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The 6 Differences Between Karting and Formula Ford

If you are successful in karting and you are looking to take your motorsport career to the next level, you need to carefully consider your possible options. For many, Formula Ford is the best step to take out of karts and into the world of racing cars.

The 6 main differences between karting and Formula Ford are:

  1. Driving Dynamics
  2. Budget
  3. Competition
  4. Exposure
  5. Gear
  6. Teamwork

Formula Ford is an exceptional series for young talent to prove themselves. However, it also means that there is immense pressure on you to perform at your top level. Stepping up out of karts is never an easy task, but hopefully we can help you to prepare for that.

The 6 Main Differences Between Karting And Formula Ford

1. Driving Dynamics

The first difference between karting and Formula Ford might be an obvious one, but it is still important to discuss. Most young drivers have spent their early years in karting and move up into Formula Ford around the ages of 15 or 16. In this case, most new drivers have never driven a road car, and more specifically a manual transmission car.

Formula Ford cars feature a 6-speed racing gearbox which can either be a stick shift or a paddle shift depending on the make and model. This is a huge part of driving that youngsters need to get used to.

The racing gearbox has an extremely sensitive clutch which can be very difficult to get used to if you have never driven a manual transmission car before. Learning how to use it on your first day of testing can be a distraction from what you really need to learn in testing. It’s important to try and get some practice in using a clutch before you go in for your first Formula Ford test.

Then we get onto actually changing gears. It might look easy, but it does not come naturally at first, you need to think carefully about each gear shift when it’s your first time driving the car. You need to be in the correct gear for each corner, and you also need to nail your upshifts perfectly on the straights. Of course, the more you drive and the more you practice it the better you get at it.

Moving away from the gearbox side, you will also be in control of a much more powerful engine. You might be used to your Senior Max Rotax kart which produces around 32 horsepower. Formula Ford cars produce around 140 horsepower. Without traction control you will find the cars more difficult to control and you might find yourself spinning off the track every now and then.

Although Formula Ford cars are relatively small, they are still a lot bigger than your kart and much heavier as well. You can’t just throw a Formula Ford car around a circuit, especially if you have never driven one and you’re only just stepping out of a kart. Your first time in a Formula Ford car will feel strange and your spatial awareness might feel a bit off at first because of the larger and heavier vehicle. But as always, you will grow into it, and before you know it you will find your limits and know where you can improve.

Another big change will be in the braking zones. Of course, in karting you are used to braking late and braking hard. But the surprise in Formula Ford comes with the extra speed and added G-forces that you don’t experience in karting.

You’ll notice that the brakes feel a lot sharper and more responsive than what you experience in your kart. Your first trip into the biggest braking zone of the circuit will be a bit of a shock. As soon as you step on the brakes it will feel like your entire body is being pulled forward and out of the car. It’s an incredible feeling but you will need to get used it quickly if you want to be fast.

2. Budget

Money plays a huge role in the world of motorsport. This is one of the factors that holds back the young drivers and stops them from moving up to Formula Ford. The expenses of a Formula Ford series take a big step up from karting.

In karting you can spend anywhere between $5000 and $10,000 to go from nothing to owning your own kart, safety gear, tools and racing in a prestigious championship. However, when it comes to Formula Ford, $10,000 won’t get you very far.

$10,000 could maybe get you around 4 races with a Formula Ford team, all depending on what series they are racing in. Formula Ford becomes too expensive to go the same ‘privateer’ type route as karting. It’s highly unlikely that you will own your own Formula Ford car and be able to work on it and transport it yourself.

The most popular option when it comes to Formula Ford is to go with a team. This keeps your costs down and it takes a lot of pressure and stress off of you as the driver. All you need to do is turn up on the weekend and drive your car. No need to worry about transporting the car, preparing it, or repairing damage.

The costs of Formula Ford series vary greatly. You can find some lower tier series for around $30,000 – $ 50,000. However, if you want to go big and race in Formula Ford UK which is arguably the most prestigious Formula Ford series in the world, it’ll cost you around $80,000.

The biggest catch in budgets for Formula Ford is your crash damage. Most teams will take a deposit for crash damage, however most of the time this is for small damages such as wings and paint. If damage an engine or a gearbox, you could be paying in a lot more money.

You also need to factor in the fact that most Formula Ford series are travelling championships and therefore you will need to travel to the various races across the country. You will need to pay for your own travel and accommodation to racing events.

3. Competition

The level of competition normally takes a step up from karting to Formula Ford. You might have won a number of championships in karting, but it doesn’t mean that you’re going to do well in Formula Ford.

