It has been almost fifteen years since Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Moktoum Al Maktoum announced his plans for a new worldwide racing class. The idea, the A1 Grand Prix 'World Cup of Motorsport' which was announced at a press conference in Dubai. Today, we look at the beginning of the end: The cooperation with Ferrari, the disappointing crowd attendance and cancelled races.
The 2008-2009 season should have been a breakthrough for A1 Grand Prix. After a spectacular start at Brands Hatch in 2005, the series was ready for a new challenge. On October 11th, 2007 A1GP owner Tony Texeira revealed: "We are pleased that world class company Ferrari will officially join our organization." Texeira also announced that it was developing an A2 GP series. This series would act as the sister series of the A1GP and focus on regional competitions.
The Ferrari deal was signed to last six years. Ferrari was given an advisory role in the design and construction of the new car. In addition, Ferrari would also become a partner of A2GP proposed by Texeira. At a later stage, it was announced that the car, the A1GP 'Powered by Ferrari', would be inspired by the Ferrari F2004, the car with which Ferrari and Michael Schumacher won the 2004 F1 world titles. Texeira was relieved and felt that the future of A1 Grand Prix was safe.
"Ferrari is not entering a project in which they see no future," the South African replied to critical questions about the development of the series. In June 2008, an engineering team led by John Wickham started the first tests. The car had driven about 1000 kilometres around that period and there were no significant problems: "The car feels very good and our test driver (Andrea Bertolini) is satisfied with how the car is performing. The balance is fine and the tyres (Michelin) are working properly. We did not drive as much as we hoped, but this was partly due to the car. It also looks very fast in the rain and is also very reliable," Wickham said.
A few months later, in August, the car withstood the FIA crash test. Up to that time, they had tested around 6,000 kilometers by car. The results of that test showed that the cars would be about three to four seconds faster than the spec that Lola launched on the market in 2005.
Technical data of A1FP "Powered by Ferrari":
Motor: Ferrari / Maserati
Configuration: 90 degrees V8
Content: 4500 cc
Width: 666.5 mm
Height: 446 mm
Length: 569 mm
Weight: 160 kg
Engine Management: Bosch MED 9.6
Spark plugs: NGK
Fuel: Shell E10 102 RON
Torque: 550 N.m.
Power: 600 hp
Brakes: Brembo carbon
Silencers: Penske VBP 45
Display: Magneti Marelli
Fuel tank: 150 liters
Clutch: AP three plate clutch carbon
Gearbox: Magneti Marelli 6 gears reverse
Already at the start of the new season there were a number of problems for the organisation. Several teams: Germany, India, Mexico and Great Britain could not participate in the first race at Zandvoort. The roundat Mugello, which was originally the first on the calendar, had already been cancelled. A1GP did not manage to finish the chassis on time. Zandvoort was therefore the first race for the 2008-2009 season. But a new problem immediately arose at Zandvoort. The rookie test, which would take place on Friday, could not take occur.
The whole programme had to be moved to start on Saturday, where only seventeen cars were ready to take part. Jeroen Bleekemolen for Team Netherlands drove the fastest time during the one hour of qualifying. The home driver was more than three tenths faster than Earl Bamber of Team New Zealand and Team Ireland's Adam Carroll. Bleekemolen would be the first to start the sprint race on Sunday. In wet conditions on Sunday, Fairuz Fauzy proved to be the fastest for Team Malaysia. He won the ahead for Bamber and Loic Duval. Bleekemolen found himself in fourth place. Reigning champion Switzerland was fifth with Neel Jani. The main race was won by Duval for Team France. In that event, there where only seven cars that reached the finish Despite the initial excitement, the debut of the A1GP 'Powered by Ferrari' was very promising in terms of the car, but the show did not work out.
The season continued in Asia and Oceania with races in China, Malaysia and New Zealand. Robert Doornbos scored a podium place for Team Netherlands during the sprint race in Chengdu. In the main race, Doornbos finished in sixteenth. At Kuala Lumpur, Bleekemolen moved to a sixth and eighth place. Kuala Lumpur was also the beginning of the battle between Ireland with Adam Carroll and Neel Jani of Switzerland. Both countries started their battle for the title after a difficult start at Zandvoort. This would ultimately be decided in favour of Ireland. In the meantime, the Netherlands won with Bleekemolen at the sprint race at Kyalami and Doornbos won the sprint race at the Circuit de Algarve at the sixth round of the championship. The championship saw the events Jakarta, Mexico and Surfers Paradise being cancelled.
There was already talk that things were not going well financially with the organisation. Although the Mexican race would be cancelled due to the Mexican flu (swine flu), there were questions about the development of the series. And these question marks were found to be justified. On June 29, 2009, a spokesperson for A1GP told The Telegraph that the company had a major problem due to a lack of cash. A1 Grand Prix Operations Limited would have to file for bankruptcy.
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing