As Lando Norris showered champagne over the Red Bull Ring (becoming the newest recruit to the Formula One podium club), it’s worth remembering that it was only five years ago that he made his single seater debut in a Carlin FIA F4 car, racing in the newly launched MSA Formula.
Norris was British F4’s inaugural champion that year, winning eight times and claiming ten pole positions, but such was the depth of talent amongst those vying to progress their careers that we saw nine winners in all, and nine drivers delivering fastest laps.
Fast forward to 2019 and British F4 continued to deliver world class racing from some of the finest young drivers from five continents. Carlin’s rookie Zane Maloney, sporting the now famed #31, drove superbly to take his maiden single seater title, the Barbadian winning ten times; yet he was just one of eight (from the twelve who contested the full season) to taste the victor’s spoils.
There’s something compelling and pure about the racing in Formula 4. The cars, the engines and the tyres are all the same, and tightly controlled too, leaving it down to the teams and the drivers to make the difference; and for many, it will ultimately mean the difference between holding on to their F1 dream or switching to a career in sports cars and GT racing.
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The Class of 2019 was one of the finest we’ve seen yet: Mexico’s Sebastián Álvarez took the title battle right to the final round whilst Louis Foster was simply breathtaking at times and breathtakingly unlucky at others. Local heroes Josh Skelton and Luke Browning each showed exceptional pace, as did the USA’s Carter Williams, taking the first of his three wins later in the season at Thruxton. Australian Formula Ford star Bart Horsten might only have scored one win but he also raced to nine podium finishes, whilst his teammates, Tommy Foster and young rookie Alex Connor were both regular top-six finishers, Foster winning at Snetterton whilst Connor raced to his maiden podium at the last race of the Brands Hatch finale.
An increased grid of sixteen cars with drivers from nine different countries looks set to take to the track when the 2020 season finally kicks-off at Donington Park in a few weeks time. Series returnees Luke Browning and Alex Connor will be joined in the race for title honours by Ginetta’s Junior Champion James Hedley and Rookie Champion Zak O’Sullivan, whilst Australia’s Christian Mansell, Peru’s Matias Zagazeta and Brazil’s Roberto Faria can all be expected to stake their claim to not only much of the silverware but equally to the opportunities that will follow.
So here’s a guarantee: Take a look at the images below because what we’re going to see this year will be just as close, just as fast and at the very least, just as thrilling. Formula 4 is junior single seater racing at its best and as Lando Norris showed us on Sunday, if you can star in F4, there’s no telling how far you might rise.
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* * *Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff).