Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, but in order to get there, drivers need to go through the motorsport ladder to ensure that they are ready to embark on their journey as a Formula 1 driver. This may leave you wondering about the differences between F1, F2 and F3 racing.
F1 is the top of the formula racing ladder. Formula 2 and Formula 3 are the junior categories that funnel young drivers into F1. F2 and F3 cars are smaller and slower, but the basic handling principles and racing techniques are similar to F1, which makes them the ideal proving grounds for drivers.
Formula 2 and Formula 3 have recently become the ideal path to Formula 1. In the past, there were several other paths that young drivers could take, but now the direct route is by far the best. Below, we cover in detail how formula races work and the differences between them.
What Is Formula Racing?
Formula racing is a category of racing that involves cars that have open cockpits and open wheels. It’s also commonly referred to as open-wheel racing. Formula racing refers to everything from F1 and IndyCar, down through the junior categories such as Formula Renault, Formula Ford, and F4.
Formula racing has been around for decades, and it has evolved drastically over the years. Series that we know and love today, such as Formula 2 and Formula 3, have been around since the 1970s, although they flew very much under the radar back then compared to how popular they have become in today’s world.
Formula racing even extends to the US too, and it’s not strictly a European racing category. IndyCar is the pinnacle of formula racing in the US, with the likes of Indy Lights and Formula 2000 making up the junior ladder for the IndyCar series.
Even further still, formula racing can be found in some format in a bunch of different countries around the world. Australia uses Formula Vee, and other variants of this, such as Formula VW and Formula BMW, can be found in many other countries and continents around the globe. We’re going to go over the most popular junior formula series below (these are considered the steps before F3).
For much of the 2000s and the 2010s, Formula Renault was the go-to stepping stone that took young drivers from karting into cars. These cars were the perfect step up for many drivers, featuring a 2.0 liter Renault engine that produces around 210 horsepower.
Despite the relatively small engine, the cars weigh next to nothing, which gives the driver a true sense of power and speed, especially when it’s a young 14-year-old driver taking the step up from karting. It’s a great platform because the car features a six-speed sequential gearbox that teaches the fundamentals of shifting gears.
The car also has wings, and although it doesn’t produce quite as much downforce as you would find in a Formula 3 car, it has enough to give the driver the confidence to push their car while cornering. This allows for higher cornering speeds which are where formula racing truly stands out from other racing series.
Formula Renault took it a step further by running the Formula Renault 3.5 World Series. The cars had mighty V8 engines and paddle-shift gearboxes that performed similarly to those in Formula 1 cars. The series produced many F1 talents, such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, and Carlos Sainz. However, the series folded in 2017.
Formula Ford is perhaps the oldest form of junior formula racing to act as a stepping stone for young drivers. Formula Ford UK is notoriously tough, and any driver who wins the series is a serious talent. Drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Kimi Raikkonen, and Jenson Button were all winners in this series.
However, Formula Ford comes in many different variations. While the cars remain the same, you can find Formula Ford all over the world, from the UK to South Africa, to Brazil and Australia. Formula Ford is a series that you’ll most likely see as the main single-seater category in most countries.
The reason for this is because the cars are incredibly simple and easy to maintain, and the series is also relatively cheap to compete in (depending on the country). This makes it by far the most attractive step for young karters looking to move into single-seater racing.
Modern Formula Ford cars have a 1.6 liter engine that is capable of producing 180 horsepower. The Formula Ford series was the rival (or equivalent) of Formula Renault 2.0, and many drivers chose between the two or competed in both if they had the budget.
Formula racing is not uncommon in the Americas either. However, the American version of junior single-seaters looks slightly different from what the Europeans are used to. In America, Formula 2000 has been the series of choice for young drivers looking to break into the ranks of IndyCar hopefuls.
The official Formula 2000 series travels all around the US to all of the top circuits. From historical race tracks to massive icons such as the Indianapolis Speedway, the series has been known to be extremely competitive, with some European drivers also giving it a try.
Formula 2000 cars are built on the chassis of a Formula Ford car, so while they might not look the same, they are essentially identical under the skin. The bodywork and wings look slightly different, with Formula 2000 taking on a more aggressive and aerodynamic shape.
The engine, though, is a 1.6 liter Dodge engine that is capable of producing 150 horsepower. This means that it is slightly down on power compared to its European counterparts, but it makes up for that with better aerodynamics and faster cornering capabilities.
Formula 4 is the new kid on the block when it comes to Formula racing. The series was first launched in 2014, so it has none of the history that you’ll find in any of the series above. However, the aim of the series was to become the perfect stepping stone for young karting drivers.
