Formula 2
goes large

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Bridging the gap
One of the legends of Formula 1 history was Lord Alexander Hesketh: the self-styled ‘patron’ of the inimitable Hesketh Racing squad from the 1970s, which gave James Hunt his break into Formula 1, and was responsible for the best parties in the sport. The team regularly arrived at races in a fleet of Rolls Royces and was best-known for drinking Champagne at all hours. Maybe because of this, a number of more serious rivals thought that the eccentric Englishmen had no place in Formula 1 at all. As always, the patron was quick with an answer.

“The reason why we came into Formula 1,” declared Lord Hesketh, “was that we were no bloody good at Formula 2.”

Times have of course changed, but what hasn’t is that Formula 2 is still the established route to Formula 1 and it remains a massive challenge in itself – as Hesketh Racing originally discovered more than 40 years ago.

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Formula 2: shaping the future
Even before then, Formula 2 cars were deemed eligible for Formula 1 races on many occasions, and of course, Formula 1 drivers regularly drove them when other commitments allowed. So the links between Formula 2 and Formula 1 have always been close, and more recently – within the current Pirelli era – Formula 2 has also acted as a test bed for future Formula 1 regulations. One good example is the halo, which was previewed on a Formula 2 car two years ago before being seen in Formula 1.

The latest instance of Formula 2 providing a blueprint for Formula 1’s future comes with the announcement at the Spanish Grand Prix that Formula 2 will run with 18-inch tyres next year: a full season before these are introduced to Formula 1 in 2021 (along with a raft of other new technical regulations). The change is a far-reaching one, with F2 supplier Dallara having to provide a redesigned chassis in order to accommodate the bigger tyres as well as the revised suspension and aerodynamics that will inevitably come with it. In order to prepare, a test programme has already got underway.

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Rewind and fast forward
But it’s actually not the first time that Formula 2 has run on 18-inch tyres. Four years ago a previous-generation Formula 2 car completed a few laps of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit on prototype Pirelli 18-inch tyres in the hands of Martin Brundle, as part of a special demonstration.

Brundle said that the car felt good; the only immediate challenge being that it was sometimes hard to see the apexes of the corners on the tight and precise Monte-Carlo layout. But this was very much an experimental exercise. Now that Formula 2 is adopting 18-inch tyres permanently, the cars will be engineered specifically to work with this type of tyre, providing vital data to Pirelli as the company works on its 18-inch tyres for Formula 1.

The other beneficiaries will be the Formula 2 drivers themselves. The championship exists to help prepare its drivers for the very top level of the sport. And any F2 driver who enters Formula 1 in 2021 will have gained a full year on 18-inch tyres already: something that not even the great champions like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel (if they are still competing then) will be able to say.

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