Exclusive interview with GP2 boss Bruno Michel 22 Nov 2007
With reigning GP2 champion Timo Glock joining Toyota next season, the series has yet again proved its credentials as one of the best breeding grounds for future Formula One drivers. Just three seasons old and it can already boast McLarens Lewis Hamilton, Williams Nico Rosberg and Renaults Heikki Kovalainen amongst its alumnae.
As Formula One racing makes more and more inroads into the Middle East and Asia, the need for local drivers is inevitable, and from January GP2 will be in on the action. Here, GP2 boss Bruno Michel reveals his strategy for next season and explains why hes convinced he can repeat what worked so perfectly in Europe with the new Asia Series
Q: GP2 has just finished its third season and all three of its champions - Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock - have made their way into Formula One racing. The series is obviously delivering. How would you review the past three years?
Bruno Michel: This was the main objective of GP2 so we can be very happy about this result. But to achieve this we had to demonstrate that the level of the car's performance would allow the strong GP2 drivers to be able to make the last step in good conditions. I also think that with the quality of the racing, we have attracted a lot of attention from the Formula One key players.
Q: While there is a unanimous view that GP2 is filling the gap between the lower series and Formula One racing, the cost factor is viewed as somewhat troublesome. What is your response to this charge?
BM: We are always very concerned about the cost factor but you have to keep in mind that the GP2 car is technically very advanced, which is what is needed to attract the best teams and the best drivers. Also we have more than 20 races per season, which gives more credibility to the championship. Of course, we try to do everything to avoid the escalation of costs and I think considering the number of drivers who want to join GP2 every year, the package works quite well.
Q: From January next year, GP2 is heading east - following the Formula One path. What is the philosophy behind this move?
BM: Asia is becoming a key continent in the motorsport industry. But the drivers from this side of the world are not prepared enough to get into F1. We are trying to fill this gap and bring some very competitive racing to Asia. We will be using the present GP2 cars and will keep the costs as low as possible.
Q: Why did you decide to have two series instead of one pan-continental championship?
BM: To be able to follow Formula One, but without a budget, for 18 to 20 weekends - it would have been too difficult financially for the teams. Instead, we will do two championships, possibly with different drivers, so the budget can be split.
Q: You will operate the Asia Series from the region. How will that work? Will the participating teams establish bases in Dubai?
BM: Yes, we will be based in Dubai, where we will do the testing and two races for the first season, but the teams will not really need to be based there. They will work on the cars at the circuits before and after the race. This is also to control their costs.
Q: The series will start with five races, with the Malaysian and Bahrain events taking place during the respective Grand Prix weekends. Is the goal to extend the series to be part of every Grand Prix weekend held in the region?
BM: The aim is to extend the number of races with F1 in the future. To be part of every weekend is a further step that we have not yet considered.
Q: GP2 has established itself in Europe as a premium brand in its own right and as the perfect feeder series for Formula One racing. What do you believe convinced all but one of the teams to follow you east?
BM: It was a very logical evolution for them. They owned the cars, they knew how to work on them and they always had the problem of keeping their staff busy for the whole year. It is also a way for them to cover their fixed costs with two different sources of revenue. So for all of them except for one, it was not very difficult to convince them.
Q: There must have been numerous teams from the region trying to become part of GP2 Asia. Meritus Racing from Kuala Lumpur is the only new entrant. Were you focused on teams already running in the main GP2 series?
BM: For the reasons I explained before and from a loyalty point of view, we gave priority to the existing teams. Since one decided not to come, we naturally gave the last entry to a local team, and we thought Meritus was the most experienced one and would be capable of immediately being competitive against the existing teams.
Q: GP2 has established a solid platform of partners. Will they all be on board for your Asian expansion?
BM: Renault and Bridgestone have been long time supporters of the series and will continue in the future. Bridgestone will also support the Asian Series and we are very happy about this, considering the quality of its involvement and the experience it gives to young drivers before F1. As to our main suppliers, Dallara and Mecachrome, we will also continue working with them for the main series and in Asia because we do not want to change such a strong team. But everyone will keep on working and developing their products because a series always needs to evaluate to stay competitive.