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.
At the Monaco Grand Prix, another drivers 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 prixs 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 Pryces 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 Pryces 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:
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 Pryces 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 theres no real commercial backing. I think in Wales, and the UK as a whole, theres no recognition from the government side of it, theres not so much support. Ive 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 cant wait now for next season." Lets hope the Welsh Assembly Government recognises Morriss potential as well.