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2013 BRDC Formula 4 Championship season review

by Peter Allen

Photos: BRDC F4

When the new BRDC Formula 4 Championship was announced around 12 months ago the overwhelming mood was one of scepticism. Was the creation of another series really the answer to the lack of a strong entry-level category in Britain? Time will tell, but the first season of BRDC F4 has been a definite success.

There were 11 different race winners, and six young British drivers who stood out in particular and who were all still in mathematical contention going into the final round. In the end though Jake Hughes could not be stopped from completing a particularly impressive first full season in cars by getting his hands on the inaugural title. Below we review all the major players in a highly competitive field.

Jake Hughes1. Jake Hughes

United Kingdom, Lanan Racing, age 19

445 points, 4 wins, 10 podiums, 6 pole positions, 6 fastest laps

An impressive first full season in cars from Birmingham boy Hughes. He entered the campaign amongst the favourites after topping the pre-season running but it took a while for the results to really start flowing, with only two podiums from the first eight races. At that point he was only fifth in the points, but a victory at Snetterton was the first of four wins he would claim before the season was out.

He paired outright pace (topping half of the eight qualifying sessions) with some strong consistency (12 top four finishes from the last 16 races) to pull away from the competition in the points race and seal the title with two races to spare. Like many at this level, continental Formula Renault is an obvious possible 2014 destination but his F4 prize contains a Carlin F3 test and the reshaped British series could also be an option. Season rating: 9/10

Seb Morris2. Seb Morris

United Kingdom, Hillspeed, age 17

410 points, 1 win, 10 podiums, 1 fastest lap

In many ways, Morris began the year as the pre-season favourite. Third in Formula Renault BARC last year, he had signed up for a step up to the NEC before back-tracking for a BRDC F4 switch. The relative short notice of the move and a shunt for the team truck on its way to test left Morris and Hillspeed without much pre-season running however, so he did particularly well to lead the standings after the first weekend.

He did that without winning a race, and that was the way his season continued, visiting the podium as often as anyone but only mounting the top step once – a win that was taken away on a technical irregularity but reinstated post-season on appeal. With an experience advantage over most, he will be disappointed that he and the team lacked that last bit of pace. Expect his European move with Fortec to finally come off in 2014. Season rating: 7

Charlie Robertson3. Charlie Robertson

United Kingdom, HHC Motorsport, age 16

396 points, 3 wins, 9 podiums, 4 pole positions, 7 fastest laps

Roberston arrived for his first season of single-seaters as Ginetta Junior champion, and had the benefit of being the first to sign up. After a solid start at Silverstone he flew at Brands Hatch, where three podiums including a win set him up to take the points lead next time out at Snetterton. He won again at the Norfolk track, only to be excluded for a technical infringement.

His title challenge then faded, before returning to form at the Donington finale where he became the only driver to win two races in a weekend. There was a clear disparity between Robertson’s one-lap speed and race pace, with all four of his pole positions coming courtesy of setting fastest race laps rather than those determined by topping qualifying. He may be tempted to move on but at his age he might be wise to do what he did in Ginettas and stay around for a second year. Season rating: 8

Matthew Graham4. Matthew Graham

United Kingdom, Sean Walkinshaw Racing, age 17

374 points, 2 wins, 6 podiums, 2 pole positions, 1 fastest lap

A world champion in karting, Graham successfully converted his previous record into a strong first year of single-seaters. He secured a podium in the opening weekend at Silverstone after starting race three on pole thanks to the best lap of the previous two races, but his next few weekends were quiet and he lay tenth in the standings at the halfway stage.

Next time out at Brands Hatch he won the reverse grid race, seemingly boosting his confidence as he claimed pole when the series returned to Silverstone for the following round, driving away to a second win. Within two weekends he’d soared to fourth in the standings, and remained in title contention until the final event. He’ll be a definite championship contender if he chooses to return for a sophomore season. Season rating: 8

Jake Dalton5. Jake Dalton

United Kingdom, MGR Motorsport/Lanan Racing, age 18

371 points, 3 wins, 8 podiums, 2 pole positions, 1 fastest lap

With a season of Formula Renault BARC under his belt, Dalton made the most of that experience to star in the first couple of rounds, winning race three at Silverstone and the first race at Brands Hatch from pole. He was on pole again next time out at Snetterton but technical issues restricted him to just a third place that weekend, losing him the points lead.

