When rumours of a new open wheel series began to surface, many within racing circles brushed it aside as yet another dream that would never happen. But on 30th March 2004 when His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum pulled the sheets off the A1 GP concept car, that dream turned to reality. The dream looked fast.
With every team using the same car, no driver aids, rolling starts, two differing type of races at each event and compulsory pitstops, this is a racing fans dream, now already a reality. Every sport has a competition where nation versus nation, except motorsport. The visionaries behind A1GP saw something, something needed.
It wasn’t long after that March announcement that the world started to take notice and move to be a part of the series. In the UK, Sky Television, owned by Rupert Murdoch who also owns the United States FOX network, signed an exclusive deal with A1GP. Sky had agreed to televise all A1 Grand Prix qualifying and race sessions live.
By August 2004, general testing of the car had taken place in the hands of ex-Jordan F1 pilot Ralph Firman, initial feedback was good as Firman stated the car was fun and hard to drive in equal measure. The car showed extreme levels of reliability from the off, over 2,000km of successful testing was completed at Jerez and Silverstone.
China, Great Britain, Lebanon, Pakistan, Portugal joined as teams for the inaugural season in September 2004. The British team would be lead by the only driver ever to win World Championships on both two and four wheels, John Surtees.
November 2004 and with another 1,500km testing done in just three days, the management of the series busily prepared their first circuit announcement. Brands Hatch was to be the host for the inaugural event of the A1GP 2005-2006 season. The Kent circuit had last hosted a major open-wheel event in 1986 as it saw Nigel Mansell winning in the Williams-Honda as a part of the Formula One World Championship.
The ever expanding list of entry nations to A1GP added Australia and New Zealand. With it came the announcement that Australia would host an event. Many were pleased to see local hero Jack Brabham in attendance at the March 2005 ceremony.
June 2005 saw Brazilian footballer Ronaldo and two time F1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi launch Brazil’s entry into the World Cup of Motorsport. The rumour mill went to work as to whether Ayrton Senna’s nephew Bruno would be driving, his performances in International F3 being noticed at home by this stage. A1 was seen by some to be an ideal opportunity to display young driving talent.
SIZE & WEIGHT
The A1 cars overall length is 4833 mm, with a long wheelbase of 3000 mm and a wide track of 1468 mm (rear) and 1476 mm (front). The car weight is 700 kg including driver, excluding fuel.
SETUP & ADJUSTMENT
Ride height, camber and toe are adjustable.
Anti Roll Bar is multi adjustable, quick change front and rear.
ENGINE & DETAILS
Zytek 90 degree V8. 120 kg.
Max torque: 330 lbs ft – 442 Nm.
Max Power: 550 bhp – 412 kW.
Six Speed transverse sequential gearbox, changed via wheel paddles.
Steel brake discs.
Cooper Tyres, slicks and wets.
13″ diameter. Width 11″ (front), 16″ (rear).
The general design of the car is meant to produce exciting racing. It is possible to slide the cars under power and recover from a small loss of control.
Additionally, the rear of the car is designed to minimise dirty air, the front is designed to work well in dirty air. The cars are able to run very close to each other due to this.
Passing is likely due to the 50bhp boost the drivers can activate via a button control.
THE RULES: BEFORE THE EVENT
In the interest of fair play, teams do not keep their own car at any time. All transportation is done by the A1 organisers.
Pre-season and in-season testing is setup and run by the A1 organisers.
Teams are not allowed to make changes to the car except those considered setup adjustments either before or during any session.
The cars are only given to the teams on the Thursday, giving all teams exactly the same time to work on the car in preparation for the first session.
All teams have the same equipment and are in essential terms only required to provide the people to run the operation.
Initially, nations not seen in motorsport previously are allowed to have staff in the garage from other countries than they’re racing for, but this should be phased out after time. The driver must be from the nation being represented.
THE RULES: PRACTICE
There should be three practice sessions at each event, lasting one hour each. Two sessions on the Friday and one on the Saturday morning at a time suitable for the nation hosting the event.
Teams must declare drivers before the first practice session, a maximum of two drivers can be named. As long as the two drivers both practice and set times within a variable percent of each other, either driver can run in qualifying or the races, depending on their skill at each discipline.
Practice is red flagged and all cars are returned to the pits if the track is unsafe for any reason. If a car spins and marshalls can push it, the spinner is allowed to return to the pits and rejoin the session when it restarts.
THE RULES: QUALIFYING
Qualifying consists of four fifteen minute qualifying sessions on the Saturday afternoon, with just a ten minute break between them. Drivers have just one flying lap in each session.
Teams are allowed to set the car up for a flying lap, with low fuel and perhaps experimental wing and suspension settings also.
The nations two best times from the four sessions are added together to produce their aggregate time for the grid.
How most drivers will approach qualifying is to use the first two sessions to set two times and guarantee qualification, then push harder in the third and fourth sessions.
When a driver sets a faster time on his third run, his slowest time of the three is dropped, meaning the entire qualifying system is geared to wind up tighter and closer towards the end of the fourth session.
If a driver spins on a qualifying run, he cannot go back out in the same session and will have just the remainder of the current session and the ten minute break to repair any damage.
Clean and fast driving is essential in this qualifying system, which appears complicated at first, but once understood is probably the best system any series has come up with yet.
Drivers are declared by the teams to qualify from those who had practiced for them.
THE RULES: SPRINT RACE
This race is exactly what it sounds like, it is about pure speed. The fastest qualifier over four sessions, gets a rolling start at high speed and runs as fast as possible until the race is over, hoping to beat everyone else in the process.
Full points are awarded for this event, so experience with rolling starts and an ability to keep the car out of trouble are the two main things a nation needs to find from it’s drivers.
Races should last approximately thirty minutes at each track, as organisers will be estimating the number of laps to reach that time before the event.
The thrilling element of this first race is that in the back of every drivers mind will be the fact that the car has another race to do right afterwards. If the driver puts the car in the wall, he misses two races, not one. There is just a thirty minute gap until cars have to be back on the grid for the Feature Race, so a skilled driver won’t celebrate for too long.
THE RULES: FEATURE RACE
Feature race starting order is taken from the Sprint Race finishing order, but this time the skills required are very different.
This race lasts around one hour and includes a mandatory pitstop where all four wheels must be changed by just six pitcrew; four on wheels and two on the front and rear manual jacks. Teams are allowed additional men to take used tyres away.
With only a thirty minute break from the first race, physical fitness becomes very important for the feature race in these cars approaching 200mph, also the drivers ability to report back changes needed for a heavy fuel load or the general car balance become important too.
Full points are also awarded for this race along with money from the huge prize fund. An additional single point is available to the one driver who set fastest lap in either the Sprint or Feature races.
THE RULES: REWARDS
Points are awarded in both races, prize money is only awarded in the Feature Race.
POS PTS PRIZE
1st 10 $300,000
2nd 9 $200,000
3rd 8 $150,000
4th 7 $110,000
5th 6 $80,000
5th 5 $60,000
7th 4 $40,000
8th 3 $30,000
9th 2 $20,000
10th 1 $10,000
One point for the fastest lap of the meeting. Prize fund is $1M each meeting, with additional given at the end of the season depending on national places. Drivers do not score points or win the money, the national team does, thereby allowing a different driver to compete at each event if wanted.
All photographs © A1GP Media.
Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.
He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.