The term formula racing relates to a type of motor racing that combines a single-seater, open-wheeled chassis with a regulated size and sometimes make of engine. Formula One, Formula Two, Formula Three and Formula Four racing are well known examples but there are other motorsport series that come under this title such as the GP2 Series, which has effectively replaced F2.
Whilst the four popular formula racing categories have many similarities, there are also some specific differences. We look at the history, aim, vehicles and series of each.
THE HISTORY OF FORMULA MOTORSPORT
Although F1 was first officially standardised and recognised in 1946, like all modern motorsports it originally sprang from the European Grand Prix that ran during the 1920s and 1930s. The first official World Championship race was held at Silverstone in 1950 with non-championship races continuing until 1983. The World Championship grew in popularity and was eventually turned into the billion-dollar business we know today by Bernie Ecclestone's management team.
F2 was first classified in 1948 but disbanded due to falling interest levels in 2013. The FIA had a brief but unsuccessful attempt at reintroducing the F2 series in 2015. The GP2 series is currently the nearest equivalent to F2.
F3 was adopted by the FIA in 1950 but its origins were the older Formula Junior. The FIA established the first F3 European Championship in 1975 and this existed until 1984. The popular and successful British F3 Championship ran concurrently producing drivers such as Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button. The FIA F3 European Championship is still running but in the UK the BRDC British F3 series has replaced the British F3 Championship.
The F4 category has complicated origins. Gerhard Berger oversaw its development in response to falling interest levels in F3. F4 has a set of separate categories that run under its name but the FIA didn't officially endorse F4 until 2013.
THE AIMS OF Fl, F2, F3 AND F4 RACING
Formula One is the pinnacle of motor racing. Its enormous budgets and sponsorship deals offer the opportunity for complex technological development and engineering. F1 is recognised internationally and countries compete to hold races. F1 represents excellence in both driving and engineering but is prone to controversy and argument. This perhaps adds to its appeal and feeds the large sums of money television networks pay to show it.
F2 was developed to allow younger drivers access to competitions at the highest level of motorsport. The costs involved in F1 meant that entry was prohibitive for most up and coming young drivers. The more recent GP2 series continues this tradition.
F3 is also considered to be a stepping-stone for prospective drivers and often marks the transition from amateur to professional driving. BRDC British Formula Three are advocates for younger drivers and use their race-points system to ensure opportunity for all.
The F4 category was created by the FIA as a series that would provide an intermediate point between karting, where most young drivers start, and F3.
FORMULA RACING VEHICLES
F1 cars are developed and supported by individual teams that operate on enormous private budgets in the hundreds of millions and in state of the art facilities. F1 construction options are not unlimited with the FIA setting technical standards each year. One example of these FIA standards was the swap for the 2014 season to 1.6 litre hybrid turbo engines from the less efficient and noisier 2.4 litre V8s. F1 cars can reach speeds of over 220 miles per hour and accelerate so fast that they pull more g-force than the space shuttle. The costs of F1 cars are so high that only a small selection of elite drivers can compete for the championship.
Unlike F1 whose results rely heavily on the enormous costs of vehicle development and maintenance, F2 cars were identical and all drivers relied on the same team of race engineers, performance statisticians and hospitality providers. This level of equality was managed tightly by MotorSport Vision, who took steps such as rotating engineers to ensure that no one driver gained advantage.
This single team approach gave drivers a level playing field, F2 racing was truly a test of individual driving skill rather than team costs. In the end though, it was this 'one team' approach that was cited by MSV boss Jonathan Palmer as the reason for the series' limited success, 'It has become progressively clear that the single operating team concept that enables these benefits (value and equality) has compromises that have, overall, reduced its appeal to drivers.'
GP2 is the current sought-after step into F1 and although GP2 drivers have different support teams, there are strict regulations regarding engine, tyre and chassis. This gives GP2 a similar level of driver-parity to F2. GP2 engines have not made the switch to hybrid turbo engines and continue with a 4.0 litre Mecachrome V8. GP2 cars have a slightly lower top speed than F1 cars at around 200 miles per hour. Another factor, which contributes to results by driver skill rather than constructor budget, is the comparative lack of driver aids. For example, an F1 steering wheel is far more complicated with operation options that you wouldn't find in GP2.
European F3 vehicles all have the same chassis, which are currently usually produced by Italian engineers Dallara Automobili. The 2 litre, 4 cylinder engines used in F3 racing are all based on the same production model and private tuning is prevented when the engines are sealed by series organisers. F3 cars have a regulation minimum weight of 565 kg including the driver. The BRDC F3 cars for 2017 are Tatuus-Cosworths with a 2-litre 230 bhp Cosworth engine.
F4 vehicles were initially all the same make but regulations were later relaxed and different chassis and engine constructions were permitted under a set of regulations, which included a 1.6 litre engine with a maximum output of 180 bhp. F4 engines are standardised in order to bring parity in both opportunity and cost. Currently the F4 British Championship uses a Ford Eco Boost 1.6 litre engine and a Mygale F4 chassis.
FORMULA RACING SERIES
F1 is raced worldwide, in 2017 the series will start in Australia and end in Abu Dhabi and consist of 20 races.
GP2 is also raced worldwide but each GP2 series only has 11 rounds although unlike F1, each round consists of a sprint race and a longer race with a pit stop.
There is not a single World Championship for F3 but between 1951 and 2014 there was a British Formula Three Championship, which was based on mainly UK but some European races. The BRDC British F3 Championship was introduced in 2016, and in 2017 will consist of 8 UK events with a total of 24 races. Each race set has a different grid based on previous performance but with a few twists. This provides additional levels of interest and opportunities for drivers who do not perform well in qualifying.
FIA Formula 4 does not have a World Championship either but individual countries host their own championships with adherence to FIA F4 guidelines. In 2013 the BRDC Formula 4 Championship started, this was not recognised by the FIA and became the BRDC Formula 3 Championship in 2016. Conversely the Ford F4 British Championship was certified by the FIA and was launched successfully in 2016.
In F1, points are awarded with 25 for a win, down to 1 for 10th place. Points are also awarded in the Constructors' Championship.
In GP2, as well as rewarding points to the winner, points are awarded for fastest lap and pole position.
In BRDC British F3 points are either scored with 35 or 25 for a win, down to 1 for 20th place depending on which race is being scored.
In the F4 British Championship (since 2016) points have been awarded in a similar way to F3 to positive effect with ten different drivers winning races.
Formula racing has a long tradition and has adapted well to modern requirements. At all levels it is now big business and for young drivers, coming up through the ranks can take a long time and cost a lot of money. The popularity in particular of Formula One is evident from the stadium ticket costs and the efforts of television companies to add it to their portfolio. In recent years formula racing has not been without its controversies but it continues to provide excellent entertainment, outstanding engineering and great drivers.
It is great to see that motorsport in the UK is still going strong at all levels, with an ongoing tradition of bringing on younger drivers. If you are involved in the motorsport industry in any way, you will be aware of medical and safety requirements.
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