"Superleague is the best F1 alternative"
With Superleague Formula about to begin its fourth season we caught up with Competitions Director Robin Webb to get the lowdown on the championship.
1. What is the current state of Superleague Formula?
“Superleague Formula is in an interesting phase right now. We’ve come out of a very successful 2010, which was our third season, and some would argue that it was our first ‘proper’ year in terms of championship status. We delivered 12 rounds with 36 races (actually 35 due to Beijing’s bad weather) and we had the biggest prize fund in non F1 motorsport. We had our first million euro champion, in a championship season that was not decided until the very last race and with just a two point gap. We also had probably our best line-up of drivers and our first non euro ‘flyaway event’ in China. We have many football clubs, circuits, race teams and drivers all wanting to be a part of SF. So from my perspective Superleague Formula is an excellent place right now.”
2. Did the sad demise of A1GP strengthen or weaken Superleague Formula?
“When the rumors of difficulties regarding A1GP were at their height, I said that it would be bad if A1 failed. Initially everybody assumed that Superleague Formula would go the same way. It was sad to see, but now with the benefit of hindsight, it helped us. What it did was to take away some confusion and a competitor out in a market where we both wanted to position ourselves. From my perspective I can see that there is no longer any confusion (or doubt) in the market now about Superleague Formula. We had a change of ownership, in as much as an existing shareholder took over 99% of the business and also our sponsor, Sonangol, is very happy with progress. So I have to say Superleague Formula has benefited. We are now the only real global single-seater alternative destination to F1.”
3. Does the €5m prize fund help to attract better drivers and race teams?
“The prize fund is crucial. It gives our drivers, managers, sponsors and race teams the opportunity to recover all or some of their racing budget. For example, the 2010 winning driver made just over €1.8m for his team and management. I spoke with John Martin and Craig Dolby and in the latter case, his mentor/sponsor took a big risk last year and actually made a profit. Where else can that happen in motorsport, and then have the PR machine of a major football club behind you. John Martin has been funded by his family and he was able to pay back every time he won. That was a unique experience for his father. Also budgets for Superleague Formula are sensible. You get a lot of racing (36 races), exciting qualifying (the knock outs) and the budget is two and a half times less than GP2. So for me it's a crucial part of our championship.”
4. Has the business of Superleague Formula changed since the series first launched?
“Yes it has. I think we all underestimated the values of the brands that we were lucky enough to bring to Superleague Formula. By that I include drivers who are brands in their own right. I was with a football club marketing director last week and he said that the value for him was in using the driver as a brand endorsement. He explained that it’s the same principle as Tiger Woods wearing a Tag Heuer. He used their driver at all kinds of events to endorse the football club brand. This gave them extra column inches in national and generic press that they would not normally receive. Everybody told us you could not do a 100% reverse grid for the second race. But we did it, and it has been great. And we now run the races in three consecutive outings in a very short time-frame. Much stress for the teams but great for TV and spectators, so that will continue for 2011. We need to be about entertainment above all else.”
5. Are there any changes that we can expect in 2011?
“In 2011 we intend to increase our global exposure. It’s what the football clubs want, and it’s where Superleague Formula wants to be. Outside of Europe, there are more-and-more opportunities cropping up for us to race. There are circuits being built at an increasing rate, in territories that you would never normally consider. We like that and want to be the first into those regions with long term contracts and the chance to develop those assets. So our plan for 2011 is to have seven European races and five ‘flyaways’. The deals are not all 100% signed off yet but we believe we can do it. We are also looking at a 20 car grid and some new football clubs from some new countries entering. More will be revealed in the next weeks.”
6. What do you think are the greatest achievements of Superleague Formula so far?
“There have been many threshold moments in the building of this championship. First was the day I woke and decided to do it! Everybody told me it was impossible and that I was crazy. I’m happy to have proved them wrong but it took much longer than I expected. Other moments must include our Spanish investors, when they decided to back the project, also agreeing the design of the car and the specification of the engine and then receiving the first prototype. What a moment! Since then, it has been the endorsement of a top sponsor with the ensuing stability. And finally the acceptance of Superleague Formula as a genuine product in the market place. Sure, there are people who want to knock it but I haven’t detected a queue of race teams, drivers, or football clubs wanting to leave us at the end of every year. And that ex F1 drivers and future F1 drivers are perfectly happy to race in SF – we give them a great race car - has probably been my most satisfying observation.”
7. Where do you see Superleague Formula in five years time?
“In five years time SF will be ‘establishment’. That’s important. Every event, competition or new product takes time to establish itself. In commercial terms they call it heritage and you can’t buy it, that intangible thing that gives you credibility and value. If we are smart and don’t make too many mistakes (but also be prepared to take the odd risk here and there) then I expect Superleague Formula to have its own identity and, to be commercially viable and successful. Maybe, then I can retire!”
Superleague Formula set to announce 2011 teams
With the 2011 Superleague Formula by Sonangol season set to get underway at Monza in eight weeks time, series Competitions Director Robin Webb is about to open the entry list for the 12 round championship.
“There have been many teams that have approached us since the end of our last season, but there are 14 teams that have shown the most serious interest,” said Webb. The final entry forms were issued to all teams yesterday (Thursday), who will have just 10 days to formally register their entries. “Each team will run a minimum of two cars and while priority is being given to all existing teams that have already run with SF, we have some very interesting new enquiries,” added Webb who will now assess all team entries.
“We have had a terrific response to the ballot for this season's franchise. We are now going into our fourth season of racing and this is clearly our strongest entry to date, with both returning teams and also potential new entrants who want to join us.
“We have a great calendar this season, with 12 events in total, seven in Europe, and five flyaways in four different continents, with a prize fund of over €5,000,000, it is a very attractive proposition for both teams and drivers. Several teams and drivers made a profit last year, while others managed to race for very small money due to the massive prize fund. New teams do not have to invest in purchasing the cars as these are all owned by Superleague Formula and we lend them to the teams free-of-charge so cost of entry is minimal.
"We have also had direct interest from a number of top-line drivers who would be new to the series, as well as those who want to return.”
Webb is also due to announce in the next two weeks a number of new football teams who have requested an entry into the championship. “The entry of new football clubs is obviously very key to us, especially as we are going into some new territories this season, and it is great to take some local flavor with us, although this is clearly not always possible. We are currently limited to a 20 car grid and if you look at the line-up, there is not a single one that you would not want to take with you into the new season, although there is always some repositioning possible.”