Tuesday the 13th February marked the return of the Mygale F4-M14 to the public eye. The first F4 British Championship test of the year saw the three biggest remaining teams, along with Jamie Sharp’s entry, take to Brands Hatch, but with no Carlin, has the writing already been put on the door.
In terms of overall lap times, it would be Kiern Jewiss who made the biggest impact, with a time of 52.976 putting him a full second in front of his nearest rival Seb Priaulx. Both drivers are Ginetta Junior graduates, though only Priaulx has confirmed his entry for this season.
With Double R Racing taking the first blood in the post-Carlin era, TRS Arden, Fortec Motorsport and Sharp Motorsport made it four teams in the top four, while Johnathan Hoggard beat the Sharp entry by six hundredths of a second. As we enter the halfway point of February though, what can we say about the grid that’s shaping up, especially as only four drivers have been announced.
The issue of driver announcements has certainly been an issue that’s affected both British F4 and it’s compatriot BRDC British F3 series. So far, Arden have announced three names with Fortec confirming Lucca Allen for his second season.
While contracts may not have been signed though, eleven drivers were still present at the test and (excluding the guest F3’s) the same number were at the inaugural test last year, so what’s the issue?
Well last years first test took place on 3 February and the second event, at Brands Hatch Indy, on 16 February, had sixteen cars. 2017 was also more notable as the eventual championship contenders were almost all present. In fact the top seven in the combined times went on to be the top eight in the championship, with only Alex Quinn not attending.
I mentioned driver signings being an issue. On the 16th last year, the series had announced thirteen drivers from seven teams, as opposed to the two this year. The major argument is that smaller outfits rarely attend the pre-season tests, at last years first two events only Richardson Racing, Falcon Motorsport and Sharp brought a car.
Being mostly a father-son operation, Sharp has existed as the perpetual anomaly for two seasons, with Falcon only attending because of Allen, who appears to have entered the past two years with money to burn.
This year has seen no small operation (other than Sharp) make any form of commitment. While it’s not unnatural to see a teams drop plans before a season has begun, see SWB Motorsport and Scorpio Motorsport last year, with Carlin departing someone is going to have to fill the gap.
It’s likely that Arden can fill their remaining spot (Patrik Pasma was testing this week) and it’s not far-fetched to assume Double R and Fortec can lock down their three Brands drivers, but with Sharp included that’s still only eleven, thirteen if you fully fill the remaining two seats from the top three.
This still leaves a large gap on where the drivers will come from. Of the drivers who entered last year, Oliver York could yet be a championship favourite, but after initially entering the Challenge Cup last year, it’s likely he was already struggling for budget and a second season may be beyond his backers.
Hoggard and Hampus Ericsson are strong candidates for Fortec having raced for them last season while Pasma to Arden and Double R’s three rookies don’t seem beyond the realm either. Drivers who were already in their second season in 2017 would be unwise to return this year ensuring that the only remaining candidates are Karl Massaad, Harry Webb and those from the second half of the field.
Massaad or Webb may find themselves as an outside contenders should they choose to return, but this again raises the question of who are the championship challengers and who will inevitably fill up the grid.
For hopefuls, we can now only look to Karting graduates, Ginetta Junior racers and foreign transfers. The transition between karts and single-seaters is such that it would be unwise to speculate their chances, though other than Jewiss, only a handful Junior drivers seem interested in the jump across the paddock.
So finally, what about those from international series. Linus Lundqvist, Logan Sargeant and Oscar Piastri came into last year as unknowns and by the conclusion were the only drivers on Caroline’s pace. The problem is once again a lack of interest. Toyota Racing Series race winner and World Karting champion Clement Novalak could yet be a strong contender should the rumours be true, but has shown little interest since the new year.
The lack of strong entries may be a golden opportunity for a foreign star from the German, Italian or SMP F4 series to snatch an easy title in a relatively similar car.
While Jewiss, Priaulx or Ericsson are not undeserving championship contenders and Jewiss could yet enter the season as favourite if he signs the paperwork with Double R, the lack of serious competition from many young stars could yet be a serious concern for the health of the championship. Right now 20 entries seems a long way off.
In the end, foreign talent and moves from Richardson, JHR Developments and Falcon Motorsport could determine the future of the Ford eco-boost era with under two months until the start of the season.