2024 finally sees the return of a relevant slicks and wings single seater formula to the local racing calendar. This is a very welcome development in my view.
After the debacle of the last attempt at sustaining an F4 championship here, it's essential that this new initiative works well. For five years, CAMS, as it was then, managed to make a mess of running F4 for a variety of reasons, most of which were highlighted to them before they ever started.
That lack of a sustainable platform ultimately cost the CAMS membership (because we all pay for mistakes through our licence fees) a great deal of money.
Now, with that episode firmly behind us, a new era can hopefully start.
Top Speed, an established motorsports promotion business based in Shanghai, has taken the initiative to dispatch its existing fleet of F4 cars to Australia. These cars are currently in the Middle East for the UAE F4 Championship. And that's a key to making this all work, as the cars get a reasonable amount of utilisation across several championships which helps ensure that costs stack up.
Whilst Top Speed owns the cars themselves, they will be giving them to local teams to actually run here, as they do in the UAE. And that makes sense as it allows local drivers to work with local teams, some of which they might already have relationships with through karting or Formula Ford.
When I was first told about the potential return of F4, there was a proposal to visit just two circuits. The final plan, with races at The Bend, Sydney Motorsport Park and Queensland Raceway with a finale at Sepang in Malaysia makes much more sense to me.
In this day and age, we have all grown to accept the halo as being a very necessary part of the safety package of any modern single seater. I don't think any parent really wants to see their teenage son or daughter racing without a halo anymore. Hence, the Top Speed-owned fleet of Tatuus Gen2 chassis represent current best practice in the F4 sector and come with not only halos, but also an extractable seat plus front, rear, and side crash boxes.
From what I've seen and heard, these Tatuus cars are also much better constructed than the old chassis used here previously that were sourced elsewhere.
Another big change from the previous generation of F4 cars used in Australia is the use of the Abarth engine instead of the Ford unit. This Italian engine has become the prevalent power unit across the majority of F4 championships around the world, for good reason.
This all means that youngsters stepping up into F4 in Australia will probably be using the same equipment that they're likely to encounter if and when they venture overseas and compete in other F4 series. It's no different from karting in that respect.
So, we'll have a good calendar, with an excellent amount of track time at each event, very good equipment plus the benefit of local teams running the cars. But why should young competitors enter this category instead of immediately heading off overseas, as so many have done in recent years?
For me, it's simple. There's a huge difference in cost and time between competing in the new Australian Championship and going to, for instance, a European series. Whilst, in the end a young driver may very well end up over there, he or she can get a feel for the same car in a local environment without breaking the bank.
Perhaps a season of Australian F4 will demonstrate to some competitors that, however much they may have achieved in Karting, it's time to move on and get a life outside the sport. They'll have done that without spending a fortune.
Conversely, there'll be those who thrive in the step up to single seaters and use the local F4 scene as a rung on the ladder whilst demonstrating enough talent to get backing (be it from the bank of Mum and Dad or elsewhere) to continue to bigger things.
I understand that a season of F4 here will not cost a lot more than many are spending per year on high level Karting in Australia, let alone overseas. Moreover, costs should be kept well and truly under control, given the circuits that the Championship will visit. No unnecessary street circuits and decent run-off areas help a great deal.
To cap it all, the Championship will carry identical status to every other national F4 series in terms of FIA Superlicence points. Someone making a success of this here plus, for instance, a good run a few months later in the New Zealand TRS Regional gig, could bag a decent sack full of points before heading to Europe thereafter.
Let me be absolutely clear. I have absolutely no links to, and certainly no financial interest in, this new Championship. But I believe that, with no other relevant (for up and coming, predominantly teenage, drivers) slicks and wings category in Australia these days, the new F4 initiative really does represent an opportunity to provide a great platform for new talent to be showcased.
State of the art safety, very reasonable costs and Superlicence points; what's not to like for the parents looking for somewhere to let young Joanna or Johnny show whether they've got what it takes to justify the next level of investment?
With Karting here seemingly thriving as much as ever, there's got to be one more rung on the local ladder before the overseas adventure needs to start for those seeking a single seater future. The new Australian F4 Championship is that rung.
I hope it succeeds and that it is given the support it deserves from the wider motorsports community.