Five Red Bull cars side by side in a collage: Arvid Lindblad, Sebastián Montoya, Isack Hadjar, Jehan Daruvala, Max Verstappen

From F4 to F1: The feeder series ladder explained

In the previous decade, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has made continuous efforts to create a clear path for young drivers to go to F1. However, despite the launch of this FIA Global Pathway, there are still many possibilities for upcoming talents to climb to the top, which explains why there are so many different junior single-seater categories. Feeder Series guides you through all the different championships.

By Perceval Wolff

Ten years ago, discovering European feeder series was not an easy task. There was GP2, Formula Renault 3.5, GP3, European F3, European F3 Open, Formula Renault Eurocup 2.0 and even an FIA Formula Two Championship at the level of an F3 series. In 2023, things have drastically changed, at both ends of the feeder series pyramid.

Formula 4: The entry to single-seaters

A lot of different national F4 series exist, and a large number of them are supported by FIA. Drivers need to be at least 15 years old to race in F4. Formula 4 is the first step of the feeder series ladder, and often comes after several years of national and international karting experience.

The most prestigious and competitive F4 championship is presently the Italian one. The promoters of Italian F4, WSK Promotion, are also the promoters of the biggest international karting events. Italy is the home of karting, and to start racing single-seaters in Italy seems the most logical option for the biggest karting talents.

Italian F4 at Monza in 2022 | Credit: Italian F4

Spanish F4 is a championship that has been rising in reputation over the last few years. Usually considered “fairer” compared with Italian F4 because of the limitation of private testing outside race weekends, the Iberian series is starting to rival its Italian counterpart in grid quality.

British F4 has also been on a high recently as more and more drivers seem willing to join the series. Great Britain even has two F4–level series. British F4 is the FIA–supported one with the latest-generation F4 cars. The GB4 Championship, founded in 2022, uses first-generation F4 machinery, which helps make it cheaper than British F4.

Unlike other European F4 series, French F4 is a very atypical series that uses a centralised model and no teams. All cars are prepared by the Fédération Française du Sport Automobile (FFSA), which helps viewers see the real differences between drivers. This is considered the cheapest high-quality F4 series.

A brand new all-female series will also be launching this year. F1 Academy will be welcoming 15 female talents who will be driving for five teams also engaged in F2 and F3. The objective of the series is to create an easier path for young girls after karting, making the best drivers eventually able to battle with other drivers in FRECA, FIA F3, and beyond.

Other F4 series also take place all over the world in Japan, Brazil, China, the United States, Mexico, Denmark (where it is open to 14-year-old drivers), Central Europe, and Scandinavia.

Formula Regional: The emerging category

In 2018, FIA launched the Formula 3 Regional category, which was then renamed Formula Regional in 2019 to avoid confusion with FIA F3. This has forced many championship name changes, such as for Asian and British F3, which became Formula Regional Asia and GB3 Championship. The cars used are less powerful than FIA F3 machines. As in FIA F3, drivers need to be at least 16 years old to compete in these categories.

The main Formula Regional series is FRECA (Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine), created in 2021 from a merger between the Formula Regional European Championship and Formula Renault Eurocup. In only two years, the series has established itself as the standard stepping stone between F3 and F4 and thus as the junior single-seater championship below F2 and F3 with the most competitive grid. FRECA is the series supported by FIA and is thus more generous in Super License points compared to its rivals at a similar level. Unlike F2 and F3, all 10 rounds take place in different places than F1 grands prix.

FRECA at Monza in 2022 | Credit: Klaas Norg / Dutch Photo Agency

However, despite the lack of support from the FIA, other series try to coexist with FRECA. The most exciting one could well be Eurocup-3, which will hold its maiden season this year. Created by several Spanish F4 teams, this new series will use the same car as in FRECA but with a different aerodynamic kit and a different engine. Half of the rounds will take place in Spain, while the other half will be on several European F1 tracks. Some prestigious teams are already joining (or rumoured to join), but the level is expected to be lower than FRECA as a new series is a riskier bet for competitors. Only time will tell if Eurocup-3 can be a credible rival of FRECA in the future.

Across the English Channel, GB3 is the top tier of British feeder series. Most British young drivers prefer to follow the British path, before moving over to mainland Europe in FIA F3. The cars in GB3 don’t adhere the Formula Regional regulations.

