Home Formula 4British F4 British F4 to GB3: Assessing Britain’s changing single-seater landscape

British F4 to GB3: Assessing Britain’s changing single-seater landscape

by Steve Whitfield

Photos: Jakob Ebrey Photography

The British single-seater scene is currently going through significant change, with a new GB4 series joining the recently rebranded GB3 championship in 2022, while British Formula 4 also goes through a revamp

Until recently, the structure was relatively simple to understand, with a British F4 and a BRDC British F3 series, albeit run by different bodies. So, have the recent changes muddied the waters, or are they a positive step for British motorsport?

The rebrand of BRDC British F3 to GB3 may be seen as a blow given the loss of its iconic former name, which had been around on-and-off for six decades. MotorSport Vision chief executive Jonathan Palmer fought hard to keep it after the jointly BARC and BRDC-run British F3 ended in 2014, by rebranding his BRDC British F4 championship to F3 in 2016.

But, as the FIA clamped down on use of the F3 moniker outside of its own international series, the battle was eventually lost this summer. MSV’s statement at the time of the announcement made it clear the change to GB3 was not made by choice. 

However, the name alone was not enough to preserve the previous iteration of British F3, which disappeared in 2014 due to low grids. So, does it actually matter what the series is called?

“At the end of the day it doesn’t [matter],” Carlin team principal Trevor Carlin said to Formula Scout. 

“It’s a shame that there is, at the moment, no British F3 because since the ‘60s there has been. I don’t quite think it’s fair or logical that we are not allowed to use the name – that’s my personal opinion and I will stand by that. It’s been British F3 a lot longer than the current FIA series [has existed]. It doesn’t change anything for me apart from the fact I started in British F3 and I want to carry on British F3, but it’s a name.”

Announcing the change in the middle of the season may have not seemed logical at first, but many within the paddock feel that the timing was right, given that a post-season rebrand may have slipped under the radar somewhat and created further concerns as what else might change within the series.

“The fact they have changed it during the season I think is a great thing as it gives everybody a chance to get used to it, and drivers to see it is the same thing and hasn’t been dumbed down over the winter,” Carlin added.

The announcement of the upgraded car for 2022 – just days after the rebrand – went a long way to allay fears of the longevity of GB3, with teams appearing committed to the series for the foreseeable future, having all had an input into the car changes.

An evolution of the current chassis, the Tatuus MSV-022 will include a halo and other safety enhancements, increased horsepower and improved aerodynamics; all areas where it is felt improvements were very much needed to keep GB3 relevant alongside other single-seater series across the globe.

“We’ve gone from the [GB3 rebrand} announcement which, it is what it is, to a positive announcement of having a fantastic new car for the foreseeable future,” said Carlin.

“I’ve always been an advocate for safety because I’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve lost some great friends and colleagues. Henry Surtees wasn’t driving for us when he passed but he was part of our family, and he was lost due to a head injury, and that accident wouldn’t happen today.

“It certainly wouldn’t happen with the new generation cars, so I’m truly thankful to everybody that they’ve introduced the halo to this championship. It’s our duty of care to protect these young drivers.”

It’s rare that all teams unanimously agree on something, but Hillspeed boss Richard Ollerenshaw said that is indeed what happened on this matter, making it easier to put the new car ideas together. 

“Nobody, collectively, has pulled in a different direction so, in some respects, it becomes easier,” said Ollerenshaw.

“It’s never an easy task to bring 10 teams together and put something that ticks all the boxes for all teams, but I think what we’ve got proposed for the GB3 car for next season is going to be very different.”

One of the big selling points will continue to be the relatively low costs of the series, given the continuity of some elements of the current car into the 2022 version.

“It’s going to be, in my opinion, a world-beater in terms of what the drivers can get,” Ollerenshaw continued.  “The circuits that we visit, and the overall package and value for money that it offers – I don’t think there’s anything like it globally. I hope that we can continue to bring many international drivers.”

While national series can suffer when using local circuits over Formula 1 venues, like ADAC F4 right now, the popularity and historical appeal of British circuits – of which British F3 was a significant contributer to – has helped GB3 defy this decline.

Maintaining a link to the FIA ladder will be important though in continuing to attract drivers. So this year’s champion-in-waiting Zak O’Sullivan will get two days of running at FIA F3’s post-season Valencia Ricardo Tormo test next month.

The recent announcement of a new GB4 championship is an opportunity that has presented itself following the GB3 rebrand, with the two series running alongside each other next year.

Using the Tatuus T-014 chassis, the F4 car of choice in Europe since 2014, MSV have taken advantage of the continent’s series switching to second-generation cars to give teams an opportunity to buy the older cars second-hand at a low cost.

With the updated GB3 car remaining an evolution of that first-generation Tatuus F4 car, it is estimated that it will be able to share 80 percent of the spare parts with GB4, enabling costs to be kept under control in both championships.

Average grid sizes in British single-seater series (*season in progress)
Year GB3 British F4 National FF1600
2016 19.600 18.00 25.563
2017 15.917 16.733 28.909
2018 17.652 13.600 23.130
2019 16.500 13.100 17.348
2020 17.500 13.115 27.429
2021* 17.190 16.926 17.750

Palmer has said that GB4 is not designed to be a low-cost rival to British F4, which is switching from its first-generation Mygale car to a second-generation Tatuus for 2022, but the national governing body Motorsport UK (which will take over the running of British F4 from the British Racing & Sports Car Club and RacingLine) may need to be convinced by this before it gives approval for GB4 to get off the ground.

