Remove F1 from the equation, and the name ART Grand Prix is synonymous with motorsport. Founded in 1991 as ASM, the French based squad have reigned supreme in every major single seater series below F1, taking a remarkable 28 drivers and teams championships in GP2, GP2 Asia Series, GP3 and F3 Euroseries since 2003. Those championships represent a phenomenal amount of success for the 25 year old team which morphed into ART Grand Prix under the stewardship of Nicolas Todt (FIA president Jean Todt’s son) and Frederic Vassuer in 2005, and Stoffel Vandoorne’s 2015 GP2 title further confirmed that the team remain very much at the top of the motorsport pecking order.
You only have to name but a few of the now world famous drivers which have driven for the team at some point in their careers to begin to gain an appreciation of what a drive at ART can do for a career . Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Valteri Bottas and Jamie Green have all plied their trade with ART over the years – it’s no coincidence that the team has become a breeding ground for champions of the future. They even managed to score three podiums in their maiden DTM campaign with Paffet and Auer behind the wheel.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my excitement when the FIA announced the bidding process open to become fill the 13th slot on the F1 grid for 2011, and with ART subsequently announcing their bid in May 2010. The prospect of having one of single seater racings most successful teams go head to head with historic juggernauts such as Ferrari, Williams and McLaren was mouthwatering to say the least, however “unfavourable economic conditions” put a halt to ART’s plans of joining Formula One.
Despite the FIA’s valiant attempts to make F1 more affordable to smaller teams, the circumstances which prevent one of motorsport’s most successful ever outfits competing at its “pinnacle” still make depressing reading nearly six years on. F1 will always, almost religiously be regarded by some as the ultimate pinnacle of motorsport, however as much as I love F1, (don’t get me wrong, I really do love F1), it no longer seems as romantic and magical as it once was. I won’t go on too much about the current state of F1, as that has been debated to death however over the last two seasons I have begun to question F1’s seat at the throne of motorsport.
In terms of engineering and innovation then yes, F1 is still streaks ahead of any other series. The hybrid technology which we see on F1 cars today will eventually make it’s way onto our road cars and after all, that’s why the majority of manufacturers (take majority with a pinch of salt, there are only four) enter motorsport in the first place. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday is the famous saying if I’m not mistaken. While the debate will rage forever on about whether Mercedes’ dominance is harming F1, ultimately it’s fundamentally wrong to punish a team for simply doing a better job than anyone else. Yes, I do believe that the current state of the sport is doing it no favours whatsoever, and I long for even the late 2000’s to return, where we had a straight Ferrari vs McLaren duel in 08/09, but I’m happy to wait until 2017 to see if the status quo changes, and hope for a Ferrari miracle this year.
I’ve always been a believer than experience is one of the biggest keys to success, and because of that, I whole heartedly believe that had ART entered F1 in 2011, they would be almost certainly challenging at the head of the midfield. Red Bull tasted success after morphing from Jaguar, Force India are beginning to reap the rewards after morphing (eventually) from Jordan and ART’s championship winning pedigree from the lower Formula’s would have almost certainly have eventually bought them success in F1.
In order to bring back to allure and romanticism of F1, which lets face it, the majority of fans do, we need teams like ART, proven, successful motorsport outfits, to compete at the highest level. With decreasing manufacturer interest, having household names grace the grid is the least F1 can do for its legions of fans around the world. Red Bull’s engine saga over the summer was a prime example, and timely reminder of the fundamental differences between teams in F1. Just two difficult seasons after four (you could say nearly five) dominant years and Red Bull were already threatening to walk from the sport. Do you ever remember William’s threatening to leave F1 throughout their difficult years from 2006 – 2013? Do you think McLaren will walk from F1 even if their tie up with Honda doesn’t go as planned?
The answer to both those questions is almost certainly no.
The beauty of teams like Williams, McLaren and ART (to some extent Ferrari) is that they don’t race primarily to sell cars. They race for the love of motorsport, and that’s why all of us fans fell in love with F1 in the first place. It’s motorsport’s top table where we expect to see motorsport’s best teams pitting everything they have against each other. In my mind ART are almost certainly up there with Ferrari and McLaren when you think about some of the best racing outfits in the world, and I hope that one day, they do find the budget to step up to F1, and show the corporations which now seem to run our sport what motorsport is really about.