The cars are perfectly balanced, having somewhat of a karting feel that gives young drivers confidence, but it’s “big” enough to still get drivers prepared for the cars that they could be driving in the future. The series quickly exploded in popularity, and there are now several Formula 4 championships all around the world.
The series has taken over, and it’s become the go-to step for young karting drivers to take if they want to experience cars for the first time. The wings and aerodynamics of the cars mean that drivers will get the feel of racing a single-seater race car.
Formula 4 cars have different engines depending on the region they are in. However, most of them use the same chassis and similar engine size. Formula 4 cars use 2.0 liter engines that produce 160 horsepower. With paddle-shift gearboxes, drivers no longer need to use a shift lever. Instead, they’re learning how to use paddle-shift cars earlier in their careers.
Formula E is not a junior formula series. However, it still falls under the formula racing category due to the open-wheel and open cockpit nature of the cars. Formula E can be considered the pinnacle of electric racing, but it could still be a stepping stone into Formula 1.
A brand new all-electric formula racing junior series was introduced in 2022, known as ERA. ERA is set to become to Formula E what Formula 4 is to Formula 1. Essentially, it’s going to become the place where young karting drivers go if they want to pursue a career in driving electric cars rather than cars with combustion engines.
It’s entirely possible for drivers to switch between the two. However, there is now a clear separate pathway forming into electric racing. From electric kart to an electric junior formula series, and of course Formula E at the pinnacle, it’s clear that the electric side of motorsport is breaking away from the combustion engines.
The ERA series launched in 2022, but the cars are essentially identical to Formula 4 cars in terms of shape and power. It’s an exciting series for young drivers to participate in, especially considering the fact that the budget requirements are lower than those of the traditional combustion engine formula racing series.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 – The Cars
The first difference that you will notice when it comes to Formula 1, Formula 2, and Formula 3 cars is their shape and size. Formula 3 cars are by far the smallest, and their shapes are closer to Formula Renault cars than they are to Formula 1 cars. F3 cars are meant for younger drivers with less experience in cars, so it’s a good introduction.
Formula 3 cars are the smallest and lightest of the three different categories. Formula 2 cars are slightly bigger and quite a lot heavier. The size of the cars is incredibly important because it changes the way that they handle and how fast they are able to go. Below is a table comparing the size and weight of each car.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 Cars
|Category||Formula 1||Formula 2||Formula 3|
|Length||5760 mm (227 in)||5224 mm (206 in)||4968 mm (195 in)|
|Width||2000 mm (78 in)||1900 mm (75 in)||1885 mm (74 in)|
|Weight||798 kg (1760 lbs)||755 kg (1664 lbs)||673 kg (1484 lbs)|
|Engine||1.6 liter V6 Turbo Hybrid||3.4 liter V6 Turbo||3.4 liter V6|
|Power||1000+ HP||620 HP||380 HP|
All of the cars have paddle-shift gearboxes and adjustable aerodynamic wings. Having adjustable wings in F2 and F3 helps the drivers to learn how wing angles will affect the car’s handling and top speed. Each of these cars can be set up to the driver’s liking when it comes to mechanical elements such as the ride height, roll bars, brake bias, and much more.
Formula 1 cars are unique, and every team is responsible for building its own cars. Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars are all identical to each other in their respective series. This puts more focus on the driver’s abilities rather than the team’s ability to build a good car. As a feeder series, this level of equality is crucial.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 Speed Comparison
|Category||Formula 1||Formula 2||Formula 3|
|Top Speed (Race)||215 mph (346 kph)||199 mph (320 kph)||186 mph (300 kph)|
|Acceleration 0-60 mph (0-100 kph)||< 2.4 seconds||2.9 seconds||3.1 seconds|
|Lap Time (Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain)||1:15.584||1:28.601(+13.017)||1:33.286(+18.298) – F1(+5.315) – F2|
Formula 1 cars are the fastest machines on the planet over the course of a lap. Their aerodynamics and wings help them to produce incredible amounts of downforce, pushing them into the tarmac and allowing them to corner at speeds that no other car on the planet is able to match.
From the statistics above, we can see that none of these cars are slow. Despite the power deficit that Formula 2 and Formula 3 have, the cars can still lap faster than MotoGP bikes (1:38.742 at the Barcelona track). Even though the cars have less power, their lighter weight gives them more of an advantage and equalizes the playing field in terms of power-to-weight ratio.
Catalunya is a relatively short circuit with a mixture of slow and fast corners. However, the longer the lap and the faster the corners, the bigger the difference becomes between each category. If the bigger cars get a chance to stretch their legs, the Formula 3 cars will struggle to keep the gap to the F2 cars at five seconds as they do at Catalunya.