Hillspeed are the first team to commit to GB4, announcing a two-car entry for next year, and Ollerenshaw believes the series is needed given spiralling costs within F4.

“Jonathan and Giles [Butterfield] have got a good understanding of the industry,” he said to Formula Scout.

“They can see that there is a need for an open-wheel championship for drivers that, at this moment in time in their career, don’t have the funding that would see them go the FIA route. There’s lots of talented drivers out there that really need to be able to demonstrate their ability in a championship that they can afford and then look to raise funding to either make the progression to GB3 or step back onto the FIA ladder.”

Chris Dittmann, who considered entering his eponymous team into GB4 before committing to British F4 next year, also believes the two series won’t necessarily be in competition for the same drivers. 

“I think it will be two different levels, just on budget,” he commented to Formula Scout. “We know British F4 is going to be lot, lot higher budgets, probably double, if not more, than GB4. I think with GB4 you are attracting a different market that probably wouldn’t do F4 anyway so, I think it will probably open up more drivers into the championships because of that.”

Dittmann added that it has become increasingly difficult to attract drivers into GB3 without having a team at F4 level to introduce drivers through, an issue that other smaller teams like Hillspeed and Douglas Motorsport have also suffered.

“For us, the best part [of entering F4] is drivers coming up into GB3,” said Dittmann.

At the moment we are doing as good a job, if not better, than most other teams but we haven’t got the drivers coming through. They are all linked in with the Carlins and Fortecs and even Elite Motorsport have got the [Ginetta] juniors coming through. So that’s why we will end up doing it.”

With CDR joining fellow GB3 teams Carlin, Fortec Motorsports and Hitech GP in committing to British F4 next year, it does place a question mark over who will join Hillspeed in GB4. Arden and Douglas are weighing up an entry, as are leading BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600 teams Kevin Mills Racing and Low Dempsey Racing.

FF1600 team boss Kevin Mills said that the low-cost nature of GB4 makes the series attractive for a team like his.

“I would be more than interested to look into it,” said Mills. “We couldn’t compete in GB3 with those types of teams, the infrastructure and the money, we couldn’t just go into that. But, perhaps something with a little bit less money, and maybe not having to go up against Carlin and Fortec if they don’t do it in the end, it might be an option for Andy Low [from Low Dempsey Racing] and myself to think about running a couple of cars.

“I know a lot of people out of karting that have gone into Minis, Fiestas, that have not even tried single-seaters, because they still don’t think F4 is relevant. If there is another little ladder just below, we might see people go ‘actually I could do that’.”

Such a move could be a boost for FF1600 racing in the UK which, in its heyday, was an important entry-level step on the single-seater ladder, but now operates at a smaller club level. Bryce Aron and Jonathan Browne both have recently moved up from the category into GB3, the latter scoring a podium on his debut at Silverstone in August for Hillspeed. Having teams competing in both the BRSCC National FF1600 Championship and GB4 could help more drivers make that progression between the series.

Other club level series in the UK include Formula Vee, another low-cost wingless category, and MSV’s F3 Cup, in which previous-generation F3 machinery compete, but very few drivers have the budgets to step up from these series onto the bigger stage (and despite its cost-effectiveness, the running costs of F3 Cup’s cars is steep enough in itself).

British F4’s ownership and car change has been met with a mixed reaction, especially with questions still to be answered as to how the series will be structured. Motorsport UK are currently inviting tenders to racing clubs to co-promote the series. With the loss of significant backing from Ford now RacingLine has been pushed and there’s a switch to Abarth power, there are some uncertainties over how the series will be funded. Particularly given the hike in costs as the Gen2 car comes in.

“The new FIA F4 championship in the UK is not something that is either tried or tested, so it’s basically a shot in the dark, but it should work,” said Ollerenshaw. “But it’s going to be for the ones that have the resources to do it”

“Looking at the information that’s been shared to us from Motorsport UK for the FIA F4 championship, we are seeing budgets of around the £345k mark. Having been a driver that’s had to fund my own racing in the early days, I just believe that those sums of money are beyond the reach of many drivers. There are not 60 drivers allowing for 20 for the UK [championship], 20 for Germany and 20 for Italy that have got over £300k.”

But Carlin, committed to continuing in the revamped British F4 after having already seen his team win eight titles in the series, sees positives in the move. 

Personally, I think it’s a good thing. I think it needed a change, the existing structure which has been involved has become a bit stale, a little bit complacent. It needed a bit of a kick to get it back into its place in the world market of F4.

“I think with this move from Motorsport UK we’ve got a chance of doing that. We’ll have the same chassis, the same engine as the European championships.”

The British championship will also use the same Pirelli tyres as its Italian and German counterparts next year, which Carlin said could help drivers switch between series.

“Our drivers can transfer to [other European F4 championships] and do the odd race and their drivers can come to us and do the odd race, and teams can go between the two,” added Carlin. “So, we will have our regional F4 championships and then there’s a possibility of European finals, or something like that if we’ve all got the same kit. So, it’s a massive step.”

For now, the British F4 and GB4/GB3 routes appear to have their own merits, and offer very different pathways on the single-seater ladder. Time will tell whether the changes will be a long-term success.

Further reading on British series
The timeline of BRDC British F3’s latest life
How fans glimpsed a high-speed haven for F3, and why it should return
The rise and fall of the original Formula E
Taking racing cars in and out of the UK – Then and now
Revisiting the impact Lewis Hamilton made on his single-seater debut
Junior single-seater races that rival the 2021 Belgian GP’s brief length