Motorsports everywhere will know that the 2022 Formula One World Championship is well and truly underway. The reshuffled order with Mercedes slipping down the pack and Ferrari picking up the mantle of being the team to beat has already gifted us three fantastic Grands Prix. And while the championship protagonists, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, head to Italy this upcoming weekend to race at Imola, there’s another Italian circuit you should also keep an eye on…
For dozens of drivers, their season begins over at the Temple of Speed, Monza, as the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine – FRECA for short – kicks off with Round 1 of its season. It’s the championship’s fourth year, but it only landed on the feeder series scene in a meaningful way last season. Beforehand, it had a direct competitor in Formula Renault Eurocup, but the two merged for 2021, and the results are incredibly encouraging.
Before I get ahead of myself, without a 1, 2, 3, or even a 4 in its name, it’s a fair question to wonder where FRECA sits within the so-called ladder to F1. Technically, it’s one of several championships above Formula 4 but below Formula 3, as it brings the best talent from various national Formula 4 competitions together to race against each other across Europe.
The theory is that the Formula Regional level of racing should spread over continents with Formula Regional Americas, Formula Regional Asia, and to lesser extents, Formula Regional Japan and Formula Regional India being on equal footing. All of these are at the Regional Formula 3 level, but the reality is that FRECA is continuing Europe’s dominance of being the place to be if you want a career in international motorsport. There’s a discussion around how fair that is, but I’ll park that for another day.
The fact is that the combined forces of Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Regional Europe have enticed drivers and teams en masse to race, and that’s an exciting prospect. The dozens of drivers I mentioned earlier? That’s actually three dozen racers in seats this year—36 racers in a Formula championship that’s a stepping stone to F1. That high level of interest is no accident, and it should pique your interest, too.
Five of the teams have a presence in F2 and F3 this year, showing their teenage drivers there is a route of ascension for them, should they fulfill their potential. And they are showing that the path is open, too, with no fewer than eight graduates from 2021’s FRECA season making it to F3 in 2022. That is quite the feat for a championship that was essentially in its first season last year.
Furthermore, there’s a level of prestige with FRECA, as it will join Formula 1 for the Monaco Grand Prix for the second year in a row.
For anyone who might be thinking that’s an empty gesture, think again. The driver that won at Monaco last year, Isack Hadjar, was new to the championship, eventually finishing 5th in the standings (becoming the highest-placed rookie). Then, within a month of that Monte Carlo win, the then 16-year-old Frenchman was recruited to the Red Bull Junior Team by Helmut Marko. So F1 teams do take notice.
Another impressive element of the fledgling championship is that the organizers listen to feedback. A complaint from last year is that the drivers were racing closely, but the proximity didn’t always result in an overtake.
Not so for 2022. A new Indy Lights-esque push-to-pass button has been added to the cars to give a horsepower boost for 15 seconds that the drivers can use five times per race. It may not be the organic racing that purists dream of, but when Formula 1, 2, and 3 all employ DRS, it might represent where these future stars are heading more than them having nothing.
After F2 and F3 got their seasons off in Bahrain last month, FRECA starting this weekend feels like motorsport is almost fully awake after its wintery slumber – I eagerly await W Series starting in May before I proclaim the season in full swing. So as you settle in for a weekend of F1 racing at the narrow, tough-to-pass Imola, remember just three hours north-west at Monza, 36 cars are screaming around the fastest track in Formula motorsport; I guarantee it’ll make for just as, if not more, exciting viewing.