Home Featured F3’s relaxed leader Browning thriving on confidence boost of Macau win

F3’s relaxed leader Browning thriving on confidence boost of Macau win

by Roger Gascoigne

Photos: Formula Motorsport Ltd

A calm and confident Luke Browning cruised to a maiden FIA F3 Championship win in the Bahrain feature race, and is points leader heading to Melbourne. The driver who 29 others are chasing is very relaxed

Williams junior Luke Browning was in a supremely relaxed mood throughout the FIA Formula 3 season opener at Bahrain. When Formula Scout caught up with him after qualifying, he was sitting in the championship’s cramped support paddock, bare-chested, soaking up a few rays of winter sun. “I’m properly English, I’ve got to get the sun when I can,” he laughed.

After a dominant victory in the feature race, leading from start to finish, his mood by the end of the weekend was as bright as the Bahrain sunshine.

“We managed it well. We knew the race car was going to be there, and it was,” the Hitech GP driver explained to Formula Scout after making his way back to the paddock from the podium.

“It was just a matter of saving until the final laps, really. Last two laps I just started to push and eke away, just to make sure there wasn’t going to be any attacks from behind. We were strong, very strong. It’s testament to all the guys [at Hitech], all the hard work over the winter. We’ve put so much prep into this. And happy to see the results.”

Apart from a brief scare mid-race with concerns about a potential engine issue, Browning was comfortable out front as he managed his tyres and his lead.

He actually started second, but what he calls “an amazing start” put him at the front four seconds into the race.

“We were already alongside before [poleman Dino Beganovic] even had the issue [selecting second gear]. I think we would have had the inside anyway, but I feel for Dino because that sucks.”

Despite having the advantage of DRS, the chasing pack led by Christian Mansell never looked like putting Browning under pressure. Had the leader been concerned about being overtaken? “No, not at all to be honest,” he replied frankly.

Though he had pace in hand, Browning did not push to extend his gap to Mansell “in case there was a safety car” and was “really saving quite a lot, probably a second a lap or so”. In the end, both Bahrain races were safety car-free.

“We were managing the gap just right,” added Browning. “I wanted him around seven to eight tenths [behind], and that’s exactly where he stayed.

“It meant that we were in a great position if anything happened to us going into the final laps. Then the last two laps we decided: ‘right, you can put the hammer down now’ because degradation’s not been that bad and I think we pushed him out of the DRS in the last lap or so.

“Outstanding performance by the team and we’re riding a wave at the moment. [Two of] the last three races I’ve done I’ve won, so I’m a happy boy.”

Browning headed to Bahrain on a high following his outstanding victory in the 2023 Macau Grand Prix last November, which he says got “that monkey off [my] back”.

“Putting my name on the list with the drivers that have won that in the past, it feels surreal. That place is special, and it will be forever in my memories, but this year it’s going to be about focusing forward and doing well in this European championship,” he says.

“To be honest it’s people like you who give me the motivation to want to push and it’s a phenomenal feeling. The atmosphere and everything from it, that reaction to it, is only giving me more motivation. This year we’re super confident and we’re just riding a wave.”

Photo: Macau GP Organising Committee

Browning therefore had been “super excited” coming into his sophomore year in F3: “Testing has gone well, finishing off the year winning Macau has given us a big confidence boost. And I feel really confident in the team.”

After signing up at the last moment with Hitech to step up to F3 in 2023 as the reigning GB3 champion, Browning often had the speed to challenge the frontrunners but struggled to get results.

“We were ballistically quick often, but never put it together. The times that we needed to, I had a crash or it didn’t quite come together or I was too aggressive,” he admitted.

“And I think that is the moral of the story. In this championship it doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to drive at 100%. 95% is good enough. This consistency, as shown with the champion last year, you just need to qualify in the top five or six consistently, you can win both races from there. If the race car is there.

“And our race car is there, so that’s the plan for this year. It’s to not put it all on the line for qualifying and end up outside the top 12 because of a track limits or a mistake, and these are going to be the weekends where this consistency [will mean] I’ll look back at the end of the year and go ‘that made a difference’.”

Browning was signed to the Williams Racing Driver Academy last April, and the impact on his confidence, his approach and his race performances have been remarkable. He has nothing but praise for the support he is getting from the team at Grove.

For the first time in his career, he feels he has the stability and backing to plan his path up the ladder. “To be honest, [the support is] just phenomenal. Sven [Smeets, Williams’ sporting director and academy chief], both Jameses [team principal Vowles and board member Matthews], the management at Williams is amazing.

“It’s really like a family, it’s like it’s portrayed in the media. It really is. You walk into the factory, I’m [there] every day in the gym, it’s a really nice atmosphere to be in and they’re super supportive. That for me is an atmosphere that hopefully I’ll thrive in.”

Photo: Getty Images

The Williams leadership was there to cheer their race winner when he picked up his first place trophy.

“It was awesome to see the support from Williams on the podium too. I think James was there, both Jameses, and Sven,” said Browning. “Everyone was very happy for me, so a big thank you to them.”

Prema pair Beganovic and Gabriele Mini are expected to be Browning’s title rivals and at Bahrain had the speed but not the fortune to go with it. Browning is well aware he will be battling them throughout 2024.

“Ensuring good points is going to be crucial because the guys that are predicted to be in the championship fight were all quite literally there. I think it was no shock that me, Mini and Dino were all there. I think it’s going to be who slips up first.”

Next up is Melbourne, and Browning “loved” driving there in 2023 when Australia made its first appearance on F3’s calendar.

“We were super quick in qualifying there. Didn’t quite put it together, but I think this year is the year of putting things together. So I think we’re going to rock up there with a competitive package, and I know the track now.”

In his Formula 4 days, Browning was occasionally spotted riding around paddocks on his unicycle, something of a family talent. The unicycle was absent last weekend as “it would have been a bit of a flyout to Bahrain”, but may make an appearance “for some of the European rounds”.

For now, a relaxed Browning says “I just feel like I’m sitting back and it’s coming to me, which is an awesome feeling”.