The roll-out of the FIA’s Formula 4 concept expands in 2015 after its successful introduction in Italy last year. In Britain, there was already a series using the F4 name run by Jonathan Palmer and the BRDC, but that didn’t stop the FIA teaming up with the national authority to create a competition running to its rules under the name MSA Formula.
It’s given a new lease of life to the old Formula Ford championship, which had struggled with numbers and producing star names through its later years, but utilises the same engine in a new car from Mygale.
The grid has a healthy 21 drivers confirmed before the opening round, and it’s headlined by a several exciting British talents out of the top drawer of karting with realistic Formula 1 ambitions. That’s been helped by attracting big-name teams like Carlin, Arden and Fortec, and by reducing the minimum age to 15.
The series continues as a support series to the popular British Touring Car Championship, exposing the drivers to big crowds and live television audiences.
While some have benefited from a full pre-season testing schedule, many deals have come together late and the grid has fallen a fair way short of the ambitious number of 32 that was planned, with the Pyro and Scorpio teams missing altogether at present. Costs may well have played their part and something that needs to be monitored closely with the rival BRDC series getting an FIA-spec car next year.
But for now, both the depth and quality of the field is a vast improvement on before, and an exciting first season of MSA Formula lies ahead. Here’s PaddockScout’s guide to the teams and drivers.
Carlin’s massive reputation in the junior single-seater world meant its three seats were always going to be in demand as it made its return to national entry-level racing for the first time since Formula BMW in 2007, and it quickly secured an exciting trio of youngsters.
The world karting champion last year at 14, Lando Norris was always going to be the hottest property on the MSA Formula market and so it was little surprise to see him land with Carlin. He’s benefited from a full winter of preparation, has been among the pace-setters in testing and although he’s new to single-seaters, he does have the benefit of a year on the British Touring Car Championship support package in Ginetta Juniors.
Colton Herta only reached the minimum age for the series, 15, this week but is actually one of the more experienced drivers in the field having raced single-seaters since 2013 in his native United States. Son of IndyCar team owner and ex-racer Bryan Herta, he won the Pacific FF1600 title that year and in 2014 competed in USF2000. Like Norris, he’s been one of the leaders in testing and has had plenty of running on the various UK circuits.
Carlin’s third driver is Romanian Petru Florescu, whose single-seater debut marks a return to racing after seriously injuring his legs karting at the start of last year. Before then he was a frontrunner in European KF3 competition, finished runner-up in the WSK Final Cup in 2013 and ninth in the world championship. The 16-year-old hasn’t quite rivalled his team-mates’ pace, but should go well all the same.
Arden is another of Britain’s big junior single-seater squads to put its faith in MSA Formula, with the team founded by Christian Horner continuing its recent rapid expansion to dip its toes into this level of the ladder for the first time.
It won the race to secure the signature of the second of Britain’s world karting champions last year, junior title winner Enaam Ahmed. He was also European champion and won the WSK Super Master Series and Champions Cup. In ex-Clio champion Phil Glew he has a manager that knows the BTCC support package very well, and even gave the MSA Formula car an early shakedown. Ahmed looked a little off the pace compared to some in testing, but with his reputation it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to be fighting near the front.
Perhaps Arden’s strongest contender though will be Ricky Collard. Unlike most in the field, he’s got the benefit of having competed in Formula Ford last year, finishing seventh in the standings with five outright podiums. There might be drivers with more potential on the grid, but the son of BTCC frontrunner Rob Collard has gone well in testing and could be the one to beat early on if the newcomers need time to get up to speed.
Completing Arden’s trio is Sandy Mitchell. He’s a relative unknown in comparison to global karting superstars, but he has an impressive record himself in Scottish and British competition, culminating in the British Super 1 Rotax crown last year. He’s something of an Arden protege as a product of their Young Racing Driver Academy, and has looked very quick in testing.
Fortec was a little later than Carlin and Arden in getting its MSA Formula programme on track and only has two drivers signed so far, but they have the advantage of having been successful at this sort of level, both in Formula Renault 2.0 and also Formula BMW.
They didn’t get one of the karting world champions, but they did get the next best thing in Dan Ticktum. Like Norris and Ahmed, Ticktum was one of our ten karting stars to watch last year, and was a frontrunner at international KFJ level for three years. Part of the same Infinity management stable as BRDC F4 champion George Russell, Ticktum tested well in that series and after settling on MSA Formula due to its lower minimum age, he’s been rapid here too. After playing second fiddle to Norris and Ahmed in karts, he could well get the upper hand in cars.
Fortec’s other driver is Josh Smith, the latest protege of the Racing Steps Foundation. It has seen enough from the IAME X30 Junior International champion to promote him into single-seaters with Fortec, just as it did with Ben Barnicoat, Jake Dennis, Oliver Rowland, Jack Harvey and James Calado before. He’s not shown quite the same pace as Ticktum in testing, but will be worth keeping an eye on all the same as he gets more experience.
