What’s the Difference Between F1, F2, F3, F4, and FE?

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What's the difference between f1, f2, f3, f4, and fe

If you’re just dipping your toe in the realm of professional motorsports, you’ll quickly realize that it’s far more diverse, complex, and electrifying than many outsiders would guess.

The open-wheel racing industry features a wide range of formats, from traditional high-speed ovals to cutting-edge electric series. Whether you’re a spectator or someone who likes to be in the front seat (literally), there’s a place for you.

Of course, the landscape of motorsports is always changing. Technological innovations and fast-growing talent keep everything exciting and make the competition fiercer every year.

Wondering what the difference is between all the open-wheel racing categories? Let’s take a brief dive into them, from F1 to Indycar and everything in between.

Formula 1 (F1) – The Global Apex

Formula 1 red bull

First things first: let’s talk about the premier category in motorsport. F1 is renowned for its technical sophistication, global reach, and elite competition. If you’re new to all this, just know that Formula 1 racing is pretty much as good as it gets.

In F1, the cars are brimming with the latest engineering, advanced aerodynamics, and hybrid power units – everything drivers need to achieve peak performance on the track. Races are hosted at prestigious venues across the world, attracting more than a billion fans – and that number continues to grow every year.

Races in Formula 1 aren’t just battles of speed but of strategy, with teams and drivers employing tactical maneuvers, pit stop strategies, and “racecraft” – skills such as overtaking techniques, defensive driving, and track positioning. 

In short, Formula 1 represents the epitome of motorsport excellence and continues to captivate audiences and enthusiasts around the world.

Formula 2 (F2) – The Direct Ascent 

Formula 2 2018 fia

Next up is Formula 2 racing, which serves as the primary feeder series for Formula 1. Think of it as a crucial stepping stone for aspiring professional drivers. 

Young, talented racers hone their skills and showcase their potential on an international stage. This is their chance to catch the attention of Formula 1 teams and secure a seat in the elite championship.

Generally, F2 racing is hallmarked by its competitive environment and high-performance machinery. These races are fiercely contested, and competitions are fought between some of the most promising talents in the world. The cars are designed to offer high levels of performance and handling, providing drivers with a platform to demonstrate their driving prowess. 

Several current Formula 1 drivers, from Lewis Hamilton to Charles Leclerc, have graduated from F2 – and there are many others who hope to follow in that same path.

Formula 3 (F3) – The Proving Ground

Formula 3 ats

Formula 3 (F3) is next up in the motorsport hierarchy, serving as a developmental category for young drivers hoping to climb the ranks of professional racing. 

If you ask many experts and fans, they’ll tell you that F3 is where talent can emerge from lower-tier racing series, showcasing their talent in high-performance, open-wheel cars on the world stage.

More specifically, F3 places a strong emphasis on driver development. Young talents are focused on refining their racing skills, adapting to ultra-competitive and international racing environments, and gaining valuable experience in competitive and diverse racing conditions.

Formula Regional (FR) – The Building Blocks

Frec 2021

Formula Regional (FR) is a relatively new addition to the motorsport landscape. In the simplest of explanations, it’s an intermediate step between Formula 4 and Formula 3.

Formula Regional is for drivers who have graduated from Formula 4 or equivalent junior categories and are looking to enhance their skills before advancing to higher tiers of motorsport. This category bridges the gap between entry-level Formula racing and the more advanced championships.

While Formula Regional championships may vary in geographical scope, races are primarily held within certain continents or regions. This allows drivers to compete against peers from similar backgrounds and gain exposure to the racing circuits and environments that are relevant to their career progression.

The GB3 Championship – Stepping Stone for Young Drivers

2023 gb3 championship

The United Kingdom boasts a similar series known as the GB3 Championship, formerly called the BRDC British F3. This serves as a prominent stepping stone for young UK drivers aiming to advance their careers in a competitive environment.

The series features races on some of the most iconic circuits in the UK, including Silverstone, Brands Hatch, and Donington Park, providing a robust platform for drivers to showcase their talent.

Formula 4 (F4) – The Foundations of Formula Racing

Alex berg racing at track

This is widely recognized as the entry-level category in single-seater formula racing, serving as the natural progression for young drivers transitioning from karting to motorsport. 

Formula 4 gives young drivers their first taste of single-seater racing. They adapt to the higher speeds, aerodynamics, and handling characteristics of open-wheel cars, laying the foundation for their future careers in motorsport.

Cars in this category are designed with simplified technical specifications compared to higher formula categories, making them more accessible and cost-effective for aspiring drivers and teams. While they offer a significant performance upgrade from karts, F4 cars are also engineered to prioritize safety, reliability, and ease of maintenance.

