Brazilian football star Ronaldo can look
forward to a World Cup debut of a different sort this weekend.
Brands Hatch, the southern English circuit that hosted some memorable
Formula One battles in the days of James Hunt and Nigel Mansell, will
kick off the self-styled "World Cup of Motorsport" - also known as the
A1 Grand Prix series.
The brainchild of Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, nephew of
the Crown Prince of Dubai, the new championship pits 25 national teams
against each other in identical Lola cars.
It is a novel concept for motor racing and Real Madrid "Galactico"
Ronaldo, the World Cup winner who will be busy with his Spanish soccer
club on Sunday, is co-owner of the Brazilian team with former Formula
One champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
Their driver for the first race will be Nelson Piquet junior, son of
another F1 great.
"Like soccer, A1 GP is a team sport," Ronaldo declared at the launch of
Team Brazil. "In soccer, we have already won the World Cup five times
and it would be wonderful to win the first motor racing World Cup as
The soccer link continues with Portugal midfielder Luis Figo owning his
country's team with Manchester United assistant coach Carlos Queiroz.
"Bollywood" actor Anil Kapoor is Team India's president.
There are also familiar names from Formula One's past. Former Ferrari
champion John Surtees, the only man to win world titles on two wheels
and four, is backing Britain, while Australia have Alan Jones and
Austria's team is led by Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg.
Lauda's son Mathias will be in the Austrian car and 1980 champion
Jones's son Christian is on Australia's list of nominated drivers.
The South African team owner is businessman Tokyo Sexwale, a former
cellmate of Nelson Mandela. His car will carry Mandela's prison number
46664 on its side as well as 2010 - the year that the country hosts the
soccer World Cup.
A1 say they are complementing, rather than competing with, Formula One
as a series run primarily in the quiet European winter months.
"Comparisons are inevitable but the reality is that I don't think anyone
is trying to set A1 up as a competitor to Formula One," says Mark
Gallagher, running the Irish team after years of involvement in grand
"It is a different branch of the sport. It offers an alternative and
it's a fascinating alternative."
"I think it will really take off in those countries where Formula One
doesn't have a team, or a driver or a race."
Formula One, with Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix likely to crown
24-year-old Spaniard Fernando Alonso as the sport's youngest champion,
can expect to win any immediate television ratings battle.
Maktoum, whose family is better known for a love of horse racing than
engine horsepower, nonetheless has considerable ambitions.
"This is the right concept with the right car at the right time," he
said. "And if I can pull it off... whoosh. This will be a
two-billion-pound business by the time we get into the second year. 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."
The 520bhp V8-engined cars, less sophisticated and less powerful than in
Formula One but designed to encourage overtaking, will be painted in
national colours and provided to "seat holders" on a franchise basis.
Racers must be citizens of the nation they represent but can be replaced,
with points awarded to countries and not individuals.
Two races will be held on Sunday, a sprint of 20 to 30 minutes followed
by a feature race for twice as long. Points will be awarded to the top
10 finishers in each.
The 25 slots have gone to Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China,
Czech Republic, France, Germany, Britain, India, Indonesia, Ireland,
Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand,
Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United
After Britain, the series moves to Germany and Portugal before Australia,
Malaysia, Dubai, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, the United
States and a finale in China on April 12 next year.
Despite Maktoum's evident enthusiasm, others remain to be convinced - at
least on a sporting level.
"A1 is just one of the many international one-make series," said Max
Mosley, president of the International Automobile Federation.
"It is not too different from the Nissan World Series and GP2
GP2 is a feeder series for Formula One, with younger drivers racing at
grand prix weekends in identical Renault-powered cars.
"The idea could give rise to a commercially successful series, which may
stand out from the other one-make series in the world of motorsports,"
said Mosley. - Reuters