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Freelance web-journo & Blogger Mark Martin, who has been writing content for websites for a while now, makes an appeal for action from the Welsh Assembly Government and with the elections coming up in May it might be a good idea to mention it when your AMs come round chasing votes. He also makes a link to a recent Moneysupermarket advert to show that companies are still interested in motorsport involvement.

The Future of Welsh Motorsport  - Will There ever be a Welsh F1 Champion?

Fourteen Formula One World Championships have been won by British drivers since the categories inception in 1950. Of these fourteen, nine championships have been won by English drivers, with the remaining five by picked up by Scottish racers. This raises the question of why Welsh drivers do not feature on this list.

A brief history lesson

Three Welshmen have actually started a Formula One race. Today Jack Lewis (who was 1959 British Formula 2 Champion) is one of the forgotten men of Formula One, but in the early Sixties his driving of the own privately entered Cooper marked him as one of the smoothest and most promising racers on the grid.

A fourth place in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix encouraged Lewis to purchase an ex-works BRM for the 1962 season. Disillusion set in as the car was suspiciously under-powered, although he finished 3rdth in the non championship Pau Grand Prix, which was noted as driver’s course.

At the Monaco Grand Prix, another driver’s course, young Jack equalled the practice time of the works BRM driver Ginther, only to be excluded from the race to make way for slower but better known competitors. The car was returned to BRM who reimbursed the 7000 selling price and Lewis had to compete for the rest of the season in his tired old 1960 Cooper.

After his experience with BRM Lewis had plans to build and run his own car for the 1962 season (2 years before Jack Brabham actually did). Construction of the chassis had actually started; but Lewis was frustrated by the lack of access to a top line engine, and newly married, he retired to start horse breeding near Llandovery, he was still only 25 years old.

The next driver to enter F1 was Alan Rees from Newport who took part in three grand prix’s for the Cooper team between 1966 and 1967. Cooper was not the force that they had once been and Rees failed to score points on any occasion. However, he had much more success in the business world as he set up the March engineering company with Max Mosley following his retirement, and later co-founded both the Shadow and Arrows teams.

However, Wales most successful racing driver was Tom Pryce who made his debut for the Shadow team in 1974 after impressing all and sundry by winning the Monaco Formula 3 race. Tom joined Rees at the Shadow F1 Team and quickly repaid their faith with an inspired drive to 6th at his fourth race.

After several more notable performances in 1975, Tom won the Formula 1 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in March which, although being a non-championship race, was a big deal at the time. Later in July of that year, Pryce took pole position and lead the British Grand Prix at Silverstone before the race was abandoned after Pryce and most of the rest of the cars crashed on a flooded track. The Shadow team steadily improved; eventually giving Pryce a car worth of his talents in the second half of the season and enabling him to take a podium finish at the Austrian grand prix of that year. 1976 started where 1975 had finished, with a number of strong performances including another 3rd place finish at the Brazilian grand prix. However, mid-season changes to technical regulations hit Shadow hard and the team lost competitiveness as the season progressed.

From this point onwards, Pryce only featured near the front of the grid in wet conditions. Like with all great drivers, the wet conditions helped to highlight Pryce’s talents and this was in evidence during the practice session for the third round of the 1977 season in South Africa, where Pryce set a time over a second faster than anyone else including eventually champion Niki Lauda. Unfortunately, it was during this weekend that the talented driver would lose his life. On the 21st lap of the race, Pryce went to overtake Hans Stuck but failed to spot a marshal who was on the circuit helping to clear a stranded car. Pryce hit the marshal and both men were killed instantly. There is little doubt that if Pryce had ever had a car capable of matching his talents, he would have been a potential champion. Wales is still waiting for a driver to take up Pryce’s formidable mantle.

The possible candidates

The question is, whether or not there are any Welsh drivers capable of emulating Pryce by taking on the Formula One world. There are presently three talented young Welsh drivers taking part in the junior motor racing formulas that stand out:

