One of the cheeriest sights at the recent Frankfurt Show was the new-style Formula Ford car, modestly sharing stand space with the latest production Fords and concepts.
The new single-seat racer uses the latest 1.6 EcoBoost engine, and Ford hopes its reinvigorated formula will become the major global series for wannabe F1 stars. In the past, Formula Ford’s appeal has been largely UK focused, although there have been successful series in Australia, Canada, Holland and Denmark.
Lifting Ford from the gutter
Formula Ford has been part of Ford’s sporting DNA for 44 years. It was an historic part of a four-pronged attack (alongside world rallying, Formula One and other grassroots club motor sport) that elevated Ford from the mass market gutter and bolstered its credentials to make cars that were more involving, and of sportier élan, than working-class rivals. This ideal was evinced by cars such as the Escort Twin Cam, RS and Mexico; by various fast Capris; by the GT40; in America by the meatier Mustangs; in Australia by pumped-up Falcons.
The elevated image was thanks to Jimmy Clark, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt; it was due to the Cosworth V8 (the most winning engine in F1); to Roger Clark yumping forest tracks in his Escort RS; to Allan Moffat winning Bathurst in stentorian V8 Falcons (I was brought up in Australia); and to racing tyros in their spindly tyre Formula Fords desperate to be the new Stewart or Senna. I know because I was one. Just over 30 years ago, I raced a Formula Ford Van Diemen.
I never graduated from Formula Ford to F1, despite heady ambitions and a supportive father. But a roll-call of heroes, from Fittipaldi to Jody Scheckter, from David Coulthard to Jenson Button, did.
The heritage may be noble, and various national championships long lived, but Formula Ford has not always enjoyed enthusiastic support from Ford. The company’s patronage has wavered, like a wealthy benefactor distracted by new opportunities. Equally, Ford’s dedication to motor sport has waxed and waned. Sadly, it is no longer in F1.
Motor racing tests engineers not just marketeers
Never mind: Formula Ford, to Ford, should matter more than F1. Formula Ford is not vainglorious marketing spend or banner advertising, as F1 can be. Long-term support of a junior racing series is proof that motor racing is a genuine and time-honoured expression of your corporate idea.
Plus car companies that care about performance, and driving and quality engineering, should be in motor sport. Sponsoring football or golf or tennis proves nothing other than the size of marketing budgets and some woolly brand ideal. Motor sport tests engineers, which is far more relevant to customers.
Ferrari remains the most elevated and emotionally charged car brand in the world. It is surely no coincidence that it also enjoys the longest and most passionate relationship with motor sport.