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Lights Out and Away We Snow — An Overview of Winter Series in Open Wheel Racing

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

Written by Lucas Hamilton, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Motorsport has always been a summer sport. However, races have taken place in the winter before, most notably the 2021 finale at Abu Dhabi taking place in the middle of December, and the South African Grand Prix taking place between the 28th of December and the 2nd of January between 1962 and 1968. 

These are extreme examples, however, as both countries are warmer in this time of year, with the United Arab Emirates usually scorching through the summer months, and South Africa being in the southern hemisphere. 

However, some racing series only take place throughout the winter months, to capitalise on young drivers being available to race, not filled up by contractual agreements across the traditionally European summer seasons. 

This has led to big gaps between calendars, and is most apparent across junior formulae, with gaps sometimes ranging up to six months between the end and start of seasons. Winter series play the role of helping bridge this gap over the long breaks.

A prime example of the winter series format gaining popularity is the aptly-named Formula Winter Series. The Formula Winter Series is a brand new Formula 4 championship based in Spain, running through the winter, before the majority of national series commence once again. 

The series was founded as a more affordable alternative to the F4 United Arab Emirates Championship, and Formula Regional Oceania, both of which run through the winter. This is due to the competition staying in Europe, and not having to transport equipment across the world. 

The 2023 championship, the first in its history, saw eventual 2023 Italian F4 champion Kacper Sztuka crowned its inaugural champion. The Pole raced against F4 rivals Frederik Lund and Gianmarco Pradel, en route to the title. The series is set to return in 2024, with another quartet of rounds all in Spain yet again, with the series visiting MotorLand Aragón instead of the Circuito de Navarra, for the third round in 2024. 

Formula Winter Series Champion, Kacper Stzuka testing F3 following his Italian F4 triumph Credit: Emmanuele Ciancaglini/Getty Images

Less so a winter series, and rather a summer series, taking place in the southern hemisphere, the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand often has a history of kicking off the racing season in the land. 

The recently-renamed Formula Regional Oceania Championship, featuring the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix, returned after a cancelled 2022 season, following the COVID-19 Pandemic, in a new name. 

The 2023 season, however, featured a lot fewer Formula One juniors than usual, though.  with the Formula Regional Middle East Championship attracting more drivers to race instead. 

The FRMEC attracted junior formulae stars Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Dino Beganovic, Aiden Neate, Gabriele Mini, Nikola Tsolov, and Red Bull juniors Pepe Marti, and Tim Tranmitz, whereas almost half of the FROC line-up was from Australia or New Zealand. 

This is not an uncommon feat for the championship, however, for a series that saw F1 hopefuls train in preparation for the upcoming season not so long ago, it is a worrying decline. 

A more high-profile championship running through the winter is Formula E. The all-electric single-seater World Championship commenced in September of 2014. The series always got underway in the latter months of the previous years to the main year of competition, before the COVID-19 Pandemic hit. 

Ever since, Formula E has not had their main season start in the previous year. The seasons are still hyphenated between years, though, due to the pre-season testing taking place late in the year. Formula E has always been off-kilter with their schedule, but has never explicitly been a winter series, with each of its nine seasons stretching well into the summer months. 

Mitch Evans during practice for the 2023 Mexico City ePrix Credit: Jaguar Handout/Getty Images

Perhaps the strangest winter series throughout recent history is the Florida Winter Series. The Florida Winter Series only lasted one year, 2014. The series was organised by the Ferrari Driver Academy, and held races around three tracks in Florida, Sebring, Palm Beach, and Homestead-Miami. 

The series featured 12 non-championship races, three at each venue, with two race events at Homestead-Miami. The latter featured two different variations of the road course, with the first one being the standard road course, and the second including the final corner of the oval. 

The series involved all members of the Ferrari Driver Academy back then, such as Raffaele Marciello, Lance Stroll, and Antonio Fuoco. The series was also contested by future F1 World Champion Max Verstappen, the Dutchman getting his first competitive laps in a race car, ahead of his 2014 F3 European Championship season.

The winter series is a staple of modern motorsport, and will certainly stay. The newest addition to the growing list of winter series include the F4 Saudi Arabia series, set to run until the 30th of March 2024. The series started with a four-race, non-championship event at Bahrain. 

Winter series are great tools to get the drivers training again after the winter break, and keep themselves race-ready through the long wait until racing gets back going again, keeping in mind the half-a-year gap between the end of the 2023 Italian F4 season and the start of the 2024 Formula Regional European season, the most logical step-up for a driver progressing out of Formula 4. 

Having long gaps of inactivity is not good for a drivers development, and these series in the Middle East and New Zealand are great at keeping the drivers in top shape. However, this isn’t always great for a driver’s budget either, so new series’ like the Formula Winter Series allow these drivers who wouldn’t normally get opportunities, a chance to race in these winter series, and keep their higher aspirations alive whilst on a budget.


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