Double R team boss Anthony Hieatt has used his global connections to secure a full trio of drivers from overseas in time for the opening round. The team knows what its doing and although the drivers have only had a combined total of two days of running between them from the six days of official pre-season testing, all three do have at least a season of single-seaters under their belt.
Tarun Reddy was the team’s first signing, but focussing on his education back home in India has meant he’s done no pre-season testing. Hieatt, who’s worked with him in the MRF Challenge, and his coach Rupert Svendsen-Cook both rate him, and he scored three podiums in Protyre Formula Renault 2.0 last year. That experience and speed should hopefully negate some of his lack of mileage in the new car.
Brazilians Gustavo Myasava and Matheus Leist have done a day of testing each at Oulton Park and Silverstone respectively and showed speed, both placing inside the top seven. Both have F3 experience too from their native country; Myasava finished third in 2013 before going onto USF2000 and also has MRF history, while Leist was runner-up in the B-class last year with three overall podiums.
JTR was the team to beat in the final years of Formula Ford GB, taking drivers to the final three titles. The squad, run by Porsche LMP1 driver Nick Tandy and founded by his late brother Joe, will have its work cut out now with the arrival of bigger teams. The driver line-up lacks experience, but includes two promising karters who looked quick in testing.
The first of those, and benefiting from a full pre-season under his belt, is James Pull. The British-Singaporean has a strong resume including eighth in the 2013 CIK-FIA International Super Cup and the 2014 WSK Super Master Series in KFJ.
Joining him is Dan Baybutt, a frontrunner in the MSA’s Junior TKM and Formula KGP classes in karting over the past three seasons. While keeping JTR at the front is a tough ask for either Pull or Baybutt, both have been ever-present in the top ten in testing.
JTR’s third entry will be for Ameya Vaidyanathan. A newcomer to racing but with plenty of pre-season mileage, his MSA Formula running came with Pyro rather than JTR. He’ll miss the opening round, choosing to prioritise his programme in BRDC F4.
Falcon was a frontrunner in Formula Ford, taking Harrison Scott to the runner-up position in 2013 and 2014, but it’s one of several teams whose MSA Formula programme has come together relatively late in the day. The team has had a couple of days on track itself with Connor Hall (pictured), but they will start the season with two other drivers who’ve had one test each with Richardson Racing.
Alexandra Marinescu from Romania is another to have raced in North America last year, in the Skip Barber Summer Series. She’s had tests at Brands Hatch in both an MSA Formula and BRDC F4 car, so won’t be in the deep end quite as much as she otherwise would have been.
Briton Darius Karbaley lacks car experience but has an encouraging karting record, coming fourth in the Kartmasters Rotax Max British Grand Prix in 2013 as well as fifth in the 2012 British KF3 championship.
MBM is another leading Formula Ford squad to secure a driver just in time for Brands Hatch.
That driver is Jack Barlow, who raced for the team at the first and last rounds of last season at the Kent circuit, but was out of action in between after a testing crash and subsequent injury and budget concerns. A title contender in BRDC F4 in his first year out of karts in 2013, he’s had limited time in the new car but hopes his experience and speed will at least partly make up for the remaining mileage deficit to the competition.
SWB is another outfit staying on from Formula Ford, and had both of their Brands Hatch drivers in place in time for a good amount of testing.
Rafael Martins arrives in Europe with some fine karting results in Brazil, as well as some international experience in last year’s CIK-FIA Academy Trophy.
Joining him is Jack Butel, who remains with SWB after racing in Protyre Formula Renault last year.
Regular BTCC supports competitors, Richardson Racing has maintained a single-seater presence into MSA Formula. It’s tested several drivers in the new car in recent weeks but back behind the wheel for Brands Hatch is Louise Richardson with her family team.
She’s yet to drive the MSA Formula car, but Richardson does at least know Brands Hatch well, as a successful Ginetta Juniors and GT Supercup driver before she made her single-seater bow last year. She made strong progress as her time in Formula Ford went on last year, and will hope to continue that once she’s up to speed in MSA Formula.
The JHR team may not be well known in single-seater circles, but its sole driver for the start of the season is. Sennan Fielding showed plenty of speed in F4-level machinery last year, finishing fourth in the BRDC series and also taking a guest win in Italy. The Mygale is a third new single-seater for him to get used to, but he’s shown no problem with that before.
What determines how well Fielding performs will be how JHR adapt in it’s first single-seater campaign for 20 years. It’s enjoyed plenty of recent success in other forms of racing with Ginetta titles, including taking Fielding to second in Juniors in 2012, but taking on Carlin and co. is another matter. JHR and Fielding have only done two test days, but P4 in Rockingham suggests they could be capable of some giant killing performances together.
Brands Hatch (Indy) ? 4-5 April
Donington Park ? 18-19 April
Thruxton ? 9-10 May
Oulton Park ? 6-7 June
Croft ? 27-28 June
Snetterton ? 8-9 August
Knockhill ? 22-23 August
Rockingham ? 5-6 September
Silverstone ? 26-27 September
Brands Hatch (GP) ? 10-11 October