2017 International Formula 4 Season Reviews


Credit: ACI Sport

The last three years has seen the Formula 4 category grow into a successful project for the FIA with a global reach as large as Formula Ford in its heyday. 2017 proved to be the first year in which an F4 champion made the jump to F1 as Lance Stroll recorded a podium and 40 points for the Williams Martini Racing team.

The Checkered Flag has already reviewed the major FIA F4 series from Europe, including the British and German championships as well as the FFSA-run French F4 series that will officially become an FIA series next year, adapting the Mygale M14-F4 chassis.

The aim of the category though was to cultivate talent from across globe, so TCF looks at the smaller FIA F4 championships and the stars of tomorrow.

Italian F4 Championship

Rule changes in the Italian series this year ultimately allowed the title fight to go to the final round, with Marcus Armstrong holding off the Dutch driver Job Van Uitert to claim the crown in Monza. Both men were more than experienced, as Van Uitert will ultimately be disappointed after coming fourth last year, while Armstrong impressed his Ferrari bosses.

Armstrong was aiming to do what Mick Schumacher had failed last year (the double German and Italian crown,) and while he might have failed in the sister championship, has more than proven himself as he looks on course to move to FIA F3 next season.

Elsewhere, BhaiTech‘s domination in the opening round did not last with Sebastian Fernandez, who won the first three races, finishing fourth overall behind teammate Lorenzo Colombo, the highest placed native. Top rookie went to the final BhaiTech driver as Leonardo Lorandi made an impressive step into one of the most competitive international F4’s in the world.

The series has seen decreasing interest though. From an oversubscribed grid in the past two years to just 19 drivers at the final round, with only 5 teams keeping at least one driver for all rounds (one of which being the one-driver team that got Artem Petrov to fifth), shows that it’s harder for smaller outfits to survive in the FIA’s current series layout.

Marcus Armstrong (#9) admires his achievement after securing the title in Monza. (Credit: ACI Sport)

SMP F4 NEZ Championship

For the second year in a row, the winner of the SMP and Spanish championships proved to be the same driver, with Danish Karting graduate Christian Lundgaard going on to dominate the NEZ series. He faced stern competition in the opening half from Xavier Lloveras with the pair on par at the midway stage.

Lloveras though abandoned the series to end the year with AVF in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. His lack of points and struggle against his teammates proved that the move came too early, with Lundgaard winning three of the remaining six races.

Unlike the other F4 series though, NEZ has seen an increase in popularity and the Spaniard’s choice denied him Super Points. Lundgaard would eventually win 10 of the 21 races after dominating the summer.

Elsewhere, the champions MP Motorsport teammate, Bent Viscaal took second by a single point after a strong final round saw him leap in front of Aleksandr Smolyar and triple race winner Tuomas Haapalainen who was more than Lundgaard’s equal at the Moscow Raceway.

Nikita Volegov and Juuso Puhakka both started the season strong, but fell back in the latter half, finishing fifth and seventh respectively between Lloveras who missed six races in total.

F4 Spanish Championship

It was a similar story in the Iberian peninsular with Christian Lundgaard once again taking the title. The result means he ends his first year of single-seaters with 24 Super Licence points, but his success was far less assured as Smolyar pushed him to the final race.

Smolyar had sacrificed his SMP title aspirations for a Spanish tilt, even winning six out of seven races in the middle of the year as part of a twelve race podium streak.

Lundgaard had collected maximum points in the opening round though and consistent podium finishes saw the pair go head-to-head at Estoril. A disappointing final race from the Russian and win for Lundgaard was enough to deny Smolyar, while Viscaal’s end of year form saw him take an easy third.

Volegov proved to be best of the rest in fourth, with no-one outside of the top three winning a race. Despite missing the opening round Javier Gonzalez would still take fifth overall.

Renault Junior Christian Lundgaard secured both the NEZ and Spanish titles in 2017. (Credit: SMP F4 NEZ)

Formula 4 United States Championship

From a low-key start in 2016, the US series exploded in popularity under SCCA with last years third place driver Kyle Kirkwood taking an unrivalled title run. His final total of 345 was over double his nearest rival Raphael Forcier on 162.

While Kirkwood’s six-win streak and regular podium finishes put him in a class of his own, the rest of the grid saw some of the most competitive racing of the year with 29 drivers of the 46 who raced, scoring points.

