It may have experienced a few highs and lows over the years, but for almost half a century Formula Ford has remained one of the most beneficial places to start a single-seater career. And it is easy to see why.
It has, for the most part, remained relatively inexpensive to compete in and is a well-recognised championship that has helped many a driver in their quest to reach Formula 1. A long-running joke being that it is easier to name drivers who haven’t competed in Formula Ford before reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
Formula Ford also offers plenty of scope to alter car set-up and it is well known to teach drivers this invaluable skill. Ride height, dampers, anti-roll bars, suspension geometry, roll centre height, springs… You name it, they can adjust it. The only thing they can’t do is give the cars more wing – because there aren’t any.
But that may soon change as plans are afoot to turn Formula Ford into a slicks-and-wings category from next year. Word has it that Ford is currently in the process of evaluating an update to their EcoBoost-powered chassis, with leading teams coming out in support of a more aero-dependent championship. It therefore looks like Formula Ford’s wingless days are numbered.
With meagre grid numbers this season – topping 20 on only one occasion, thanks to an influx of Dutch drivers at Brands Hatch last weekend – it is clear that the new EcoBoost chassis has failed to revitalise the championship as was envisaged. The only thing that has increased is the annual budget, to the tune of £35,000, which, in the current economic climate is most unwelcome.
Little wonder then that Ford are striving to make the category more attractive with the introduction of wings. As it is, teams are having trouble convincing young karters to look at Formula Ford as a serious alternative to other categories out there, and as one team boss put it: “Ford has an image problem currently and fitting wings will solve that”.
Will it? I’m not entirely sure. But one thing I can almost be certain of is that if Formula Ford does go down the aero route it risks becoming lost in the myriad of other single-seater series that litter the lower echelons of motor racing.
As previously mentioned, it is the perfect formula for any aspiring drivers to learn in thanks to its emphasis on car set-up. Another major benefit is that it provides them with the only real opportunity in their careers to master the art of mechanical grip, which will be of significant importance in the development of any driver with F1 ambitions.
The reliance on mechanical grip also means that no car is disadvantaged because of aerodynamics, and therefore, it promotes ultra-close racing which spectators adore and drivers appreciate as it helps improve their racecraft.
Add wings into the mix and there is every possibility of not only diluting the quality of racing on display, but also muddling drivers who become lost when it comes to setting up their vehicles, failing to distinguish the differences between aero and mechanical grip.
So, if the introduction of wings isn’t such a good idea, what else should Ford consider to reverse its championship’s fortunes?
Well, firstly they should chase after the vacant spot on the BTCC support package following the recent demise of Formula Renault UK. With ample television airtime it would make it a damn sight easier for competitors to acquire sponsorship and the necessary funds in which to go racing.
Secondly, they ought to consider introducing a monetary prize for the championship winner. Doing so would attract young talent to the championship by giving them an added incentive to compete in it.
And let us not forget that it is down to the likes of last year’s winner Scott Malvern to prove that Formula Ford is still able to produce drivers of a high calibre. Their future success can only heighten its reputation, but as we all know, motorsport is driven by money which, in these economically lean times, is difficult to come by.
There we go. Formula Ford’s problems sorted in less than 700 words.
Next week: world hunger.