Big chance for those with lots of talent but little money
An Australian high-tech F4 car being put through its paces. Last year saw the introduction of the FIA Formula 4 category aimed at young drivers aged 15 and over. It is not a world championship; rather, each country that signs up must adhere to an international set of rules and regulations prescribed by the FIA.
While a few countries have a Formula Ford-style championship these are ageing cars and the new Formula 4 vehicles use the latest technology found in GP3/GP2.
The FIA sees F4 as the ideal stepping stone to begin the journey towards F1 for drivers who have the talent but not the biggest chequebook.
Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, China, Spain, Britain, Russia, Argentina, Finland and Australia are among the countries signed for the series.
Australia was one of the first to adopt the new category, while in New Zealand we have the open-racer Toyota Racing Series, now in mid-season. The TRS series has been running for 10 years and has so far helped in the development of three F1 drivers and many more in GP3 and GP2. The series is held in high regard internationally to the extent that 16 of the 20 drivers this year are internationals, two of whom are with the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Last weekend the Hampton Downs round saw Australian Cameron McConville, a former V8 Supercars and Porsche driver, visit to see how the TRS series was run and check out the racing. McConville works at the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (Cams) where he is in charge of motorsport development. He has been tasked with launching F4 in Australia and wanted to see what he could learn from the TRS series.
"My main role at the moment is to get the new category up and running to help young driver development," McConville said. "It's going to be a big job but it's nice to get your hands on a new category and develop it. The reason I'm here this weekend is to see what Barry [Thomlinson, TRS manager] has done here.
"The TRS is unrivalled in this part of the world. It's fantastic and you just have to look at the level of driver the series has attracted this year. It's the best value-for-money single-seater racing you can get anywhere in the world as far as price point goes."
Cams was one of the first national motorsport bodies in the world to get hooked into F4 and are big fans of the global formula as the first step on the ladder upwards from karting. The series will start in July this year and McConville has already signed up 14 teams for the 20 cars and engines bought by Cams.
Teams will lease the cars from Cams as the governing body wants to keep costs down and focus on developing young driver talent, allowing only vehicle adjustments prescribed in the sporting and technical regulations. "F3 has been out of reach for young Aussies as it's too expensive, so the timing of F4 has been just right."
Cameron McConville has been checking out the TRS series. Picture / Bruce Jenkins
Formula Ford has been good for the development of drivers in Australia but if you look abroad, and even here with the TRS, things are changing quickly.
"Formula Ford is a bit of a dinosaur now with H-pattern gearboxes and treaded tyres. F4 with paddle shift and slicks, and aero is far more relative to what young drivers need to learn to get into the bigger formula cars.
"Hopefully a driver who wins the series will be able to head to Europe, will now have been in a relevant category, and will be able to hit the ground running."
The Aussie F4 series starts in July and hopes to attract Kiwi drivers. The first to show interest is New Zealand karting star Marcus Armstrong, whose team is finalising a deal to enter the series. The category will be on the same dance card as the V8 Supercars and the series-winning driver will receive as much as $270,000 in financial support to enter another formula.