His main competition came from early championship leader Timo Reger, but the young Asian-American would fail to score points after the third round. In fact, consistency was so rare, that Dakota Dickerson, Kirkwood’s old Team USA Scholarship companion, finished the year third despite missing three rounds and failing to win a race, due to never finishing outside the top six.

He wasn’t the only one, with Brandon Eves, who entered 8 of the 20 races recorded sixth overall (one above Reger) after never finishing a race outside of the top four. Eves and Dickerson proved to be Kirkwood’s only true equals with Benjamin Pedersen‘s strong performance at the F1 support event seeing him collect fourth overall ahead of Jordan Sherratt.

The year also saw Brendon Leitch, Baltazar Leguizamón and Skylar Robinson round out the top ten with one win a piece. Leguizamón has also been announced as the first driver for the new F3 Americas Championship that has facilitated the rise of its counterpart F4 series.

Kyle Kirkwood (Pictured at the Formula Ford Festival) took nine wins on his way to the F4 US crown, triple more than any other competitor. (Credit: JAM Photography)

F4 Japanese Championship

Often the forgotten of the major F4 series, Japan continues to prove itself as one of the most popular single-seater categories in the world with 48 drivers competing over the year. Ritomo Miyata would successfully defend his title after coming from behind Ukyo Sasahara in the closing round.

The FIA decided not to implement their rule that all FIA F4 champions could not return to their respective series, as Sasahara made the step down the ladder after a successful Formula Renault campaign in 2015.

The Honda FDP team had planned to be a perfect opportunity for Sasahara to claim an easy title, holding off TOM’S Spirit‘s Miyata until the final round in Suzuka when two fifth places dropped him behind the 19-year-old who also recorded fourth in the All-Japan F3 Series and 12th in the Macau GP.

After a one-off appearance in 2016, Yuki Tsunoda made his full-time debut and was an outside title threat. He finished third, behind teammate Sasahara and in front of Toshiki Oyu who dropped a place from last years standings.

The field seemed very split between the first four and the rest, though the fourth Honda driver; Takuya Otaki picked up a single win as best of the rest. Elsewhere, Teppei Natori was the highest placed rookie in thirteenth after entering just two rounds.

Ritomo Miyata (#1) narrowly defended his title from Ukyo Sasahara (#6) and Yuki Tsunoda (#8) (Credit: F4 Japan)

Australian F4 Championship

At least 12 drivers were regular throughout the year, with the exception of Queensland, showing a steady rise in popularity of the series, with Nick Rowe securing the title on his third attempt.

Kiwi Liam Lawson had started the season as the man to beat, but a poor round at Philip Island put Rowe in front by a single point as the championship entered its summer break. This was all the momentum Rowe needed, taking the title by 78 points, not finishing off the podium in the second-half.

Lawson ended the year slightly off the pace as he focused on winning the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship but still took the runner-up spot from Cameron Sheilds, while Ryan Suhle was top rookie ahead of fifth placed Tyler Everingham.

Chinese F4 Championship

After a few guest appearances last year, 2017 proved to be the year of Charles Leong in China, collecting the F4 and Asian Formula Renault titles with Black Arts Racing. In F4 he collected full points in 12 of the 15 races he finished, skipping the final round.

Teammate Yves Volte missed two rounds, but proved himself to be his number two, finishing fourth overall with 11 podium finishes. In the end only three drivers competed in every round as “Billy” Zheng Jiannian narrowly took the runners-up spot from Lin Taian, while Tai Yi secured a lonely fifth in the standings.

One-off appearances from Zheng Shangguan, Josh Burdon and former champion Julio Acosta increased the number of winners, but with cheaper regional alternatives, Chinese F4 will struggle to attract the numbers.

Nick Rowe (#97) broke away from Liam Lawson (#30) to claim the 2017 crown. (Credit: Dan Thompson / Australian F4 / CAMS)

NACAM Formula 4 Championship

In Mexico, the winter series format saw another season end in June with Guyana’s Calvin Ming taking the title from the older Jose Sierra. The Mexican, who was runner-up in 2014-15, was favourite to win going into the season, making a strong start, but Ming proved to have the edge in the new year with eight wins in total. He now enters the Toyota Racing Series for the start of 2018.

Alexis Carreño took third despite late pressure from Moisés de la Vara, as Luis Alfonso Pérez missed three events, but still came home in fifth due to early season form. Top rookie would eventually go to Manuel Sulaimán in sixth after juggling a mediocre campaign in British F4.

Now in his third season, de la Vara has started out as the man to beat in 2017-18, winning three of the seven races so far.

