With no Carlin on the grid, a new pecking order was guaranteed to emerge from the 2018 British Formula 4 season. Four teams stepped up to the plate, but it was the conflict-riddled title fight between Double R Racing’s Kiern Jewiss and JHR Developments’ Ayrton Simmons that gripped the imagination.
The season started with Simmons, now entering his third year in the series, showing his experience with two wins and a second at Brands Hatch Indy. Having won the reversed-grid encounter there in 2017, Simmons’ wins put the wind in his sails going forward. “I?d say pretty much the best weekend of racing I?ve had in my single-seater career,” was how he recounted it to Formula Scout.
In qualifying it was close, with Ginetta Junior graduate Jewiss leading most of the session before Simmons put in a late lap. The top four were covered by less than a tenth of a second. Jewiss stayed in Simmons mirrors for the duration of the first race, with the pair split by 0.362s at the chequered flag. It was a sign of things to come.
Simmons finished fourth on the road in race two, but Johnathan Hoggard and Patrik Pasma had both jumped the start, promoting Arden’s Seb Priaulx to victory and Simmons to second. Despite the damp conditions, Jewiss’s confidence had grown and by the third race, he was challenging Simmons more closely. He took the lead on the first lap, before a mega slide through Clearways demoted him to third. That became second when Dennis Hauger made a mistake while attacking leader Simmons. Fourth for Priaulx put him second in the standings, but the Guernseyman would not win again until the season finale.
“I?ve learned a lot. It?s been a tough year, to be fair. I was very unlucky with some mechanical issues, and I don?t think I’ve always had the package to win. But that?s how it is sometimes,” was Priaulx’s season summary, which ended with him in seventh.
Jewiss and Fortec Motorsports’ Hoggard responded to Simmons’ title marker at Donington Park, both taking their first wins. Hoggard left Brands with one top-five finish, but bounced back with two wins, one by 11.575s. When Hoggard stood on the podium he was winning, otherwise, he was rarely finishing in the top-five. He ended up doing eight of the former, and 16 of the latter.
“At the start of the season, the goal was to be champion,” explained Hoggard.?“Brands Hatch I was there or thereabouts, Donington was really good, and then it went downhill until the summer break. We came back from that with the goal to win the most races. I completed that, so really happy. In the summer when it was very hot, I struggled a bit more than others. We lacked that little bit, and in my driving as well. The combination of the two put me around just the bottom of the top pack.”
Jewiss retired from the Donington opener, but came from the back row of the grid to win race two, beating Simmons in a straight battle for what would be victory after leader Hauger was penalised for exceeding track limits.
At Thruxton, Hauger replicated his rapid pre-season testing pace by taking pole twice. Jewiss won the first race though, beating Simmons. He won again from the reversed grid, benefiting from a Pasma and Simmons collision and then overtaking Jack Doohan, and took the championship lead too.
Doohan beat Hauger in becoming the first Red Bull junior to win in race three. A well-judged move by Simmons earned him second and the points lead back, with Hauger heading Pasma and Jewiss in the third place battle.
Oulton Park was another Jewiss-led round, but he only won once after a steward decision. After taking his first pole, he made a slow start and lost out to Hauger and Pasma. He reclaimed second quickly and hounded Hauger until the penultimate lap. The pair made contact at Island Bend and Jewiss emerged as the leader, only to be relegated a spot post-race. The championship lead switched once again.
Hauger’s first win was long awaited, but he quickly added three more at Croft and Snetterton.
However, engine issues and incidents including an intra-team collision put him out of title contention and left him fourth in the standings after failing to stand on the podium in the last third of the season.
“There were a few ups and downs throughout the season. I lost a few points on the engine issues, but not too bad since,” Hauger summarised.?“I’ve got a few wins, been learning as a driver throughout. If we look at the end, it could?ve been better if we didn?t have those issues and stuff.”
Simmons took back top spot with victory in the second Oulton race, which came under pressure from Doohan and Jewiss, who dominated the final race and gained a 16 point lead.
Hauger took two wins and two poles at Croft, with the first coming under pressure from Jewiss, who chose not to risk a late race move. Doohan retired with mechanical problems, meaning Hauger passed him for third in the standings, a position he would hold until the final race of the season.
Simmons suffered problems in the second race, and coupled with another Jewiss win from the third row, signalled the beginning of the end of his title ambitions. For Jewiss it was another display of his overtaking talent, while team-mate Paavo Tonteri matched his best result of the season in second. Hauger beat 14th-placed starter Doohan to third.
Doohan had to come from the back once again in race two, demonstrating why he’s on Red Bull’s books with some brilliant moves to finish third behind Hauger and Jewiss. Although he won twice more, it was the Croft weekend that was the peak of the Australian’s season.