He then began struggling for qualifying pace and dropped away over the next three rounds. With the title now a long shot and feeling people were unfairly blaming him for his loss of form, he joined Hughes at Lanan for the final two events, passing his new team-mate to win his first race with the squad. He’s said he’d like to return to the series with them next year, financial backing permitting. Season rating: 7

Jack Barlow6. Jack Barlow

United Kingdom, Sean Walkinshaw Racing, age 18

357 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 1 pole position

Another British karting graduate with the SWR team, Barlow made a more immediate impact than Graham when he won just his second race in a single-seater during the opening weekend. The next two weekends were quiet but he bounced back to the front by winning from pole at Oulton Park.

He didn’t win another race (only inheriting Morris’ Snetterton win for a few weeks) but showed some impressive consistency that left him the closest man to Hughes heading into the finale. Unfortunately a tough qualifying preceded a disastrous weekend and he fell to sixth in the final standings. He’s yet another who could continue in the series for a second year and be a serious title contender with a season of experience under his belt. Season rating: 8

Raoul Hyman7. Raoul Hyman

South Africa, HHC Motorsport, age 17

289 points, 4 podiums

He was some way off the top six British contingent, but finishing best-of-the-rest was some achievement for Hyman, who wasn’t a particularly high profile karter. He seemed to benefit from the amount of preparation that HHC and Robertson had, joining his team-mate on the podium just six races in at Brands Hatch. He was on the podium again at the following round at Snetterton, and took three top five finishes including a third one meeting later at Oulton Park.

Those sort of results were harder to come by at the end of the season, arguably matching Robertson’s dip in form before also having a better showing at Donington. With family ties to series bosses dating back to Formula Palmer Audi, expect him to return for more next year and start winning races. Season rating: 7

Matt Bell8. Matt Bell

United Kingdom, MattRBell Racing/Douglas Motorsport, age 23

287 points, 3 wins, 3 podiums, 1 fastest lap

One of the elder drivers on the grid, Bell made a return to single-seaters after two years away, starting the campaign as a privateer entry before moving under the awning of the Douglas squad. He took the honour of winning the championship’s first race at Silverstone and added further wins in round two at Brands Hatch and round four at Oulton Park.

Over the final four weekends however he mustered a best result of just a seventh, despite continuing to qualify inside the top six. The downward trend of his campaign could suggest his early success was down only to his experience advantage, but that may be unfair. Already with a taste of life outside single-seaters in Radical sportscars, he’s aiming at Ginetta GTs for next year with Douglas. Season rating: 7

Struan Moore9. Struan Moore

United Kingdom, Hillspeed, age 18

275 points, 1 win, 4 podiums

Arriving in BRDC F4 after time in Ginetta Juniors and a handful of Formula Renault races, Moore grabbed an early win from pole position in the Snetterton reverse grid race. Unfortunately he failed to show much progress over the following three weekends, spending most of his time on the fringes of the top ten.

His campaign burst into life when the series returned to Snetterton, qualifying third and taking second and third place finishes. His fourth podium came at Donington, albeit after starting on the reverse grid pole again. Ninth in the standings was a good result in the end, particularly as he would have suffered more than Morris from Hillspeed’s loss of pre-season action. Managed by fellow Jersey racer and FR3.5 race winner James Walker, another year at this level would be wise. Season rating: 6

Ross Gunn10. Ross Gunn

United Kingdom, Motionsport, age 16

242 points, 2 wins, 2 podiums, 1 fastest lap (18/24 races)

Another young Brit graduating to cars with an impressive karting resume, Gunn began the year in at the deep end with a team whose only previous experience was in GTs. That would have contributed significantly to his lack of qualifying pace or race results during the opening three rounds. It all came together at Oulton Park, qualifying sixth, finishing fourth and fifth, getting the race three pole from fastest race lap and successfully converting that into a win. Another victory came from reverse grid pole at Silverstone.

Unfortunately that would be his last appearance, he and the team missing the final two rounds due to a lack of budget. Part of Arden’s young driver academy, he was seventh in the points and close to the talented top six when he was forced to call it quits. Season rating: 8

Diego Menchaca11. Diego Menchaca

Mexico, MGR Motorsport, age 19

242 points, 1 podium

He’s part of the same Escuderia Telmex scheme that catapulted compatriots Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez into Formula 1, but Menchaca has yet to show any prodigious ability after two years racing in the UK. He dovetailed a move into BRDC F4 with a second (partial) programme in Protyre Formula Renault.

