• The cost of motorsport

It's a rich man's world

Naoise Holohan
November 21, 2011

Motorsport is an expensive business, and the aspiring young F1 star often has to bring his funding with him on his way to the top. Naoise Holohan investigates the true cost of climbing the ladder to Formula One, and the figures are astonishing...

Ayrton Senna was victorious in Formula Ford in 1981 © Sutton Images
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Formula Ford: €100,000

Past Champions: Ayrton Senna, Jenson Button, Eddie Irvine
Formula Ford is usually the first step a driver makes from karting into single seaters. Numerous Formula Ford championships are held around the world, although the British championship is the most well-known. The cars feature 1.6 litre engines with slick racing tyres, and the 2011 season featured 8 rounds of three races each at such tracks as Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Zandvoort. A year here will cost you approximately €100,000.

Formula BMW: €300,000

Past Champions: Sebastian Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg, Nico Rosberg
The next step on the ladder to F1 used to be the Formula BMW championship, although its existence has been contracted significantly in recent years. Back in 2007 there were series in America, UK, Asia and Germany, before shrinking to European and Pacific series last year. BMW then pulled their support, although the Pacific series has continued as the JK Racing Asia Series, while a Formula BMW Talent Cup runs in Germany. In 2010, a seat in Formula BMW Europe would cost approximately €300,000.

Formula Renault 2.0: €350,000

Past Champions: Felipe Massa, Kamui Kobayashi, Pedro de la Rosa
Forming part of the popular World Series by Renault, the Formula Renault 2.0 class is a slight step up from Formula BMW. Based in Europe, the series races as support to its bigger brother, Formula Renault 3.5, with a calendar consisting mostly of Grand Prix tracks.

Daniel Ricciardo shone in British F3 with Carlin Motorsport while enjoying Red Bull backing © Sutton Images
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British Formula 3: €400,000

Past Champions: Jaime Alguersuari, Daniel Ricciardo, Takuma Sato, Rubens Barrichello
The British F3 series is one of the longest-running junior categories in the world, having enjoyed its first season all the way back in 1951. Since then it has been joined by many other F3 series around the world. The blossoming of series such as GP2, GP3 and Renault World Series in recent years has seen the importance of F3 and British F3 drop, but with the series having highlighted talents such as Alguersuari, Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, there's no doubting its credibility.

Formula Two: €260,000

Past Champions: Andy Soucek, Dean Stoneman, Mirko Bortolotti
While the original incarnation of the Formula Two series, which later morphed into Formula 3000 and then GP2 in 2005, was a hugely successful operation, the rebirth of the series by Max Mosley in 2009 as a low-cost alternative to GP2 hasn't succeeded in attracting neither the talent nor the pedigree. Its car, powered by a 1.8 litre Audi engine, was developed by Williams and the champion gets a one-day test with the team at the end of each season. Despite being marketed as an F1 feeder series, not one of its drivers has raced in F1 yet (GP2's inaugural champion raced in F1 the following year) and many drivers regard the series as a waste of time and sponsors' money.

Auto GP: €600,000

Past Champions: Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean
The series was inaugurated as the Italian Formula 3000 championship back in 1999 and many name changes later it adopted its current name of Auto GP in 2010. It uses the first generation A1GP cars which were designed by Lola with a 3.4 litre V8 Zytek engine. Its calendar includes a number of Grand Prix tracks, including Monza and Spa, but is not high on the list of F1 aspirants.

Paul di Resta won the F3 Euroseries title in 2006 © Sutton Images
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F3 Euroseries: €600,000

Past Champions: Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg
Inaugurated in 2003, the F3 Euroseries has had an almost instant impact as a middle-of-the-road series between formulae such as Formula Renault and Formula BMW and more prestigious formulae such as the Renault World Series and GP2. Teams have a choice of either Mercedes or Volkswagen engines for their Dallara chassis, both of which are 2 litres in capacity. It runs as a support category to DTM in Germany but only races on three current Grand Prix tracks.

GP3 Series: €600,000

Past Champions: Esteban Gutierrez, Valtteri Bottas
It's only two years in existence but the GP3 series has already made an impact as the feeder series to GP2, with one of its former drivers having already driven an F1 car during a Grand Prix weekend (Robert Wickens). Many of its 2010 graduates stepped up to GP2, including champion Esteban Gutierrez, and it has received glowing praise from drivers and other motorsport observers for its strong fields, packed grids and presence at Formula One race weekends to impress the all important F1 teams. Its Dallara cars are powered by a 2 litre Renault engine.

Formula Renault 3.5 (World Series by Renault): €750,000

Past Champions: Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen
The high cost of GP2 has seen the Formula Renault 3.5 series (commonly called the World Series by Renault) flourish in recent years. Drivers are beginning to prioritise a seat in WSR ahead of GP2 due to its lower cost, more track time and greater ease at attracting sponsors. Free tickets to the races has seen the series build a strong fanbase, with an astonishing 120,000 fans having turned out at Silverstone specifically to see WSR.

GP2 Series: €1,800,000 (Main series only), €600,000 (Asia series only), €2,200,000 (Main and Asia series)

GP2 is seen as the final stepping stone to Formula One for many drivers, with supporting races at all European F1 rounds © Sutton Images
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Past Champions: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock
Since its launch in 2005, GP2 has been the indisputable king of Formula One feeder series, with all of its champions and runners-up (bar one) having raced in F1. Its unsuccessful brother, the GP2 Asia series ran for four editions before being scrapped at the end of this year, but the main series has been a roaring success. Its high cost continues to be a major detractor however, as along with keeping out talented drivers with limited financial backing, it has the second drawback of harbouring many pay drivers that would otherwise be usurped by younger, faster drivers. Its Dallara chassis is powered by a 4 litre Renault engine and laps just over 10% slower than an F1 car.

Formula One: €3,000,000 (HRT) - €40,000,000 (Ferrari)

Past Champions: Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso
Having achieved the impossible of attracting the sponsors required to bring you through many seasons of junior category racing, the story doesn't get much easier. Even getting onto the bottom rung of the ladder at HRT will cost you €3m, while Virgin will be asking you for about €5m. Go further up the grid and a seat at Toro Rosso will set you back €10m and you will be spending €12m to become Vitaly Petrov's team-mate at Renault. If you're Fernando Alonso and want a seat at Ferrari, Santander will offer as much as €40m as a goodwill gesture to ease the process along. Formula One, it's clear, is not all about the talent.

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