Formula 4 in the United States – Growing from Strength to Strength

Young driver development is a complex topic in that the multitude of series available to young racers often makes what should be a relatively straightforward decision more complicated. In an attempt to bring some kind of organization to junior driver development, the FIA spent some time developing a racing series that would cater to karters moving to cars. According to the Federation International de l’Automobile, the Formula 4 category is described as the following:

Launched in 2014, FIA Formula 4 has been created to offer young racing drivers around the world the opportunity to take the first step from karting into the world of single-seater racing.

Designed to be a globally recognised yet affordable step between Karting and the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, FIA Formula 4 allows drivers to compare themselves to the best young talent, not only in their own country, but across other championships around the world. The recipe is undoubtedly a successful one, as present championships boast impressive grids, and new regions are in the process of creating their own F4 setups.

The F4 car has been designed to keep costs down while providing an ideal learning tool for young drivers who have never raced cars before.

F4 United States Championship logo
F4 United States Championship

Currently there are 12 officially recognized Formula 4 championships around the world with France deciding for this year to adhere to the FIA Formula 4 regulations. In the United States, the USF4 Championship is entering its third year with what looks like another bumper crop of young drivers. For 2018 the championship will be taking place over 6 race weekends with two test weekends at iconic tracks like Virginia International Raceway, Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, Pittsburgh International Race Complex, New Jersey Motorsport Park and ending at Circuit of the Americas during the United States Grand Prix weekend. The series works hard to prepare young drivers for a career in motorsport by ensuring that they all take part in mandatory seminars covering everything from racecraft to media and public relations work in addition to giving drivers a minimum of three hours of track time and three races per weekend.

With the international growth of Formula 4, I thought now was a good time to talk to Steve Oseth, Vice-President and General Manager of SCCA Pro about the United States Formula 4 Championship and get his input on a couple of issues I had related to this important rung on the young driver development ladder. He was very forthcoming with his time and his enthusiasm for racing and this series in particular was evident.

One of the things that was encouraging about USF4 has been the response to the series. With more than healthy car counts in its first two years and 2018 looking to follow the same pattern, I asked Steve how SCCA Pro felt about the response. “The response has been incredible, and we are particularly happy with the international response to the series with drivers from a wide number of countries participating. And the support and collaboration with the FIA has been welcome.”

With Formula 4 seen by the FIA as an essential step up from karting into cars, I asked Steve what kind of relationship they have forged with karting in the United States. “We have partnered with Honda HPD and Crawford with a SKUSA scholarship that has been well received. No decisions have been made for 2018 but we are close to announcing some good scholarship programs.” Of course, hand in hand with the step up from karting is budget and that is something that the championship is well aware of. While racing will always be expensive, Oseth feels that a budget is still reasonable with what you get. “Median arrive and drive effort with a good team is $175k. If you own the car it can be less”

Steve Oseth
Steve Oseth of SCCA Pro Racing

Talking about moving up from karting to cars, one of the issues that seems to be perpetually under debate in the karting community is the state of racecraft among the young drivers and how this affects championships such as Formula 4 which is promoted as the next step up. It is something that Steve is well aware of. “Racecraft is an issue, not just in F4 but across all series and it is an issue that we are very serious about. The jump from karts to cars is significant and young drivers need to understand the impact and consequences of their decisions on the track. Some of the drivers have been racing in karts for up to eight years before they get to F4 and it is challenging to get them to unlearn bad habits from karting.”

“We spend a considerable time discussing how we can address these issues. 2017 was a challenging year in this regard and we worked closely with the teams in the series to make sure the drivers understood that they were racing in a different arena with different impacts on driving style and that nobody benefits from a race run primarily under yellow.” For 2018, changes have been initiated to stay on top of the issue. “We are increasing the number of stewards at a race as well as the time they need to take to deliberate and we will deal with incidents immediately and forcefully. At an FIA conference for race officials in Geneva that I attended it became clear that this is an issue throughout motorsport and ultimately what is needed is a uniform code of conduct for driver behavior, but the devil is in the details.”

Another issue that has come up is that all the F4 races are currently on the East coast and with the United States (and Canada for that matter) being so large, racers and their families on the West coast have expressed concern that it will make it difficult for them to participate, something SCCA Pro is well aware of. In order to address these concerns, the championship has entered into an agreement with Formula Pro USA to cater to these West coast racers. “Unofficially we consider it to be the West Coast USF4 Championship. They need to build up their car counts so it is official next year, but we like where they are heading. We don’t want to jeopardize our East Coast car counts as we want to continue to build the East Coast program so this relationship works well for us for this year.” (Ed. – Next week I will feature an interview with Brent Morgan and Mark Milazzo about the Formula Pro USA Championship)

In the junior development ranks, Formula 4 has been growing by leaps and bounds, but what about that venerable training series for young drivers that has been around since 1967, Formula Ford/1600? “The SCCA loves the 1600 class and I in fact own and race a 1600 car. They are cost effective and are a good training ground, but they don’t compete with F4 because they still utilize tube frames and H pattern shifters which is not where racing is going. F4 is almost half the cost of a brand new 1600 car but a completely different product. The two can easily coexist.”

Something that was discussed by FIA officials when Formula 4 was first introduced was the possibility of a “global shootout” much like what the defunct Formula BMW used to do where drivers from the various series raced against each other during one race weekend. While he likes the idea, Oseth notes that it is a lot more complicated than first meets the eye. “While I have no first-hand knowledge of what the FIA are doing in this regard, I do know it was seriously considered but various issues came up. How would it be structured? What car would you race? All the series use different cars and while built to the same spec, they are not the same. The FIA has not figured this out yet, but it would be a great boon to the F4 brand.” Only time will tell whether this will happen or not, but I think it would be a pretty amazing thing to see, especially in conjunction with a Formula 1 race or as part of a stand-alone World Cup event like Macau.

Ligier JS F4 car
The Ligier JS F4

Finally, I asked Steve about the new F3Americas series, part of the new Regional F3 structure that would act as the next level between national F4 and International F3. SCCA Pro has announced that F3 Americas is coming and an Asian F3 regional series is also on the calendar for 2018. When we will know more about it? “Soon! We are waiting for the FIA to finalize the design parameters of the car, but the schedule is ready, and the series is due to start in August. It will consist of five race weekends with a great dollar to fun ratio. We are really looking forward to it and it will add considerably to the value of F4.”

The United States F4 Championship kicks off with the first official test weekend on March 31st at NOLA Motorsport Park with the first round of the series on April 26th at Virginia International Raceway. I will be at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course round on the weekend of June 28th so stop by and say hi at the track as it should be a great weekend of racing.

A big thank you to Steve Oseth and Amy Greenway for their time in making this happen. See you at the track!

You can find more information on the US F4 Championship on their page at Motorsport Prospects including their website link, contact information and social media accounts.

Author: Mark Boudreau