Bruno Michel: “Our championship has never been healthier or more successful”
GP2 Series Organiser Bruno Michel talks objectives and stakes for 2009 and beyond Bruno, the first 2009 GP2 test session took place last week at Paul Ricard. What first conclusions can you draw?
Those first three days have been very positive: our 2009 update kit has been reliable and competitive from the get go. Every day, track records were broken in all circuit configurations. We wanted to gain performance from our new engine and so far, the results have been more than satisfactory. And regarding our grid, the competition will see more experienced GP2 race winners face off extremely talented rookie. Our twenty-six drivers represent sixteen different nationalities on all five continents and our field contains 24 race winners in single-seater categories, including GP2.
Our championship has never been healthier or more successful with the twenty-six racers fighting to get a drive in the series. I am confident that we are looking at a very exciting new season.
This year marks an important anniversary in the history of GP2 as the championship enters in its fifth year. How would you evaluate the first four seasons?
When we launched this new championship back in 2005, we had one aim: to build a category which would display and develop the talent and the capacities of young drivers aspiring to make it into Formula One. Five years later, I am delighted to say that our mission has been accomplished with seven current Formula One drivers are GP2 graduates including two F1 teams relying entirely on the talent and experience of former GP2 drivers.
This only makes our series the most successful feeder category for F1. What would you say is the secret of GP2’s success? Basically one of the keys to our success is to be able to run alongside Formula One. That means that our drivers and teams are in the same environment of Formula One and their performance is constantly monitored by the F1 teams principals and experts. Not only do we produce dramatic races at a high-level, but we have become an exciting shop-window for teams and drivers. Another of our recipe to success is that we are running with cars extremely similar to the ones running in F1 and we are racing on the same track.
Therefore, GP2 is the perfect training ground and stepping stone to the highest level of single-seater. The best example today is of course Lewis Hamilton who grabbed the title in 2008 only in his second F1 season, highlighting our role as the most successful Formula One feeder category.
The essence of GP2 has always been working on small budgets. However, today’s financial condition must have meant that you also had to adapt to the situation as well…
Yes, we had to adapt. We have taken important measures such as mid-season test cancellation, wind tunnel testing interruption, staff limitations and a significant decrease in the cost of some parts - to name a few. Between these measures and the fact that 2008 has been an expensive year for our teams (with the introduction of the Asia Series and a new GP2 car), their budget for 2009 should be cut down by 20% overall. The GP2 Series remains one the most viable championship that exists. The cost control that we put in place since its inception has been efficient and successful. However, putting things into perspectives, although it cannot be considered as a low- priced series, one must not forget that our car is an extremely complex and competitive machine just 5 seconds slower than a F1 car and costing probably around 1/100th of the global cost of a Formula One car.
Do you feel that F2 is a threat to GP2?
Absolutely not: for all the reasons I stated earlier – running alongside F1 and the high level of performance of our cars - no category can compete with GP2 as a feeder series to Formula One. In reality, the F2 grid has hurt other categories that usually feed the GP2 Series, but not us. Drivers with 2010 F1 ambitions know that they unquestionably have to compete in GP2 this season and nowhere else. Moreover, the fact that some F2 drivers will be given a Superlicense will not make them F1 drivers. For a driver to move into F1, they first have to get noticed by F1 Team principals.
There is no better place than GP2 to achieve that. Our championship is the final step for drivers before Formula One whereas F2 will probably become a feeder category for GP2. You are launching GP3 in 2010.
What can you tell us?
This new category will be based on the same principles as GP2 with a competitive car running alongside Formula One and GP2, spectacular races and also ruled by severe cost control. It will give young racers the opportunity to display their driving skills in front of GP2 and Formula One teams. This new championship will start in 2010 and will be a natural breeding ground for GP2 with the objective to become the most successful one.