Though Euroformula Open has only used its present name since 2014, it traces its roots back to the creation of Spanish F3 in 2001. However, the series seems to be declining year after year, with fewer drivers and teams engaged and the grid struggling to get 10 entries at certain rounds in 2022. Euroformula Open is one of the last junior categories with multiple engine manufacturers.

Euroformula Open at Monza in 2022. Six cars pictured.
Euroformula Open at Monza in 2022 | Credit: Euroformula Open

Away from Europe and the conventional F1 route, Formula Regional series also exist in the Middle East, Japan, America, and Oceania, with Indian and Asian championships said to be taking place later this year.

It should also be noted that differently from F2 and F3, some drivers skip this category and go directly from F4 to FIA F3 even though it is not the recommended path. A select number of drivers have found success in F3 despite not doing Formula Regional, among them 2020 F3 runner-up Théo Pourchaire and 2022 third-place finisher Ollie Bearman.

Formula 2, Formula 3: The world stage

Managed by the same entity, Formula Motorsport Limited, F2 and F3 run alongside a select number of F1 events. This is very helpful for young drivers as many F1 drivers and team bosses watch the support races and can easily notice the most impressive performances. With 14 F2 rounds and 10 F3 rounds, the teams don’t travel as much as F1, in which there are 23 grands prix organised this year.

Formerly called GP3 Series, the F1-supported series has renamed to FIA Formula 3 in 2019. And as F2 keeps on delivering F1 drivers, FIA F3 has quickly established itself as the third highest step of the feeder series ladder, with no less than 10 2022 F3 drivers promoted to F2 this year.

After GP2 Series’ rebranding in 2017, F2 has become the sole feeder series immediately below F1. Except for reigning F2 champion Felipe Drugovich, all F2 tile winners have graduated to F1, even if it took three years for 2019 champion Nyck de Vries to be on the grid.

It is now considered nonstandard for young hopefuls to go to F1 without going through F2 before. Pietro Fittipaldi, who raced in two F1 grands prix in 2020, is the most recent F1 driver who did not go through GP2 or F2, and the only realistic hope of another driver coming from a non-European feeder series background is multiple IndyCar race winner Colton Herta.

Monza 2022
Formula 2 at Monza in 2021 | Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

F2 and FIA F3 are often considered as the “most professional” feeder series as the teams all operate like small F1 teams. Of course, these are by far the most expensive junior formulae, and they are the only feeder series to compete on several continents, even if most of the races take place in Europe. The goal of creating a world championship as in motorcycle racing could be a long-term objective for F2 and F3. These series could emulate Moto2 and Moto3, which are present at every MotoGP event.

Winter series: Good preparation for the main season

From January to February, most of the competitions stop as winter conditions in Europe don’t allow for good racing. However, this is not the case in Middle East or in Oceania, which host several championships during the winter. These help feeder series drivers stay fit, prepare for their main season, and get comfortable with the car or team with which they will race later in the year.

F2 and F3 don’t have any equivalent winter series, but Formula Regional has two winter series, one in the Middle East (FRMEC) and one in New Zealand (FROC). The former was probably the most competitive this year, as the latter is recovering after two years without welcoming any foreign drivers because of COVID restrictions. These series most commonly welcome drivers preparing for FRECA campaigns, but some F2 and FIA F3 drivers kicked off their 2023 campaigns with FRMEC.

FRMEC at Dubai in 2023 | Credit: FRMEC

Until February, F4 only had a single winter series in the United Arab Emirates, but things have recently changed with the launch of the Formula Winter Series, a new winter series in Spain.

All these series can lead to F1 at the end of the day, but also to the World Endurance Championship, any of the GT series worldwide, the Formula E World Championship, or even IndyCar in the United States and Super Formula in Japan. These two single-seater series have also developed their own feeder series. IndyCar has IndyNXT (formerly known as Indy Lights), USF Pro 2000, USF2000 and USF Juniors, while Super Formula has Super Formula Lights (formerly called Japanese F3) and Japanese F4 before that.

Header photo credit: Diederik van der Laan, Dutch Photo Agency (F4 and Formula Regional); Sebastiaan Rozendaal, Dutch Photo Agency (F3 and F2); Collage by Feeder Series


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s