Then and Now – Formula 2

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In the early years of motor racing there were no regulations, any car could compete and manufacturers built their fastest cars.  As time moved on regulations appeared for the top flight Grand Prix cars, and for drivers without the talent or budget to compete at the very top a class existed below these for less powerful and slightly slower cars.  These voiturette cars provided a way for the less experience amateur driver to demonstrate their talent and progress to the Grand Prix cars of the time.  After the second World War the old Grand Prix rules (3.0 litre supercharged engines) were changed and Formula A and B introduced.  Formula A in 1946 permitted the old 4.5 litre normally aspirated cars and the 1.5 litre supercharged cars that had been the pre-war voiturette class.  Formula B was introduced in 1948 for 2.0 litre normally aspirated or 500cc supercharged engines.  These became known as Formula 1 and 2 (dropping the A and B titles).  The World Drivers Championship started in 1950 and drivers scored points from selected Formula 1 races and the Indianapolis 500, however by 1952 so few manufacturers were building suitable Formula 1 cars (Ferrari dominated with their 4.5 Litre car) that the 1952 and 1953 World Drivers Championship was held for Formula 2 races (and the Indianapolis 500). 

With the Formula 1 rules changing in 1954 to 2.5 litre normally aspirated engines, Formula 2 went into a bit of a decline, so in 1957 the regulations changed to permit only 1.5 litre normally aspirated cars.  Rear engined cars dominated from Cooper, Porsche and even Ferrari (testing the rear engined concept in F2 while still running front engined cars in F1).

Formula Junior was introduced in 1961 replacing both Formula 2 and Formula 3.  By this stage Formula 1 was restricted to 1.5 litre cars so many of the old F2 cars were eligible for F1.  By 1964 however it was realised that the category below Formula 1 needed sub-dividing, so Formula 2 was re-introduced with 1 litre normally aspirated engines.  Following Formula 1 getting larger engines in 1966, in 1967 Formula 2 grew to 1.6 litre engines based on a production block (at least 500 made) with a maximum of six cylinders.

Then in 1972 the engine size grew to 2.0 litres with the block from a type where at least 1000 had been made.  For 1973 this was reduced to a production run of 100, and in 1976 pure racing engines were allowed.  This Formula lasted until 1984, with the category replaced by Formula 3000 in 1985. While the name was revived for a one make series from 2008-2012 using a 1.8 litre turbocharged engine, it wasn’t a success.  Now however with the GP2 series being rebranded Formula 2, we once again have a racing ladder that goes from junior racing in Formula 4 through to Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1.  This should make the progression of the drivers through the series easier to understand for the casual fan or possibly more importantly for the driver’s sponsors. 

Unlike today however, the cars in the two litre Formula 2 era came from a multitude of manufacturers.  In 1972 there were entries from Brabham, March, McLaren, Surtees, Chevron, GRD, Ensign, Pygmée, Leda, Alpine, Lotus, Mildren, Elfin, Mana and Taydec.  Engine tuners were nearly as prolific with Cosworth, Hart, Broadspeed, Novamotor, R.E.S., David Wood, Armaroli, Schenker, Pygmée, Felday, Alan Smith, Racing Services, Tony Steele, Geoff Richardson, Dick Barker, Brambilla, and Graham Eden.  This meant that not only was this a learning formula for drivers, but designers, engineers and tuners were also able to learn their craft before progressing to Formula 1.

By 1984 the list of chassis had changed, but it was still an open chassi and open engine formula.   As a result chassis included Ralt, Martini, March, Minardi, Merzario, Spirit, AGS and Maurer, while engines were Mugen tuned Honda, Mader tuned BMW and Heidegger tuned BMW.  The choice may have been smaller, but each team had freedom to develop the car through the season, so the drivers and engineers must learn how to do this (a skill invaluable when they get to F1) rather than just to optimise a single make chassis and engine where every team has the same equipment.  This demise in the multi chassis / multi engine  formula below Formula 1 has to my mind been a great loss to the sport.  While it may have helped to control costs slightly in the junior formulae, it has taken away a vital training ground for teams and their personnel that want to progress to Formula 1.  Where will the next Adrian Newey, Ross Brawn or even Eddie Jordan come from.  Without junior formulae where they have the freedom to develop the cars to beat the opposition it is too big a step to mover from Formula 2 (or GP2 in the past) to Formula 1, just look at what happened to Manor.  They were a successful team in the junior Formula, but couldn’t make the transition to the top series, the step was too big.

As an indication of the success of the multi chassis / multi engine formula in developing drivers, look at the drivers who competed in the 1972 European Formula 2 championship, and how many do you recognise from their time in Formula 1:

Mike Hailwood
Jean-Pierre Jaussaud
Patrick Depailler
Carlos Reutemann
Niki Lauda
Dave Morgan
Bob Wollek
Jody Scheckter
Peter Gethin
Mike Beuttler
Carlos Reusch
Wilson Fittipaldi
Xavier Perrot
Jean-Pierre Jabouille
Patrick Dal Bo
Carlos Pace
Tom Belso
James Hunt
Claudio Francisci
David Purley
Andrea de Adamich
Ernesto Brambilla
John Watson
Vic Elford
Brett Lunger
José  Dolhem
John Wingfield
Jochen Mass.

Compare this to the list of GP2 drivers from 2012 (so that they would have had a chance to progress to F1):

Davide Valsecchi

Luiz Razia

E.Gutiérrez

Max Chilton

James Calado

G.van der Garde

Fabio Leimer

Marcus Ericsson

J.Cecotto Jr.

Felipe Nasr

Jolyon Palmer

N.Berthon

Stefano Coletti

Rio Haryanto

Tom Dillmann

Luca Filippi

Josef Král

S.Richelmi

Nigel Melker

Fabio Onidi

Julián Leal

Rodolfo González

Simon Trummer

F.Crestani

Brendon Hartley

Daniël de Jong

Sergio Canamasas

Daniel Clos

Ricardo Teixeira

Victor Guerin

Rene Binder

Jake Rosenzweig

G.Serenelli

Jon Lancaster

A similar number of drivers, but far fewer have made it to the top in the sport.  From the 1972 list there are three world champions (although only two had won titles by 1977), while several from the 2012 list have made an appearance in Formula 1, I don’t see any of them becoming world champions in the near future.

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jakobusvdl
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jakobusvdl
Hi Dave, thanks for another informative and thought provoking article. The international Historic Formula Junior series was down under this year, and seeing the variety of machines and manufacturers was inspiring. Seeing those amazing cars, and your article are another great reminder of how Motorsport has changed vastly over its history. It does seem odd that 45 years ago the second highest tier of open wheeled racing was a prototype series that supported a whole network of chassis and engine designers, fabricators manufacturers and teams, whereas these days its a spec series, so one set of suppliers, with a bunch… Read more »