All of these cars are capable of setting respectable lap times around any race track because of their weight and aerodynamics. These two factors allow them to corner and accelerate faster than most other cars, which leads to faster lap times. However, in a drag race, they would not fare too well against other cars.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 – The Tracks
All of the main formula racing series participate on purpose-built race tracks as well as street circuits. Formula 1 has a calendar of 22 races. However, this can change from year to year as new tracks are added, or some are taken away. Formula 1 cars require strict FIA Grade 1 circuits to race on.
Formula 2 drivers follow much of the same calendar that Formula 1 does. Formula 2 is the support race, which means that they travel to the same circuits on the same weekends as F1, and they have their track sessions and races in between the Formula 1 sessions. The Formula 2 calendar has just 14 rounds, which is eight fewer than Formula 1. However, they have two races per round.
Formula 2 is considered to be the driver’s final step before they reach Formula 1. It’s important for them to race on the same circuits and on the same weekends as Formula 1. They get to experience how Formula 1 works, and they get to showcase their talents in front of the teams that they aspire to race for in the near future.
Formula 3 also races on the same circuits as Formula 1. However, they only have nine rounds throughout their season. They also act as a support series for Formula 1, but they alternate with the W Series and do not attend every single F1 Grand Prix weekend.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 – The Drivers
Another big difference between each of the Formula racing series is the drivers. It’s true that all Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers aspire to one day reach Formula 1, but there are some big differences between them in terms of their experience and the budget required in order to participate in the championship.
Starting off with Formula 1, it’s considered to have the 20 best drivers in the world. F1 drivers started their careers as young as the age of three and have fought their way past thousands of competitors to land that dream career in Formula 1. These drivers have lots of experience and victories under their belt before they reach F1.
Formula 2 drivers have much more experience in open-wheel race cars. These drivers can be anywhere between the ages of 17 and 25. Drivers over 25 tend to move on to other series if they have not made the step up to Formula 1 yet. Formula 2 drivers usually graduate from other Formula racing such as F3, Formula Renault, Formula Ford, etc.
Formula 3 drivers are the youngest of the lot. These drivers tend to be under the age of 18, and they have one or two years of experience in actual race cars. Some of the drivers in Formula 3 have very little racing experience other than karting (which they would have a lot of experience in). It’s one of the reasons these cars are smaller and slower with more kart-like handling.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 – The Teams
The team aspect runs through all of the formula racing series. From Formula 1 all the way down to Formula 3, teams are an important part of the sport. However, they are most important at Formula 1 level due to the extra responsibilities that these teams carry compared to the junior Formula.
Formula 1 teams have thousands of staff members, their own factories, and in some cases, their own facilities that they use to build engines. The teams have to build their own cars, transport them, and are also responsible for finding their own sponsors and funding. Formula 1 teams spend millions of dollars each year just to compete in the sport.
Formula 2 teams are slightly smaller and are made up of a group of relatively experienced engineers and mechanics. Just like the drivers, these engineers are hoping to one day move up into Formula 1. Unlike Formula 1, there are no manufacturers here, and every team is privately owned (customer teams). The cars are supplied to the teams, and drivers bring a big chunk of the funding to the team.
Formula 3 is much the same as Formula 2 but on a much smaller scale. Privately owned teams have to buy their own Formula 3 cars from the manufacturers, and they mostly hire freelance engineers and mechanics looking to gain experience. Drivers bring the majority of the team’s funding with their sponsors, and there aren’t many teams that have their own sponsors in Formula 3.
F1 vs F2 vs F3 – The Championships
When it comes to championships, Formula 1 is by far the biggest, with 22 races in a season, and the calendar is only expanding as well. Drivers travel all across the world to different continents, and the races are sell-out events attended by hundreds of thousands of fans and watched by millions across the glove on TV.
Drivers fight for the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship – one of the most coveted prizes in all of motorsport. Every racing driver has dreamed of winning the drivers’ championship. Teams, on the other hand, fight it out for the World Constructors’ Championship, which is one of the biggest team prizes that can be won in the world of motorsport, as it comes with a large sum of prize money.
In Formula 2, drivers fight it out for the FIA Formula 2 World Championship. The calendar is slightly smaller, with just 14 rounds. However, with two races in each round, the Formula 2 drivers have more races than they do in Formula 1. Formula 2 teams also battle it out for a championship where they can win prize money. F2 champions are given enough Super Licence points for an F1 seat.
In Formula 3, drivers have just nine rounds to complete their championship. However, just like in Formula 2, they are given two races in each round. They have a much smaller championship and sometimes draw some crowds as they act as support races for F1. However, Formula 2 is by far the more popular championship of the two.
F1, F2 and F3 racing are all very different from one another. The size and speed of the cars varies a lot, owing to the differences in the experience of the racers. There are also differences in the tracks, the teams, and the championships in each of the 3 series.