Formula 4 South East Asian Championship

While Mexico and SEA might be separated by 1000’s of miles, both have made use of the Mygale chassis, take place over the winter and have struggled for driver numbers.

The opening round of their inaugural season saw Danial Frost and Jordan Love dominate proceedings, but with Frost missing the second round and Love competing in just one more event, they fell to fourth and sixth respectively. This left the door open for Presley Martono to take the glory.

Kiwi Faine Kahia had made a strong start, but Martono’s run of wins in early 2017 put him in position to win the title, after Kahia’s dropped score. The Indonesian champion has gone on to race in Formula Renault 2.0 this year. Meanwhile Akash Gowda took third as a late run of podiums in the final round saw Isyraf Danish leap back ahead of Love for fifth.

The 2017-18 season has already gained attention, as a management error, likely due to lack of qualified officials, saw no drivers finish the third race when all cars ran out of fuel. Daniel Cao leads the standings.

Presley Martono picked up 10 wins to beat Faine Kahia after dropped points. (Credit: Peter Thompson / Asian Autosport Action)

Formula 4 UAE Championship

A series running in a region with little racing heritage was always going to be difficult and the UAE is full proof that all F4’s are not equal. Jonathan Aberdein who won the 2016-17 series winning all but four of the races, would only finish ninth in the German series without any wins.

Aberdein and Logan Sargeant‘s run of 1-2’s proved the extent that the European and American field were above the local talent, with Ahmad Al Muhannadi finishing fifth overall, but failing to score a podium. Brit Sean Babington proved his ability against higher funded teams by taking a solid third ahead of Oscar Piastri who missed two rounds.

Perennial stalwart Charles Weerts who appeared in the final three events of last season current leads the way after a round of the 2017-18 championship.

Danish F4 Championship

The newest addition to the F4 package came in Denmark. The series opted for a Mygale and Renault combination and it was perhaps this choice that saw numbers struggle in the opening year where Daniel Lundgaard, brother of SMP champion Christian, took the title.

With Lundgaard’s main rival Frederik Vesti skipping two rounds to compete in the ADAC series he sailed home to take the title as part of his fathers, Henrik Lundgaard (former Rally champion) team. Meanwhile Jan Magnussen‘s prodigy Christian Rasmussen, finished the year third.

Most damning though was the addition of adapted Formula Ford cars (called Formel 5) to the field. F5 cars would start the race delayed, but the similarity of pace could yet prove to be damning with F5’s setting pole position in three of the seven events and fastest lap in ten of the 21 races. Aske Nygaard Bramming won the title despite Casper Tobias Hansen‘s nine race win streak in the first half.

Jonathan Aberdein (#21) won the first 11 races back to back, with teammate Logan Sargeant (#23) finishing runner-up. (Credit: F4 UAE)

Non-FIA Series

Formula 4 may be growing its influence in most corners of the world, but the FIA’s first rejected F4 series faded out this year, with F4 Sudamericana failing to get past the pre-season testing phase.

Individual driver tests kept hope of a 2018 return on the cards, though with a lack of interest the series may have come to an end after only three season. Hope remains for 2019 though, with Brazilian organisations in talks with Mygale.

Sticking with South America, the Argentinian-based Formula Metroplitana (Formula 4 Argentina) saw a three-way fight for the title, where Lucas Rossonanno came away with the crown. In its compatriot ex-Formula Renault 1.6 series; Formula STCC, 19-year-old Hugo Nermann dominated the opening half to cruise to the title.

Finally in Japan, the longest running ‘Formula 4’ series, run by the JAF, saw Yuki Tsunoda win the East championship, to add onto his third place in the FIA series, while the experienced Keisuke Ohara picked up the title in the West.

Recent news of Marko Koiranen establishing an F4 series in Finland may prove controversial with SMP F4, but make use of a change in rules to allow multiple F4’s to run in the same country. Despite this, new F4’s are unlikely until the end of the current homologation period, now extended to 2023.

The French FFSA series decision to switch to FIA regulations just a year after adapting a new car will leave many scratching their heads, as will the decision to run a Mygale in contrast to their rivals, though time will tell whether it was a good decision for the series as FIA F4 continues its onward bid.

Despite the previous two champions making it to Europe, F4 Sudamericana failed to run in 2017. (Credit: F4 Sudamericana)

Edit: Australian F4 dropped below 12 drivers for one round. Article has been changed to reflect this.