F4 British ChampionshipSeason Review

2015 MSA Formula Season Review: Norris’ Coming of Age

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For many fans, the British Formula Ford Championship was a staple of the year that would forever be a part of the calendar. While Formula Ford competition still exists in the UK and Ireland, the headline GB championship has since been replaced. The pedigree of its predecessor would mean that MSA Formula would have a hard task of living up to it, but that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The single-make Formula, which runs under the FIA’s global F4 concept, has been one that has really shown the emergence of future stars, going back to Formula Ford’s roots of being the drivers first step into car racing.

After a breathless opening year, it was Lando Norris who eventually emerged triumphant from a title battle that saw him make a comeback in the final few weekends, taking it down to the wire.

Lando Norris vs Ricky Collard

Many drivers dipped in and out of the championship fight, with some looking strong at various points of the year. Some would constantly hover, but by the end, it came down to a head-to-head battle between the seasons two emerging talents.

Going into the year as the pre-season favourite meant that Norris would have the pressure pushed on him from the start. He lived up to the expectations in the first round though, after qualifying towards the front, he had a strong race to work his way into the lead and put his name in the history books as the first MSA Formula race-winner.

Having also won race three, he seemed like the man to beat. However; a poor race two saw him lose valuable points and left the weekend fifth in the standings. As it happened, it was Ricky Collard who won the second race, starting a trend that continued throughout the season.

Norris continued to prove he had the speed, especially in qualifying. He took nine of a possible twenty poles and was almost always on the front row, while Collard failed to achieve it once. Despite this, Collard always appeared to have the race pace and was more used to working his way through the order.

Collard thrived on consistency, only finishing outside the top nine on one occasion, while Norris would fail to make the cut four times. With full points for all three races, Collard managed to hang on to the championship lead between the third and seventh meetings of the year.

He wasn’t the only driver who thrived on consistency though, with Sennan Fielding managing an impressive run of eleven races inside the top four during the middle part of the season, on his way to fourth overall.

However; an off in qualifying at Rockingham would prove to be Collard’s downfall. While he struggled up the order to claim a good race one result, going on to claim victory in race two, a double podium allowed Norris to take the points lead and build an advantage.

After both drivers fell victim to an unbelievable race at Silverstone, Norris finally brought home a strong result at Brands Hatch to claim the series title, while Collard ended his season with a cautious run to cement second place overall.

MSA Formula Norris vs Collard

Collard vs Norris. Both would prove their ability as they took the title to the final round (Credit: MSA Formula)

The International Battle

One of the few initiatives MSA Formula carried over from Formula Ford was the idea of a Nations Cup. With the help of fellow countryman Rafael Martins, Brazilian F3 runner-up Matheus Leist led Brazil in the early stages as they broke away from the pack.

Colton Herta, as the sole United States contender, fought back in a few races, but it seemed fruitless until the Croft weekend. With Herta collecting his second overall podium and at the time, a seasons best, he soon went on a streak of six Nation Cup wins.

As it turned out, Herta and Leist would continue to fight, not just each other, but the rest of the front runners as they represented two of the eventual six championship contenders. Despite a shaky start, Herta would eventually finish in third overall, while Leist’s good start to the season saw him cling on to fifth in the final standings.

The other two nations that had been represented were Romania and India, with Petru Florescu picking up a few Nation Cup wins to ensure Romania finished 140 points in front of their eastern rivals.

The other international drivers were Tarun Reddy and Ameya Vaidyanathan. Both of their seasons were fraught with trouble with neither making any serious contention for race wins. However; both would find their feet at Croft.

That weekend saw Reddy pick up his only podium of the season, incidentally also picking up India’s only Nations Cup win, while Ameya finished in an impressive twelfth place.

The final round proved to be quite intense for both the United States and Brazil. A good weekend from Martins allowed Brazil to stay in contention, but an overall win in the final race of the season saw Herta, and the United States, claim the Cup by a mere two points.

Rookie Battle

It wasn’t only the international battle that sparked interest over the season though. Being the first stage of motorsport for many aspiring drivers, MSA Formula represented a golden opportunity to establish their name. However; amongst the rookies this season, none will probably stand out more than Dan Ticktum.

Other Collard or Norris, Ticktum was the only other driver to lead the championship, sitting on top in the opening two rounds, however he fell away in the latter half of the season. This would lead to a altercation with Collard in the final Silverstone race.

Ticktum was able to continue but while the cars were neutralised behind the safety car, he appeared to cut the final corner in order to collect Collard, with both retiring. While that gave the title initiative to Norris, Ticktum was disqualified and ended up having 18 points taken away. After not racing in the final rounds, he fell to sixth overall.

This was an opportunity for Enaam Ahmed. Having joined as the Karting World Champion, he was under pressure to perform. While the start of his season was shaky, he eventually found his feet and without Ticktum, went to to collect four rookie victories in a row.

Over the course of the season he progressed from a midfield driver to front runner. This was shown in the final round when he won the second race of the weekend, collecting his first overall win and the rookie cup.

With Ticktum not racing, his only other rival going into the final round was Sandy Mitchell. While he also proved his talent towards the end of the season, Mitchell will be most remembered for his mastery of the Thruxton round, in which he took pole by almost a second.

He went on to dominate race one and three, with an excellent drive through the order to finish second in the middle race. While it wasn’t quite the triple victory he was hoping for, Mitchell scored more points in that weekend than any other driver did at any meeting this season.

He wasn’t the only rookie to shine in a particular event though, as Josh Smith collected an overall win at Croft, ensuring he finished the season with the unwanted record of being the lowest placed driver to have won a race. Daniel Baybutt meanwhile picked up his only podium at Thruxton, as well as the series’ first pole at Brands Hatch.

MSA Formula Colton Herta

After a tough start, Colton Herta (#10) would eventually emerge as best of the rest (Credit: MSA Formula)

Horses for Courses

Being in a single-make championship, the results often came down to driver ability more than the car, with different drivers being strong at various circuits or improving over the course of the year.

Unfortunately for James Pull, he proved himself to be strong at the start of the year before falling back. Having left the first round in second place, the 15 year old seemed an early contender. However; a poor middle of the season saw him switch from JTR to Fortec Motorsports in the closing rounds.

He eventually managed to hang on to tenth place overall. Although he may feel disheartened by the result, being as young as he is, there is every possibility he could return next year, maybe to launch a championship assault.

The same could also be said to a number of drivers who performed well at the end of the season. Having joined only at the halfway point, it would be hard for Toby Sowery to make an impression, yet despite his lack of testing, the MSV F3 Cup champion made inroads to the leaders pace.

He’ll regret losing his opportunity of a win after crashing into Norris in the final race at Silverstone, but still picked up a third and a number of fourth places, on his way to fourteenth in the championship.

MSA Formula saw two female drivers race during the season, with a further two taking part at various points in practice. Despite some tough weekends, Louise Richardson would come out on top amongst the girls, with a seasons best of third at Croft. Like many drivers, the results might come if she returned next year with many planning to do so.

In a year in which many young British drivers have proven their talent, it may be hard for the Racing Steps Foundation, to live up to their pre-season promise and select three drivers for a test and for potential future funding.

So, after 39 years of its predecessor, MSA Formula has set itself up for just as promising a future after a stunning opening season as the only single seater championship in the ToCA programme.

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