This past weekend, the GP3 Series held a standalone weekend at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. Although it sounds like a relatively new concept, it has been done many times before, most notably with GP2 in Portugal in 2009 and in Bahrain several times.
But why? I put that as a question, because I struggle to understand the rationale behind standalone weekends. The GP3 weeekend was promoted as ‘#AllEyesOnUs’ and was free for people to attend. Despite that, the grandstands all around the circuit were empty. For any motor sport event, I find that a sad sight. On GP3’s behalf, bad scheduling is one factor. As Simon Hill noted in commentary, there was motor racing in Jerez and Barcelona – MotoGP was at the latter. You don’t go to a country, hold a race in that country if it already has big motor sport events scheduled for that weekend. You could argue that the event was free so the series organisers would not have made any profit anyway, but it does not make for good reading when you publicise an event for free, yet still very few people bother to turn up.
Some creativity from organisers was needed to get more people along. Why not have a Formula 1 track demo in between the two races to get more people into the venue? The event may as well have been in Bahrain and we wouldn’t have noticed any difference. Even though GP3 is essentially the third tier of motor sport, I would have thought publicising it for free would get people along. I do think on the whole, having the race at Valencia was a bad move, as a circuit it does not bring out the best in single seater racing thanks to the nature of the track. As a fan, you can see the entire circuit from the majority of the grandstands, but the circuit really is only good for motorbikes where there are plenty of opportunities to overtake.
Unfortunately, the ‘standalone problem’ is not immune to GP3, I remember vividly back to the days of A1 Grand Prix where some venues struggled to fill grandstands (Lausitzring, anyone?). GP3 runs alongside the Formula 1 calendar in Europe, and as a result sticks to their schedule. The benefit of that is that GP3 plays out in front of Formula 1’s crowds and is also shown during the Formula 1 weekend – meaning that it can benefit as a result. I know that I am more likely to watch the feeder series live if they are immediately before and after a Formula 1 event than any other weeks of the year. I suspect therefore that a lot of people who would normally watch the feeder series around Europe did not realise that there was an event last weekend, and I also think less networks shown last weekend’s race as a result. In essence, there were, to quote the hashtag not many eyes on them.
This event suffered from bad planning and organisation in my opinion. Standalone events can work though, as GP2 proved in 2009 at Portimao in Portugal where the attendance was healthy. Portimao is also unique because of its elevation changes, which is a rarity on modern day circuits. Instead GP3 went for the unchallenging Valencia circuit with not much to offer for single seater racing. Had, for sake of argument, last weekend’s standalone been held in the UK, I imagine the attendance would have been significantly higher. I assume that to hold a standalone weekend, the FIA Circuit Grade needs to be 1, 1T or 2. I don’t know how many circuits fall under that category within the UK.
Would I have expected GP3 to sell out Valencia this weekend? Absolutely not. But I would have expected there to have been a few grandstands relatively full. Overall, I do think the idea of standalone weekends is a good one, but in the case of GP3, the standalone weekend this past weekend was badly executed.