But this year I can’t summon up the enthusiasm for a trip to Oulton Park to see the British series get underway – much less the Eurories later in the year. Both series seem low on talent – even I’ve beaten some of the names on the entry list.
This is partly due to the astronomical costs of going F3 racing, but also due to the massively dispersed driver pool and myriad of routes to F1. So instead here is my guide to the rest of the Junior Formulae – from GP2 to Formula Vee.
The holiest of the holies. By hook, crook and default the FIA have managed to create a series that not only brings together the finest young talent but also produces superb racing.
That GP2 stars such as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have walked straight to the front of F1 is proof of its calibre. And, whisper it softly, there are many who tune into Eurosport on a Sunday morning instead of ITV on a Sunday afternoonâ€¦
World Series by Renault
At least that’s what it’s called this year. An odd one this, the front of the field is often superb populated by F1′s third drivers, evidenced by Robert Kubica and Sebastien Vettel.
But the back is a stomping ground for wealthy Italians and Spaniards who can’t buy their way into GP2. Apparently the car is gorgeous to drive and the field is enormous.
However the lack of media coverage in the UK and a race schedule that avoids any major events mean that the only people who know about the series are those sadder than me, and Renault customers given free race tickets by their dealership.
Recent seasons have seen a worrying turn for the worse – manufacturer involvement in the Euroseries has split the talent between the DTM support and the UK. Costs have been pushed up and grids slipped down.
At least long-term fans remain reassured that successful overtaking move is only marginally less rare than the sighting of a lion in the wild. More worryingly it seems a long time since an F3 graduate has made the jump straight up to F1 – the last being Takuma Sato five years ago.
The Eurocup has a huge field, high standard and is the biggest feeder to higher formulae. In the UK the TOCA support championship is the first stop of choice for the karter-turned-car racer.
As is the way with underpowered slicks and wings series the races are deadly dull, the cars horrible to drive, and thanks to Renault Sport’s parts pricing a major shunt can set you back in excess of Â£30,000.
Due to the unusual nature of the cars the UK series is yet to consistently produce a stream of drivers moving on upwards – the notable names being Kimi Raikkonen and that man Hamilton again. It is perhaps the ‘forgotten’ formula in comparison to F3 or FBMW.
A walk through the FBMW paddock is a scary thing – tiny teenage kids dressed as Michael Schumacher taking everything very seriously, whilst a quick scan through the surnames on the entry list tells you these are pre-pubescent pedallers with pedigrees.
Sadly the cars are uglier than this year’s Renault R27, slower than my Mum’s old Volvo 340, and have more grip than an industrial strength adhesive. Consequently many races rival the Lord Mayor’s Show for their processional qualities.
However the drivers who have been quick in BMW (Sebastien Vettel, Sam Bird and Oliver Turvey) have rocketed onto bigger and better things, suggesting that it takes genuine talent to make an FBMW win.
Formula Palmer Audi
Re-launched for 2007 as the first point of call for the young driver looking to move into serious single seaters. At Â£55K for a 20 race season, it’s competitive value for money and attracts a mix of genuinely promising young talent and older racers with plenty of cash.
The full grid suggests the format has mileage. However, given some of the temperaments involved, safety instructions for spectators should be included in the programme.
Past FPA Champions have collectively fared better than graduates from most other series in recent years, and one can’t but help think that the winners from 2007 will go far. Shame for spectators that the old slicks + wings = no overtaking rule still applies.
Once the junior formulae that everyone passed through FFord has fallen on hard times in recent seasons, mainly because it’s not as glamourous or media savvy as FRenault or FBMW.
This is shame because the low downforce cars mean drivers learn a great deal more about mechanical grip, racecraft and overtaking that they do in the slicks and wings formulae.
The pedigree of graduates both past and recent suggests FFord should be taken seriously as a quick driver in FFord will be fast in anything – look at Valle Makela and Duncan Tappy’s FBMW and FRenault results from last weekend as evidence.
From the safer side of the fence the racing is always close and often spectacular, if ethicallyâ€¦ inventive.
Formula Ford 1600 and Formula Vee
The British motorsport community is increasingly recognising the talent emerging from club racing series.
Castle Combe FF1600 star Nathan Freke won the Formula Ford Duratec series at the first attempt. North West FFord 1600 star Richard Tannahill claimed the Festival and Peter Dempsey also starred.
FF1600′s cash strapped cousin is yet to produce a breakout star by the likes of Sam or Jake Olivera, Daniel Hands or John Hughes would almost certainly shine in Formula Ford or Formula Renault.
The real strength for the young drivers is that both the 160′s and Vees have grids filled with experienced heads. They provide a great platform for drivers to learn from – clean (ish) racing and lots of circuit tricks and cheats are there to be had from drivers with 15 years’ experience.
As a Vee racer myself I know the spectators get great racing – and isn’t that the most important thing of all?
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