Some bold new ideas in sport seem doomed to fail from the start, whereas the failure of others to gain traction can come as a complete surprise.
A1GP was a perfect case in point. Get a handful of quality drivers, hand them F1-style cars and then get them to compete for their countries, rather than a construction team, billing it the ‘World Cup of motorsport’.
Scheduled outside of the traditional Formula One season, A1GP should have been a resounding success – alas, it wasn’t, for reasons we’ll go into shortly.
But after the best part of 15 years away, A1GP could be set for a shock return. Sir Keith Mills, the Nectar Points creator who helped secure the 2012 Olympics for Great Britain, has opened talks with a number of parties in a bid to finance a renaissance for the motor racing series.
Marcin Budkowski, a former director of motor racing governing body FIA, is said to be on board alongside Origin Sports Group, a financier involved in the running of the America’s Cup and the Invictus Games.
The plan is for a 12-race season with drivers from many different countries, plus an F1-style vehicle that could reach speeds in excess of 200mph – that would make A1GP the second-fastest motorsport on the planet behind Formula One.
Will it actually happen? Only time will tell, but what an addition to the racing calendar A1GP could be if its ran more smoothly than last time.
What is A1GP?
The idea for the initial run of A1GP in 2003 came from an unlikely source: Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum, an entrepreneur and businessman who is a member of the ruling family of Dubai.
“This will be a £2 billion business by the time we get into the second year,” he said.
“Only a madman like me can come up with an idea like this. But I’ve gone from being called a madman to dreamer to visionary in a very short time.”
Maktoum would sell his stake in A1GP within a year.
Signed off by the FIA and scheduled for the winter months (in the northern hemisphere), the first season of AIGP took place across 2005-06, with 25 different countries represented and a number of sporting figures, such as the Brazilian footballer Ronaldo, racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi and the incredibly-named dignitary Tokyo Sexwhale all putting their names or investment into a team.
After the success of that initial campaign, Maktoum decided to sell his share of the company behind A1GP to private equity firm RAB Capital for an undisclosed sum.
There were three more completed seasons of A1GP action, but the fifth would prove impossible to pull off as the global financial crisis wreaked havoc on investments. The shutters were pulled down on the competition in 2009.
Who Won A1GP?
Some big-name drivers took to the wheel in A1GP over the years, although it was two largely unheralded Frenchmen – Alexandre Premat and Nicolas Lapierre – that took the honours in the maiden season by a considerable margin from Switzerland and Great Britain.
Household names such as Nelson Piquet Jr, who won the opening two races at Brand Hatch, and Jos Verstappen attracted a number of racing fans to A1GP, and that debut campaign was considered to be a success.
A1 Grand Prix Champions
But maybe trouble was brewing even at this early juncture. The teams from Russia, Japan and Portugal all withdrew from the second season of the World Cup of motorsport, while Team Turkey was unable to attract the requisite funding and also pulled out before a race.
Race fans would get their first glimpse of future F1 stars Sergio Perez and Niko Hulkenberg, the latter winning the championship for Team Germany alongside Christian Vietoris.
Eight-time F1 GP winner Daniel Ricciardo was another driver who cut his teeth in A1GP, taking a few drives for Australia during the 2007/08 season. The championship would be won by competition regular Neel Jani and Switzerland.
The fourth and final season of A1GP saw three races cancelled as the economic recession began to take hold, while teams from Canada and Pakistan opted not to take part in the 2008/09 campaign. With a new Ferrari-built car boasting a V8 engine, this should have been A1GP’s breakthrough year, but circumstances would prevail that ultimately brought the curtain down on a short and semi-successful run.
The Republic of Ireland would win the final A1GP season, with Adam Carroll triumphing in five races including a season-ending double-header at Brands Hatch.
What Happened to A1GP?
The fifth season of A1GP, scheduled for 2009/10, would never get off the starting grid.
It was heavily rumoured that the competition’s parent company had failed to make payments to manufacturer Ferrari on time, with the Italian firm threatening to take back their cars until a solution was found.
When the opening round of races in Australia was curtailed, along with subsequent rounds in Malaysia and China, it became publicly-known how dire the financial situation with A1GP had become.
A holding company related to the competition was put into liquidation in 2010, and many of the assets of A1GP were put up for auction – with limited interest.
Attempts to revive the brand have come and gone during the intervening years, although the 2023 interest – featuring renowned names in racing and sports finance – could prove to be fruitful at last.