“It?s not been too bad of a season, for a rookie. It?s not been too good either,” Doohan said. He finished one point short of Hauger in the standings but did win the Rookie Cup.?“We?ve had our ups and downs. I?ve won three races and had three DNFs through mechanical failure and driving error. A bit of fault on my side there as well. I’m learning as a rookie, so tried to minimise those mistakes this year.
“This season could?ve been better. I had bigger expectations, of course, but three wins are good; it was always a target to get the first win. I’d like to have brought?the challenge to Kiern more. The team has been working hard all year to get the best outcome possible, and I don?t think there?s much more than I could?ve done, as looking back, the mistakes I made we moved on from and tried to make it better.”
Hauger took his second win in a row in Snetterton race one, which also marked a surge in confidence for Pasma. The Finn took pole twice but lost the first to a 10-place grid penalty carried over from Croft. Simmons led the first half of the opening race, as a frantic scrap took place for second. Doohan was the first to break clear and overtook Simmons before contact between the pair let Hauger and Priaulx through.
Another Hauger and Jewiss collision sent the latter spinning to the back of the order, cutting his points lead as Simmons finished third. Tonteri took a well-deserved maiden win from the front row of the reversed grid race, ahead of Priaulx and Simmons. Jewiss demonstrated why he would become champion by salvaging fourth from 12th on the grid. The third place took place in damp conditions, and Doohan led a controlling Red Bull 1-2. Simmons finished fifth, as Jewiss broke his front wing but continued to race to a pointless 12th place, ending a “very disappointing weekend”.
Pasma controlled qualifying again at Rockingham, with Doohan and Jewiss filling the front row for races one and three. Simmons could only manage seventh, which he put down to a deficient engine. A strong race by the Anglo-Spaniard meant he beat Jewiss, who was treating the weekend as “damage limitation”, while second-year driver Pasma received the plaudits for finally taking his first win.
Despite spinning on the warm-up, Hoggard took a lights-to-flag win in race two, as the title fight started to get more intense. On the opening lap, Simmons pulled off a move on the outside of Jewiss for third at the Deene hairpin, then cut inside to pass Priaulx. The trio made contact after Jewiss locked up at the first apex, putting Priaulx and Simmons out and handing Jewiss second. Front wing damage then hampered Jewiss, but he kept position to the end and extended his points lead. Doohan was third after a pulling off a well-executed move on Hauger.
Simmons filed a report to the MSA about the incident, and Jewiss was initially excluded. After an appeal by Double R he was reinstated, but with a 10-place grid penalty for race three.
?Plain simple, turning into Deene, Jewiss hit us and I hit Priaulx. Nothing I could do really,? Simmons said at the time.
?On the green flag lap the track seemed to be completely dry, so I don?t think it being damp can be an excuse. I gave him plenty of room, and there was quite a lot of space between the cars, then halfway through the corner, I was hit from behind. I was a passenger and it?s unfortunate that two cars retired from it.
Jewiss saw the incident differently when he spoke to Formula Scout immediately after the race.
?It was a bit of a tight one really. I had two cars, obviously, I was lining up behind Hoggard, had Priaulx trying to go round the outside of him and Simmons trying to go round the outside of me. And they both just chopped across the front.
?At the end of the day, three doesn?t go into one. Unfortunately, Simmons hit my front wing, and then they both hit each other and ended up out of the race. It?s not the way I wanted it to be, but at the end of the day there?s nothing I can do, and I did the best I could for the rest of the race.”
Pasma took his second victory in race three, and the drama continued as the Red Bull juniors collided. The poleman came under pressure at the start from Doohan, who was followed by Hauger. Approaching Deene, Doohan took a wide entry, with Hauger in sticking to the inside. As Doohan moved to the racing line, Pasma made a small lock-up, and the hesitation from Hauger behind led to him colliding with Doohan and retiring.
Priaulx inherited second, with Simmons taking third. He spent the rest of the race preoccupied with holding off a train of cars and was having to trailbrake once Jewiss came to the head of the queue. What he’d actually done was help Jewiss back up the grid, and a last-lap mistake proved costly.
With Jewiss up his inside, Simmons’ exit from the Brook chicane was poor, and the title leader’s stronger run enabled him to take third. Simmons only just held off Hoggard and JHR team-mate Josh Skelton, who took his only Rookie Cup win of the season.
The visit to Knockhill in Scotland provided the second double Hoggard win of the season. Pasma continued his run of form by finishing second to him both times, and third in the reversed grid race, proof that the Rockingham pace was no fluke.
Simmons beat the rain to take victory in the middle race, his first in the wet and “pretty good to get that out of the way”. A steamed-up visor didn’t stop Priaulx from taking second, but Jewiss was less successful in the spray and was fourth, making mistakes and contact with Doohan.
