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“Belated thoughts on the BRDC Formula 4 Championship”

September 19, 2012

BRDC Formula 4 is to début in 2013.

Last week, the BRDC and MSV announced a new low cost junior driving category for 2013 – the BRDC Formula 4 Championship.

The news of yet another new series has been met with a healthy mix of positive interest, bewilderment and surprise, as the industry prepares to readjust to include the F4 package.

Although at times it may not seem like it, The Motorsport Archive is quite positive about the long term future of junior formula racing. However the benefits of adding another category to the mix, at a time when a more solidified structure is what is desperately needed are somewhat suspect in the short term.

This season has seen British Formula Ford struggling for numbers, while Formula Renault UK lingers temporarily off the map (although BARC Formula Renault is doing rather well for itself).
Just ahead of the F4 on the proposed ladder system, the Cooper Tyres British F3 Series locked onto 14-16 drivers during 2012, although that is expected to increase next year in light of a newer, cheaper engine package.
All this does make one wonder if there is enough of a market to justify the existence of another entry-level car series.

Despite of this, the series has noted that a large number of privateers have declared their interest in the 2013 season, with serious enquiries for more than 40 cars already registered.
Indeed, the new series has already signed up its first driver, with 15-year-old Scot Charlie Robertson signing on for the inaugural championship run. Robertson currently leads the Ginetta Junior championship in the UK and is enthused to move to single seaters for next season.

“BRDC F4 is the perfect next step for me after two seasons in Ginetta Juniors. With 175bhp, adjustable wings and paddle-shift gears, the F4-013 looks fantastic. The championship looks great too – with relatively low costs, three races each weekend and reverse grids to spice things up. I can’t wait!

Budgets for the F4 Championship have been quoted at £30-40,000 for a privateer entrant and £60-70,000 for a professional team, but while the series may have the right price on its side, does it offer enough in return?
Those taking part in the series will be fighting for a £25,000 scholarship prize and a day’s testing with Carlin, should they decide to step up to Formula 3, but when budgets for F3 can reach as high as £750,000, is such a scholarship enough to tempt emerging talent?

For example, champion drivers on the US Road to Indy programme receive full promotional scholarships to the next of racing. Even in Europe, the champion in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 receives a promotional scholarship of €200,000, while a Renault NEC champion will have their following year’s fees waved aside.
With that in mind, £25,000 ranks as a small – if worthy – prize, although that should not diminish what is on offer from the BRDC and MSV. Let’s not forget that they are not a global car manufacturer and, let’s face it, times are very tough in the UK.

Racecar Engineering’s Sam Collins raised a point about the lack of technological scope allotted for potential entrants and on this note, I must agree with the chap.
As a junior category, drivers should be there to learn about their cars, while also developing racing skills; however the latitude of technological adjustments allowed by the series appears to rather narrow.

Sealed engines and gearboxes, with fixed gear ratios and non-adjustable dampers may help to reduce the cost, but they may also deprive competitors of valuable experience beyond the driving seat.
As an aside, ride heights, tracking, cambers and castors are free to be optimised within specified limits, as are front and rear anti-roll bars and front / rear wings. Lastly, there is a choice of three front and rear springs. Engine supplier Cosworth will also provide data logging equipment, as well as data analysis software to help disseminate the information.

For an opposing approach, one could look to the French Formula 4 Series as promoted by the FFSA in conjunction with the Autosport Academy. It should be no surprise that the recent influx of French and Swiss drivers to Formula 1, GP2 and WEC are nearly all graduates of this programme.

The inaugural season of the BRDC F4 Championship is to consist of eight rounds, with seven events taking place at Donington Park (April), Brands Hatch (May and August), Snetterton (June and September), Oulton Park (July) and Silverstone (October). A yet to be confirmed meeting is pencilled in for June, although no venue has been revealed.

Race weekends will consist of three twenty-minute races from a single twenty-minute qualifying session*. Drivers wishing to participate in the series will require a minimum National B license, which can be obtained from the MSA via their ARDS programme.
As it stands, the BRDC F4 Championship has yet to obtain MSA approval; however The Motorsport Archive** does not believe this will be a significant barrier to overcome.

In conclusion, just make it simple – give drivers a tub, with wheels and engine and let them (with the help of engineers) tinker with it and work it out for themselves.
And then let them race.

*{note 1}
Qualifying will set the grid for race one. For the second race, the top eight of the race one results order will be reversed, formulating a partial reverse grid event. The grid for the final race will be based on driver’s individual fastest laps from the opening two races.
According to the series website, “…points will be scored from 30 for a win to 1 for 20th. The two worst results from races at events entered will be dropped from final championship points…”

**{note 2}
Before climbing out of the hole that I just dug for myself, I wish the organisers and competitors all the best and I’ll no doubt find myself at some of the rounds (although after this post, obtaining a press pass could prove somewhat difficult).

*** {note 3}
There was an interesting argument over the Monza weekend by GP2/3 world feed commentator Will Buxton, where he noted that the likes of Formula 2 or GP2 could easily be professional series’ in much the way F2 kind of was in the 60s and 70s.
In its co-billing with European GT Open, there is scope for Formula 2 to become a “professional” category, catering to those who are quality racers, but who are not good enough for F1. Of course, that will never happen…

Ginetta Juniors racer Charlie Robert is to be the first to graduate to BRDC F4.

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