FIA Global Pathway: GP3’s Oriental Opportunity

2016 GP3 Series Round 5 Hockenheimring, Hockenheim, Germany Saturday 30 July 2016. Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix) leads Nyck De Vries (NED, ART Grand Prix) & Antonio Fuoco (ITA, Trident) at the start Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service. ref: Digital Image _SBB1721

The GP3 Series, how will you remember it?

Over the last two weeks, the world has taken another step closer to a unified FIA Global Pathway. Though, the announcement of GP2 Series into FIA Formula 2 has left question marks over its sister series.

As many have mentioned, GP3 still has a contract in place to remain on the Formula 1 support bill until the end of 2018, but with direct competition from the FIA European Formula 3 series as well as the new F2, GP3 could be on course to follow in the footsteps of A1GP, Formula BMW and National F3000 series.

Back in February, Euro F3 announced that a €100,000 prize fund would be available to the champion providing he move to another FIA series. While this just included F1 at the time of its announcement, the move will further isolate GP3 for young drivers in years to come.

Single-Seater Commission president Stefano Domenicali stated, “With this step [GP2 becoming F2] the FIA racing ladder is now complete and we will be working with even more energy to strengthen the F3 category, which is the ideal step just before F2.”

In response to this, GP3 has started to explore options inside the Global Pathway, expressing an interest in the F3 Light category, between Formula 4 and F3.

Domenicali went on to say; “Also, we keep on studying how to implement an intermediate step between Formula 4 and F3 to help young talents to progress in their career at a more international level and still in an affordable category.”

This solution though would see GP3 compete with not just Euro F3, but also EuroFormula Open and the two Formula Renault series for supremacy in Europe.

There’s also been talks about merging the series with its parent category, F2, maybe in an attempt to re-bolster the series grid numbers, ensuring it’s a true superior to Euro F3.

The European Formula 3 Championship has remained the only Continental F3 series in recent years, yet rising costs and the domination of Prema Powerteam, could drive competitors away. (Credit: FIA Formula 3 European Championship)

It may not be all doom and gloom for a series that has produced nine F1 drivers, of which four were champions, as it could open up an opportunity in the East.

Since the FIA announced its plans to introduce the Global Pathway, there has always been an intention to add other continental F3 championship. The SCCA expressed intention of running one in North America, once they’d finished setting up F4, though have said little since 2015.

Instead, GP3 should look to Asia.

With Asia making up eight of the twenty Formula 1 Grand Prix, an opportunity could arise for GP3 to set up a rival F3 series far-east, away from the heavy European competition.

Plans are already underway to have Euro F3 usurp GP3 as a F1 support series, but providing a new Asian Formula 3 is run in the same specifications, it could qualify to continue being a F1 support championship when Euro F3 can not.

GP2 (F2) already followed F1 to Marina Bay and the Sepang International Circuit, but with the Malaysian, Singaporean and Japanese GP’s all within a 4 week time frame, an easy road could be created for an Asian F3 calendar.

The GP2 Series followed F1 to a few races in the far east, including the Singapore and Malaysian GP (above.) A new Asian F3 could pair with the rebranded FIA F2, during its long-haul trips. (Credit: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service)

The idea of Asian F3 is nothing new, in fact it existed for a short time between 2001 and 2008, though rising costs and a lack of interest eventually killed it. This Philippine-run championship was set up long before F1 and junior racing truly took off in the east and thus became fairly isolated.

BRDC British F3 proved that an F3 Light category did not need all cars to be homogenised internationally and it wouldn’t be a far-flung idea to suggest that concept could be spread to the whole Continental F3 step entirely.

Cars from the current generation can continue to be used as a way of reducing costs and giving an early incentive to existing GP3 teams in order to stay on. Considering Euro F3 cars are around 5% slower, the new Asian F3 will be within the range of standard lap times, providing engine modification will be allowed.

In fact, assuming heavy restrictions are put on the new vehicles, the cars could qualify for the Macau Grand Prix, putting more emphasis on its title as the FIA Formula 3 World Cup.

National Formula 3 has been slowly dying off in the continent, as Australian F3, former home of the nation’s drivers championship, almost died off last year. Initially re-energised with the use of Formula A rules only for the old organisers to reinstate it. Moreover, the only other F3 category in the area remains All-Japan Formula 3, however the country often remains isolated to outsiders, as only three non-nationals competing last year.

This is all in contrast to the continents emerging junior market, Formula 4 series in Australia, South East Asia, China, Japan and the UAE could provide a steady income of talent, along with local support in the Toyota Racing Series and India’s MRF Challenge.

Speaking of the latter two, the new Asian F3 may provide a further opportunity for European drivers to compete outside of the pressures of the Western leagues.

The Macau Grand Prix was recently given the title; F3 World Cup. The inclusion of entrants from Asian F3 would only strengthen the event in future years (Credit: CGPM)

Talks have been made in the past to rebrand the MRF Challenge into a F3 Light series, though little has come to date, the introduction of a fully fledged competitor could be the catalyst for the region to become a genuine option for young drivers.

So who’d be interested in Asia?

This question is almost certainly what killed its predecessor, but the introduction of Super Licence points has certainly encouraged young drivers to move into Euro F3, as a championship win could land you a F1 drive regardless of previous results. A season will cost a driver upwards of €600’000

The biggest question the series will face will be about its calendar. Does it stick with the summer pattern perfected in Europe or does it follow in the footsteps of TRS, MRF and SEA F4, planning during the winter.

A winter championship could open up more F1 opportunities, with the theoretical season starting on 17 September during the Singapore GP, quickly hopping around East Asia, before the Macau GP and a number of filler events leads us back to start of another season in late March at the Australian and Chinese Grand Prix.

This would see the series gain exposure for at least five races, plus another two, should it swallow the cost of travelling to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.

Of course, a move to create a Pan-American or North American championship could still be on the cards, though it may be tougher to convince local drivers. Minimal junior infrastructure outside of the United States and possible decline of Formula 3 Brazil and Panam GP (formerly Mexican F3) could raise protests.

GP3’s grid numbers have gradually decreased in recent years, yet remains a key training ground for many beyond or instead of Euro F3. (Credit: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service)

Either way, GP3 has two years to decide its fate. Although the prospects of a Formula 3 counterpart in the East are quite bleak; the more powerful car, which is more closely related to FIA F2, the less competitive class and equal number of FIA super licence points, could be an excellent allure for the drivers and thus the teams looking to save costs.

European F3 needs a genuine rival to avoid a financial bottleneck, right now GP3 holds the key.