HEREíS a question I never thought Iíd ask in a car: ďWhereís the fire extinguisher?Ē
Iím sitting in the strippedout, bare-bones cockpit of Australiaís newest open-wheeler Ė a cutting-edge Formula Four Ė and suddenly Iím feeling intimidated by its performance.
This French Mygale is a car that, on certain tracks, can lap faster than a V8 Supercar and, thanks to its removable steering wheel, flappy-paddle gearbox, carbonfibre monocoque chassis and wings-and-slicks design, offers a serious taste of F1.
It also signals the beginning of a new chapter for Australian motor sport. Run and promoted in-house by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), F4 is designed to be the first rung on the ladder for youngsters stepping up from karts, which means itís the category for the next generation of Daniel Ricciardos to be discovered.
Think of it as Formula Ford on steroids, only safer, faster and fitted with slicks and wings so youngsters can learn about aero.
Power comes from the same 1.6-litre turbocharged four found in the Fiesta ST, detuned to deliver 120kW. So while its welterweight 565kg mass makes the F4 quick in a straight line, itís certainly not what youíd call necksnappingly fast.
But if it lacks straight-line fireworks, the F4 is otherworldly through corners. In any road car, no matter how hardcore, thereís always a delay between turning the steering wheel and waiting for the car to respond. In the F4 you simply think about turning and the front tyres bite, the whole car rotating deliciously behind your hips as it leans on the sticky 13-inch rear rubber.
Almost all the controls (steering/brakes) are brutally heavy because thereís no power assistance, but the exceptions are a feather-light throttle and an ultra-sensitive paddle shift that swaps cogs at the slightest touch.
Pre-season testing will iron out the throttle niggles and finetune the super-heavy steering, but itís clear a Formula Four isnít intimidating to drive. In many ways itís like the V8 Supercar editor Butler drove earlier this year; easy to steer at eight-tenths, even nine-tenths, but beyond that requires the skill of an experienced racer.
Thirteen young F1 hopefuls with lightning reflexes and no fear threshold have already signed up to pedal an F4 this year. I can only imagine how itíd feel to race on the ragged edge with 12 other hotheads ducking and diving around you. Fun is the word that springs to mind.
Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mygale Formula 4 1596cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 120kW @ 5700rpm (est) 200Nm @ 1600rpm (est) 6-speed sequential 565kg 4.0sec (est) n/a $180,000 (est) Now
We were only allowed to spend half an hour in it!
No-compromise performance; handling; brakes; feels like a mini F1
AFFORDABILITY is a big part of F4ís appeal, with CAMS looking to boost numbers from the current 13 confirmed starters to 20.
Contesting the championship will cost about $180,000, but you donít get to keep the car.
All seven rounds are on the V8 Supercars support card to ensure maximum exposure for sponsors and thereís a chunky $250,000 purse for the title winner to help fund the next step up the ladder.
Second, third and fourth placegetters each get to test with a V8 Supercars team.
Use the free viewa app and scan this page to watch the F4 in action