In the Eighties, single-seater motorsport was simple, if you had ambitions to reach the top of the sport wherever you were on the globe in any country whether you were an owner driver, lad and Dad, small local team, works assisted or factory team, you were in Formula Ford.
The heartbeats of Formula Ford were the RAC national championship in the UK together with the Formula Ford Festival held each October at Brands Hatch. This event had 250 competitors including the best drivers from around the world. Win it and not only were you seen as one of the very best drivers of your cohort, but you won as a prize a race in a Formula 3 car the following week at Thruxton circuit and you attracted media attention with motorsport establishment backing. This route allowed drivers from all backgrounds and budgets to pit their skills and compete against each other.
As the business of motorsport has evolved over the years and in some ways in a very positive manner, the single=seater progression ladder has become “Frankenstein’s Monster”
Formula 4 is now seen as entry level junior single-seater motorsport and is seen as the starting point for any driver who has aspirations of Formula 1 stardom. However, to compete in Formula 4 with a team likely to support a winning car will see the budgets range from £350,000 to £450,000 a year, depending on the number of test days and most drivers compete at this level for 2 years.
The route then leads them to Euro Formula or Formula Regional then to FIA Formula 3 where budgets are a staggering £1Million per year.
With the rush for drivers to be knocking on the doors of Formula 1 teams at 18 years of age, it means that the grids of the entry level Formula 4 championships can only be full of 15-year-olds with access to multi-million-pound support from families and relatives, thus excluding many passionate and skilled racing drivers from backgrounds with less financial support.
This also leaves anyone at the ripe old of age of 20 or in my case 21 or even 25+ to be expected to graciously give up quietly on single-seater racing or at best, compete at national or club level Formula Ford as a pastime and in some cases still spend a Budget of between £50,000 to over £100,000 a year or join monoposto or historic racing.
The reasons Jonathan Palmer and the GB4 Championship are so important are it actually produces a single-seater modern wings and slicks Championship at a fraction of the cost of Formula 4. It is open to all ages so yes young drivers who have done loads of testing but have little race experience may be able to race against more experienced drivers rather than other single-seater inexperienced 15-year-olds and perhaps accelerate their race craft learning. The Championship welcomes all ages, so you do not have to be written off at 20.
The Championship benefits from extensive media coverage with its own Live TV program on YouTube. There is real prize money with a prize of £50,000 for the winner and for the ambitious career minded driver you share the paddock with the top single-seater teams in the UK who compete in GB4, F4 and GB3 all offering access to the best driver coaches, Engineers, data engineers, mechanics, and team managers in motorsport, so the learning environment produces an Academy of knowledge with a direct path to GB3. Performing well in GB4 and then in GB3 would certainly get a driver recognized as an emerging talent on the world stage.
The Championship also gives young drivers access to Jonathan Palmer for a quick friendly chat, joke, or a word of advice in the paddock from a driver who actually made it through his driving to Formula 1 and who is still passionate about visiting race weekends and watching the racing.
As I believe I am the only driver on the grid so far who has Formula 3, GB4 and Formula Ford experience I am happy to share GB4 is the perfect halfway house between the mechanical grip of Formula Ford to the aero of GB3.
It is true to say I have found the GB4 paddock one of the friendliest and welcoming I have encountered with race with respect as a core culture.
For any other single-seater racing driver who wishes to compete in a well supported modern series I don’t think there is any other choice in Europe.