It was perhaps his past experience that helped him to qualify fourth for the season opener at Silverstone, for the best he could manage after that was ninth. It’s only fair however to note that Dalton also began to struggle for pace while he was with MGR. Menchaca did show some speed at the second visit to Brands Hatch, claiming third on the grid for the final race (set by fastest race laps) and finishing second. That would be his only top five finish of the campaign, having been stripped of a fifth at Snetterton for having an underweight car. Season rating: 5

James Fletcher12. James Fletcher

United Kingdom, Team KBS, age 19

236 points, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 1 pole position, 3 fastest laps (18/24 races)

Fletcher was a late addition to the field, only joining for round two after beginning his season in USF2000 having done Formula Renault BARC last year. Impressively, he was on the pace immediately, taking a second place finish on his first weekend. Next time out at Snetterton he qualified on the front row and took the race win after Dalton’s mechanical issues. He was then second again in race three.

Unfortunately, results were harder to come by over the following rounds and his Silverstone weekend was ruined by a first race crash that injured his shoulder. He returned to the top step though when the series went back to Snetterton. His pace seemed inconsistent, but with some full preparation he could well have been a leading contender. Season rating: 7

James Greenway13. James Greenway

United Kingdom, Frank T Greenway Racing, age 23

234 points, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap

A true privateer driving a car that was run by his father, Greenway was quite anonymous in the early stages of the season, taking until race 15 at Brands Hatch to finish inside the top ten. Things got even better next time out at Silverstone when he claimed a fifth and a third place.

After an off weekend at Silverstone he was back up at the sharp end again at the Donington finale, qualifying fifth and scoring an impressive trio of top five finishes. It was a strong end to the season and a sign that he could do well if he opted for a second campaign next year. At 23, single-seater progression is unlikely but he’ll hope that eye-catching performances here can earn him a good opportunity elsewhere. Season rating: 6

Gustavo Lima14. Gustavo Lima

Brazil, HHC Motorsport, age 17

232 points, 1 podium

Lima arrived in BRDC F4 after a season in Formula Renault Alps and a race win in the poorly-supported Brazilian F3 at the start of the year. It was a solid campaign showing a general trend of progress throughout the year, finishing up with a podium at Donington.

Qualifying highlights were seventh on the first visit to Snetterton and fifth on the second trip to Silverstone, but unfortunately both times he ended his race in retirement. His final round podium was the fifth of five top ten finishes in the final six races. When compared to HHC team-mates Robertson and Hyman the rest of his season doesn’t look great, but BRDC F4 wasn’t really a happy hunting ground for any of the Latin American contingent. Season rating: 5

Pietro Fittipaldi15. Pietro Fittipaldi

Brazil, MGR Motorsport, age 17

164 points, 1 win, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap (18/24 races)

The grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi contested his first year of single-seaters in Britain with a dual campaign of BRDC F4 and Protyre Formula Renault, but unlike Menchaca he focussed on the latter when there was a clash – meaning he missed a couple of F4 rounds. Bearing in mind that the UK circuits provided quite a departure from the NASCAR venues he’d been used to, it was a decent season.

Of the 14 races where he was a classified finisher, he finished nine in the top ten. Three early retirements was to be expected, but he lost a sixth at Snetterton to a disqualification. Next time out at Brands Hatch he qualified a fine second and then won the race when Hughes suffered a last lap problem. Will contest the Winter Series and the experience gained could make him a strong contender if he returns next year. Season rating: 6

The rest

American Falco Wauer was twice a podium finisher during the early rounds but departed after difficult weekends at Oulton Park and Brands Hatch and has since cropped up in F3 Open. Sennan Fielding – Robertson’s closest rival in Ginetta Juniors last year – showed some promise during the opening three rounds before his money ran out, scoring two top six finishes and having a couple of other top showings ended when hit by others. Matt Mason – runner up to Matt Parry in Intersteps last year – returned to action for the final two rounds and grabbed a podium in the last race of the season.

Rahul Raj Mayer, Malgosia Rdest?and Daniel Headlam contested the full season but all missed out on top ten results, although Polish female racer Rdest did well to win the series’ award for making up the most places on grid positions. Chinese driver Zou Sirui was ineligible to score points in the third SWR car due to his licence and missed a couple of rounds to clashing commitments back home.

Karting graduate Simon Rudd began the year with the Motionsport team but left just as Gunn was starting to show his potential in the sister car. The team then gave single-seater chances to two of its GT drivers Pete Storey and Ben Gower at Oulton Park.

Chris Dittmann Racing appeared intermittently during the year, with Formula Ford convert Luke Williams managing a best of eighth from his three weekends in the car. Irish karting graduate Dylon Phibbs only got the one weekend as did Max Cornelius, who went well at the season finale in his first appearance since finishing runner-up in Young Guns (which became Intersteps) in 2010.