  • Richard Singleton- 22 year old Singleton has been competing in single seaters since 2006, when he immediately caught the outside world’s attention by taking an astonishing six victories on his way to the Formula Renault UK 2.0 BARC crown at his first attempt. Singleton carried his form over into 2007 by claiming the Formula Renault 2.0 Winter Series crown but since then his progress has been slowed by a lack of funding.
  • Hwyel Lloyd- 25 year old Lloyd was singled out as a future champion by his performances in the Go-Karting arena where in 2005 he won two high profile championships, emulating the likes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. The move to single seater racers for 2006 was therefore a no brainer and in 2007 Lloyd demonstrated his potential succeeding his compatriot Singleton by winning the Formula Renault UK 2.0 BARC title and followed this up by winning the winter series as well. Lloyd then succeeded where Singleton had failed by putting together a big enough budget to enable him to compete in British F3 in 2008. Lloyd starred as the rookie in the National class taking 3rd in the championship. A move up to the main British F3 series was slightly less successful, as Lloyd simply didn’t have the budget to competing against the larger teams such as Carlin, limiting him to 13th in the championship. This was still enough to catch the attention of Manor motorsport (who operate the Virgin F1 team) who gave him a position in their F3 masters race for 2010 where he finished a respectable 9th. These performances also led to Lloyd being given the honour of being selected by PSV Eindhoven to represent them in the Superleague Formula for four rounds in 2010 and earned him a driver with Sino Vision Racing’s British F3 team for 2011 where together they are aiming for podium finishes.
  • Alex Jones- Jones was another star of the Karting arena, winning the British Open championship in 2006 (the first Welshman to do so). This led to a promotion to Formula Ford for 2008 where Jones made an immediate impression by taking 13 pole positions and 7 wins in his debut season which was enough to secure 3rd in the championship. Jones has admitted that inexperience was the cause of many lost wins and felt that another year in the category would give him a better shot at the title. However, luck was not on Jones’s side and 2009 was by far the least impressive of his career. He was still given the opportunity to test for the T-Sport British F3 team in the winter of 2009 but this ultimately failed to result in a drive due to a failure to find sufficient funding. Jones’s once promising career is now in limbo as he is attempting to find sufficient funding to give him another crack at F3.

The limiting factors

As the saying goes, ‘Money makes the world go around’ and this is no more in evidence than in Formula One. It was a lack of backing which ultimately blighted Pryce’s career and only his remarkable talents and the support of fellow racer and Shadow boss, Alan Rees, enabled him to have the opportunity to demonstrate his skills in F1. However, money is even more a problem now with some teams demanding up to $10 million for a single season as with Pastor Maldonado, who has been supported by the government backed Venezuelan energy firm PDVSA throughout his entire career.

This was recently confirmed by Lloyd, who stated in an interview: "funding is an issue, for sure. There are certainly some very talented guys but there’s no real commercial backing. I think in Wales, and the UK as a whole, there’s no recognition from the government side of it, there’s not so much support. I’ve read stories of the great support the Irish council give its drivers and the same for Spain. These places seem to really get behind their drivers but in this country it seems to be more towards football, rugby and athletics."

It is plainly obvious from the list of drivers mentioned that Wales is not devoid of talented racing drivers or engineers. In fact, there is absolutely no reason why we can not compete with people from anywhere else in the world. The single factor which has limited Welsh teams and drivers for decades is money and this is a problem which could be easily fixed with sufficient funding from the Welsh Assembly Government.

In an echo from the Jack Lewis and Alan Rees era, the Atech-Reid team, one of the big movers in the Superleague Championship, have just moved their base to Cardiff, and the Welsh Assembly Government should grasp this opportunity to introduce a package of incentives to build up this High Tech, High Net Worth industry.

At the moment the Welsh Assembly Government, through its agents, The Sports Council for Wales, provides some funding for non-Olympic Sports via Elite Cymru and although any support is welcome the pot of money needs to be considerably boosted into a multi-million pound fund shared between racers, bikers and rally drivers in order meet the separate funding needs of each group. Additionally, the Welsh Assembly Government should introduce more incentives to make it both easier and more attractive for industry to support young sports stars to allow them to compete on the International stage to ease the burden upon them.

The campaign to get better funding for Welsh Racing Drivers is supported by members of the Money Supermarket marketing team who recently aired a car insurance advertisement with Nigel Mansell, and are keen to see more Welsh drivers in top flight motorsport.

 

The future star

Of the three before mentioned up and coming drivers, the one who is arguably the most promising is Hwyel Lloyd who has earned most of his opportunities by stunning team bosses in trials despite the fact that he lacks the financial muster of many of his rivals. However, at the age of 25 times is against him if he is to make the jump into F1.

The only hope is that the Welsh Assembly Government acts quickly and helps new young talents like 14 year old Seb Morris from Wrexham, climb the ladder all the way to the top, learning from the mistakes which have been made with previous Welsh motor racing stars. Morris stunned the motorsport world by becoming the youngest ever driver to win the Ginetta Junior Winter Championship last year on the back of numerous go-karting successes. This has been enough to earn him a place in the main junior Ginetta G40 championship in 2011 where he is hoping to maintain his championship winning momentum against formidable opposition. Hillspeed team Principal Richard Ollerenshaw commented: "Seb has a huge future in motorsport – we can’t wait now for next season." Let’s hope the Welsh Assembly Government recognises Morris’s potential as well.

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