Dead and buried for a quarter of a century, superseded by the brave new world of Formula 3000 and then GP2, Formula 2 returned last weekend in Valencia.
Strictly speaking – and striking exactly the right historic note – F2 actually returned to full public gaze a couple of weeks earlier on the streets of Pau, the French city that for many years was the F2 equivalent of the Monaco GP- the race that everyone wanted to win – but the first race weekend in Valencia marked the official start of a new era.
There to witness the historic moment were the penultimate F2 Champion and the man who won the last F2 race – Jonathan Palmer and Philippe Streiff. Both won their national F3 titles in 1981 and graduated to F2 in ’82, Palmer with Ralt-Honda and Streiff with AGS. Palmer won the title in ’83, while Streiff claimed the last-ever F2 win, at a cold and rain-swept Brands Hatch in September the following year, winning a race that was red-flagged twice on aggregate over Michel Ferté and Roberto Moreno.
Both had also been present in Pau to witness the new F2 car’s first run in public, almost 25 years to the day after the final race there for the category, when the Frenchman had stood on the second step of the podium, his AGS well beaten by Mike Thackwell’s Ralt-Honda.
Palmer and Streiff – F2 rivals and later F1 team-mates – were on the grid in Valencia for the first race of the new era, along with the architect of the revival, FIA President Max Mosley, who handed the winner’s trophy to Robert Wickens, while the car’s designer, Patrick Head, was on the podium on Sunday, presenting the race two awards.
For Mosley (himself a former F2 racer and car constructor, as partner in March) it must have been a blessed relief to be able to walk through a paddock without F1’s attendant headaches and constant pressure and he looked genuinely impressed by the F2 set-up that filled half the Valencia pit-lane in one vast, slickly-detailed, open garage.
The 25 cars and a sea of impeccably-uniformed engineers and mechanics were the public tip of the iceberg that Palmer’s Motor Sport Vision concern has put in place to run this series, which differs from other high-profile championships by providing what is essentially an arrive-and-drive package and by doing it to the sort of budget that would have Luca de Montezemolo reaching for the smelling salts.
Drivers pay a set fee for the season and MSV supplies everything – from chassis, tyres and engines, to mechanics, data engineers and spares back-up. The driver simply needs to get himself to and from the races. Oh, and find the money. But, compared to £500,000-plus for national F3 or around £750,000 for GP2, £195,000 for F2 is much more affordable.
Almost entirely free from mechanical woes (I should probably have put money on Serb Milos Pavlovic being the unlucky exception) it was a successful first race weekend for the new venture and a source of obvious pride for Palmer. And it’s well-deserved: when Mosley first floated the idea, the general reaction was that the driver budget-cap was way too low for it to be profitable, professional or even possible… but Palmer has proved the doubters wrong on at least two of those counts. And knowing that his attention to the bottom line is focused as acutely as it is on the front-of-house, I doubt he’ll miss his third target.
Welcome back F2… it’s been a long time.