UNITED KINGDOM - Powered by Ford engines, the British F4 Championship has for more than 50 years been a proving ground for up-and-coming racing drivers.
Launched as Formula Ford in 1967 before becoming known as MSA Formula in 2015 and then Formula 4 (F4) from 2016, the series helped set F1 stars and household names including James Hunt, Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Lando Norris on track to success.
The final F4 event to feature race cars powered by Ford’s 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine took place at the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit, UK, October 23-24 – the same circuit at which the series began 54 years earlier.
Formula Ford through the decades
Envisaged as a lower-cost junior series that would help young drivers transition from karting to the higher levels of single-seater racing, the first Formula Ford cars used Ford’s 105 PS 1.6 litre Kent engine from the Cortina family car. The series proved immediately popular with competitors and spectators, with the first race outside of Britain hosted in Belgium in 1967.
Motorsport legend James Hunt won races and set lap records in Formula Ford during the 1968 season, setting him on the path to stardom. He became F1 champion in 1976. However, Hunt wasn’t the first Formula Ford graduate to win the F1 title. Two years after winning the South American Formula Ford title, Emerson Fittipaldi became F1 champion in 1972.
During the 1980s the series flourished with close, high-quality racing. The absence of downforce-enhancing wings gave the Formula Ford cars a distinctive appearance and allowed for exciting overtaking action as drivers were less affected by air turbulence from other cars. This enabled some of the sport’s most successful competitors sought to hone their abilities.
Ayrton Senna won Formula Ford championships in 1981 and 1982, before going one better with three F1 titles. In the 1988 European and German series’, fellow all-time great Michael Schumacher finished in second and sixth places respectively; stepping stones to a joint record seven F1 titles.
The 90s began a new era in Formula Ford with a switch in 1993 to a 145 PS version of the 1.8-litre Zetec engine that powered popular Ford models like the Escort and Orion. Eleven years before becoming F1 champion, Jenson Button won both the British Formula Ford Championship and the Formula Ford Festival in 1998.
In 2006 Formula Ford introduced a 155 PS version of the 1.6-litre Duratec engine that would also power the innovative Ford Focus, and then in 2012 the series adopted turbocharged performance with a 165 PS 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine.
In 2015 one of the most radical changes was introduced, as front and rear wings were added to the cars. The resulting faster lap times and “mini-F1” appearance enticed talented, speed-loving young drivers including current F1 rising-star Lando Norris, who won the MSA Formula championship that year.
As Ford Motor Company steps back from single seaters, thoughts and excitement turn to the forthcoming hybrid era in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), during which Ford will once again partner with M Sport to campaign the M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 car. Featuring a next-generation plug-in hybrid powertrain that seamlessly combines the performance of a 1.6-litre Ford EcoBoost petrol engine with a sophisticated 100 kW electric motor and 3.9 kWh battery, the new car will make its debut at the Monte Carlo Rally in January 2022.
WRC will be the first electrified motorsport formula for Ford globally as the company looks to build on the success of the launch of vehicles including the all-electric Mustang Mach-E 1 and the forthcoming E-Transit. 2
1 F1 title, 93 entries
Formula Ford 1968, Russell-Alexis
2 F1 titles, 149 entries
Formula Ford 1969, Jim Russell Racing
3 F1 titles, 162 entries
Formula Ford 1981, Van Diemen and 1982 Rushen Green
148 F1 entries
Formula Ford 1983-87
165 F1 entries
Formula Ford 1985
1 F1 title, 122 entries
Formula Ford 1985, Manadient Racing
7 F1 titles, 308 entries
Formula Ford 1988, Eufra Racing
247 F1 entries
Formula Ford 1989
326 F1 entries
Formula Ford 1989, Arisco
217 F1 entries
Formula Ford 1995, Yellow Pages Racing
1 F1 title, 309 entries
Formula Ford 1998, Haywood Racing
24 F1 entries
Formula Ford 1999, 2000, Haywood Racing
200+ F1 entries
Formula Ford 2005, privateer
50+ F1 entries
MSA Formula 2015, Carlin
David Coulthard, former F1 driver
“I still have my 1989 Van Diemen in my museum in Scotland, still looking as good as the last day it raced, and it is with very fond memories that I look back on what Formula Ford has given the world of motorsport. As it heads off into retirement, it will forever hold a place in my heart.”
Lando Norris, F1 driver
“Formula 4, for me, was the perfect stepping stone and the perfect way of setting up my whole career. I had a lot of good battles that I still remember to this day. The best thing of all was how even it was between everyone; the competition was so tight every weekend. It made me work very hard. I miss it!”