“We seemed pretty quick in the dry free practice, but in the rain I just couldn?t see and I struggled with the car,” explained Jewiss.?The lack of visibility continued in race three, but Jewiss did see Simmons when they made contact this time, with Simmons for once coming off the better of the two.
Hoggard narrowly beat Jewiss to both Silverstone poles, and the pair stayed close in the first race of the weekend. A poor qualifying session for Simmons put him on the back foot, and he rose one spot to sixth. What this did do was hand him reverse-grid pole, but his defence of the lead didn’t last long and most of his time was spent holding on to third.
In a similar vein to Rockingham, the extraordinary overtaking ability of Jewiss combined with Simmons’ staunch defensive style meant it was Jewiss who somehow came out on top once again. He overtook Hoggard for fifth at Copse on the final lap, then quickly closed up on Hauger, who had had his attacks rebuffed by Simmons numerous times. Simmons? defence through Brooklands allowed Jewiss to draw alongside Hauger through Luffield, and then inside Simmons through Woodcote. The three drivers crossed the line in a photo finish, with Jewiss beating both.
Although Simmons felt aggrieved on that occasion, he had even more to rue in the final race, when the two title rivals once again clashed. A tap from Tonteri had dropped Jewiss behind Simmons early on, who held off his attacks for several laps. A mistake at?Luffield allowed Jewiss to get his nose and front left wheel in, and the pair touched. Simmons lost the place, and then another to Hauger on the next lap despite more defending.
Manuel Sulaiman got alongside the two of them down the Wellington Straight, and when they went three wide at Brooklands it was Simmons who came out behind. His race only got worse from there, going wide at Copse and losing multiple places, then spinning at the same corner when being passed again. He ended his race early in the pits.
With Simmons out of the picture, Jewiss had nothing to lose and hunted down the battling pair of Hoggard and Doohan.
Doohan made it easy for him, but Hoggard wasn?t going to let up the lead and in the closing laps the top four were racing nose-to-tail. Simmons once again took the incident to the stewards, but this time Jewiss was not charged.
?I got an okay start off the line. Stayed out of trouble at Maggotts and went from seventh to third, which was positive,? Simmons explained. ?I was comfortable in third but after that [Jewiss] move I carried some damage at the rear, and after that, it was just downhill really.
?It?s pretty disappointing. We were running quite well, it would’ve been the best result of the weekend. Then all of a sudden there?s this hit, and I was like: where?s that come from? Because I hadn?t left any room, and then I saw a lot of dust and his tyres were full of grass, so I thought he must?ve gone on the grass to try the overtake. It ruined my race, and my championship hopes as well.?
?[Sebastian Alvarez] didn?t leave enough room. But when you?re with guys that are running towards the back, they?re usually more aggressive because they haven?t got to think about the championship.?
The extension of the points lead meant Simmons had to go “full attack” for the Brands Hatch Grand Prix finale if he wanted to snatch the title from Jewiss, who believed he’d “got the job done” with his performance at Silverstone.
At Brands, they were both caught out in qualifying, but there were no stunning fightbacks from either in the first race, with the tile being secured in undramatic style for Jewiss in sixth. Priaulx took his first pole and second win up front, beating Hoggard, who had now got himself up to fifth in the standings.
With the pressure off, Jewiss took an easy sixth win of the season in race two, as Simmons hashed his start and ended fifth. Third place in the standings was up for grabs in the final race, and Hoggard’s eighth win of the season was enough to vault him past both Red Bull juniors, who had struggled all weekend.
Serial misfortune meant reigning Challenge Cup champion Hampus Ericsson ended his season with Fortec early, with Jamie Sharp (Sharp Motorsport) and Lucca Allen (Fortec) also failing to make the expected second-year improvements.
2018’s hidden star
After a controversial 2017, French firm Sodemo was replaced as engine tuner by Neil Brown Engineering, which avoided most of the bad press its predecessor did.
“It?s the hottest summer we?ve ever had and it?s going to take its toll on things. NBE has done an amazing job to keep them all under control and still going around. I think they managed it very well,” Jewiss said of the engines.
“The engines this year have been more reliable,” added his Double R boss?Anthony ‘Boyo’?Hieatt. “NBE’s made a big difference. We suffered with Sodemo, in previous years there were chronic unreliability and performance differences. NBE made it a much better championship.”
One driver who wasn’t always happy was Simmons, who complained about engine issues or disparity for much of the year.
“My engine was old [homologated by Sodemo in 2015], and it didn?t work in the heat. When it?s cool, it?s fine. But after two or three laps in the race, the temperatures were through the roof and it was so hard to even maintain a position. Credit to NBE and Ford for sorting that, but I think if they?d sorted it a bit earlier it might?ve made a difference.”