The same goes the other way around, you might have been decent in karting but have not yet win a championship, but in Formula Ford you might start winning. It’s a strange concept, but it is simply down to the fact that karts are not cars. The driving dynamics are so different that perhaps what made you quick in a kart is actually slowing you down in cars.

In a sense, you need to start fresh when you step up into Formula Ford cars, it’s a whole new learning curve and something completely different. Your first season should be all about learning from your competitors.

Your competitors will all differ in terms of age and experience levels. You might race against drivers who have numerous years of Formula Ford experience or some who are just moving up out of karts. Some will have won championships in karting or even in other racing series that feature cars.

You are going to face a lot of tough competition, as most of the time drivers in Formula Ford are looking for a career in motorsport and want to get their name out there in order for them to noticed. This makes the level of competition rather cutthroat and brutal.

The best way to overcome this is to look back on your past experience in karting and learn from how you beat your competition. You can also look at the current Formula Ford field and analyse each rival driver and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Try to compare and see where you can improve your own driving.

The level of competition will depend on which series you race in. If you are aiming for Formula Ford UK, you can expect to go up against some of the best up and coming drivers who are almost certainly going to be future F1 stars. If it’s a smaller series, then the level of competition might be slightly lower. At the end of the day the best drivers bottleneck into the most prestigious championships.

4. Exposure

Unless you raced in a hugely popular karting championship like the Under 18 World Championships of the US Super Nationals, you will find that there is a huge gap in the levels of exposure. Firstly, there will be actual spectators at the races and not just friends and families of the drivers.

Formula Ford offers great wheel to wheel racing and as such it often attracts tons of motorsports enthusiasts. On top of that, they often also feature as support races for bigger series like touring cars which attract an even bigger crowd.

This is all great because you have a lot more people watching your racing and more a chance to get noticed and build a fan base. It’s also a great way to attract some sponsors to help you out with your budget for the Formula Ford.

However, it also adds some pressure. You have a lot of eyes on your racing, and if the series is streamed onto TV then it’s an even bigger audience. Formula Ford is also a popular place for scouting. Many large racing teams will look to Formula Ford championships to identify the next big talent.

Many Formula Ford series offer prizes to the champions and runners up of their series. These prizes can sometimes be monetary (although it’s not that common). Mostly they offer test drives in bigger series such as Formula 4, Formula Renault or touring cars. They can also sometimes even offer a fully sponsored race seat for the following year.

It makes winning a lot more rewarding, but it’s also more punishing if you have a bad race or a crash. You can’t hide away from it like you can in karting. It’s important then to always be at your top level of performance and try to minimise mistakes.

5. Gear

If you bought all of your safety gear specifically for karting, you will need to get your shopping bags out again unfortunately. A big difference between karting and Formula Ford is in the actual safety gear used by the drivers.

Gear specifically suited to karting is CIK certified, however Formula Ford requires FIA level certification. Not only is there a difference in the level of protection, there’s also a difference in the prices involved.

There are also a few extras you will need to invest in which are not a requirement in most karting leagues. The first of these is a HANS device, which becomes essential with any series that features cars. Some Formula Ford series may also feature team radios, and you will need to invest in the right gear to accommodate for that.

6. Teamwork

Karting is often seen as a privateer kind of sport. Most drivers buy their own karts and equipment and do everything themselves. From transporting the karting, working on repairs and setups and even driving, it’s very much a sport that you can do all by yourself.

The only exception to this is if you have friends or family helping you out in various ways either by working on the mechanical side or providing you with food and drinks on race day. Of course, there are also karting teams when you when you get into bigger leagues like the Super Nats or the World Championships.

Formula Ford on the other hand is very different in that a team is somewhat essential. You might still find one or two drivers who work on the cars themselves, but for the most part you will be working as team.

The challenge for drivers coming out of karting is becoming a part of that team. You’re not just turning up on race day and driving the car, you are now one cog in the gears that drive the team to success.

This means that you need to clearly communicate to your mechanic what you want to change on the car. You might need to help out here and there with various smaller tasks around the team as well. This one is usually not necessary but it’s always nice to see a racing driver cleaning and polishing their own car rather than a team member.

You also need to be careful about what you say to the media after a race weekend. You need to remember that there is a team behind you and success is not only down to the driver (unlike in most cases with karting). Remember to appreciate your team, work with them and show them some love!

Final Thoughts

Formula Ford is a huge step up from karting. There’s a big difference between the driving requirements when it comes to moving up from cars. There’s a lot more pressure on you and a lot more media attention. Teamwork becomes a vital part of racing in Formula Ford, and it’s imperative that you focus on helping your team wherever you can.