much demand if the series had been announced when the recession was in full swing. Sylt understands that at least one team was invited to apply by Michel and time will tell if his efforts translate into a full grid or whether the team selection proves to be as much of a debacle as it has been in F1.

Ironically just as GP3 was readying itself for the test last week, GP Prep, a young drivers' testing initiative was launched by Anthony Hamilton with support from none other than Ecclestone. GP Prep allows young drivers to test modern F1 cars outside of the restrictions imposed on teams' testing so it will have much lower overheads, and will presumably cost less, than GP3. Motorsport will benefit from it but GP3 may not.

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