Formula E (FE) – Electric Revolution

Formula e

Finally, let’s talk about Formula E (FE) – a groundbreaking category in motorsport.

As the world’s first all-electric racing series, FE serves as a platform for manufacturers, teams, and technology partners to develop and showcase innovative solutions aimed at promoting sustainability and reducing carbon emissions in the automotive industry.

Formula E cars are powered exclusively by electric powertrains, featuring advanced battery technology and regenerative braking systems that harness and store energy during deceleration. 

These electric races are held on temporary street circuits in major cities around the world, bringing the excitement of motorsport directly to urban centers and engaging with local communities. These dynamic and challenging tracks highlight the versatility and agility of electric racing cars while showcasing the potential of EV technology in urban environments.

Other Open-Wheel Racing in the US



Moving on from the realm of Formula racing, IndyCar represents the other side of the F1 coin. This is high-end American open-wheel racing featuring a series of races across various types of tracks, including ovals, road courses, and street circuits. The flagship event is the Indianapolis 500, which is often referred to as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

IndyCar challenges drivers to excel in different conditions and different kinds of tracks. The cars can exceed 230 miles per hour on ovals, combining speed with technical precision, advanced aerodynamics, powerful turbocharged engines, and state-of-the-art safety systems.

The series features a mix of seasoned veterans and young talents from diverse racing backgrounds. The sport has garnered wide appeal, featuring drivers from various continents, including Europe, South America, and Asia.

Indy Lights

Indy Lights serves as the developmental category in the Road to Indy ladder system. One might describe it as the “talent pool” for drivers who hope to someday compete in the top-tier IndyCar series. 

This open-wheel racing category provides a structured pathway for talented drivers to progress from lower-tier series, such as USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000, to the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in IndyCar.

Indy Lights cars are purpose-built, high-performance single-seaters designed to prepare drivers for the demands of IndyCar racing. Featuring powerful engines, advanced aerodynamics, and slick tires, these cars offer a significant step up in performance from lower-tier formula categories, challenging drivers to push their limits on the track.

As a stepping stone of sorts, Indy Lights places a strong emphasis on driver development, offering drivers access to professional coaching, training, and support services to help them maximize their potential on and off the track. From physical conditioning to media training, the series equips drivers with the skills and resources they need to excel in the competitive world of motorsport.


Previously known as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the USF Pro is an integral part of the Road to Indy ladder system. It’s specifically designed to develop young talent and prepare drivers for higher levels of open-wheel racing. 

USF Pro operates as a spec series, meaning all drivers compete in identical cars equipped with the same chassis, engine, and tires. This ensures the competition is primarily talent-driven, emphasizing driver skill, strategy, and racecraft over technical advantages.

Like IndyLights, the USF Pro series places a strong emphasis on driver development. This includes not only on-track performance but also off-track aspects such as physical fitness and mental conditioning. 

One of the hallmarks of the USF Pro series is the scholarship system. The champion of the series is awarded a scholarship to advance to the next level in the Road to Indy ladder, facilitating their progression towards IndyLights and, eventually, IndyCar.

Choosing Your Path

To choose the right open-wheel racing category, you’ll need to carefully assess various factors, including your age, experience level, budget, and career goals. 

Doran motorsports f4 competition 5

Younger drivers tend to start in entry-level categories, such as karting or Formula 4. These help them build essential foundational skills and get some on-track experience under their belts. 

If you have a little more experience, you may want to consider more advanced categories such as Formula 3 or 2. These are great stepping stones, but keep in mind that as you climb categories, the costs for equipment, travel, and race entry fees will also climb. 

Ultimately, it’s important to think about how your category choices align with your career aspirations or personal goals. 

Looking for a little guidance? A racing school can play a pivotal role in deciding which category to focus on. These schools offer structured environments in which you can develop your driving skills, learn about the different Formula and IndyCar categories, and plan your path under the guidance of experienced racers. 

In Summary

Hopefully, this brief breakdown has helped you understand the various differences between the Formula racing categories, as well as IndyCar and its ladder system. 

One way to fall more in love with the sport is to experience the rush firsthand. At Allen Berg Racing Schools, we offer multiple racing programs for drivers of all experience levels. From a full-day experience for newbies to three-day advanced programs for qualified drivers, there’s something for everyone. 

Abrs students in weathertech

Interested in getting even more involved – or even pursuing a career in open-wheel racing? We also offer private F4 testing and professional coaching for aspiring racers.

Our 2024 dates are open now! Explore our website to learn more, or contact us with any questions you might have.

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Allen Berg

Allen Berg ranks among Canada's top racing personalities. He won the Formula Pacific Tasman Championship, won at Silverstone against Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle in perhaps the greatest year ever in British Formula 3, and qualified for nine starts in F1, a record bettered among his countrymen only by Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve.