Taking a disappointing rookie season and turning it into a much stronger second year gets harder the higher up the sporting ladder you go.
For Jack Aitken, doing just that in Formula 2 this year was crucial after a tough 2018 season with ART Grand Prix alongside champion George Russell. Things had begun promisingly enough, including a sprint race win at Barcelona, but points became harder to score as the campaign wore on.
Change was needed for his sophomore season, and the Anglo-Korean teamed up with Campos Racing. Few observers had great expectations for the new partnership, given that the Spanish squad last won a race in 2016 and hadn’t been a regular frontrunner since the year before that, but they’ve proven to be a potent combination.
After 16 races, Aitken is fifth in the standings and has two wins under his belt, as well as more than double his 2018 points tally. A key factor in the team’s improved form, together with Aitken’s own input, has been the work of Jan Sumann.
The German, whose career started as a freelance engineer in lower level single-seater categories mostly in his home country, was hired by Koiranen GP in 2013 as a race engineer and team manager for its GP3 and Formula Renault 2.0 programmes.
He turned around Nyck de Vries’ fortunes in the latter category, winning the 2014 Eurocup title, and engineered Aitken’s team-mate Jake Hughes in 2015. Aitken beat Hughes to the Eurocup and Alps titles, during which time he got to know Sumann as a “very strong engineer”.
Koiranen stopped its international programmes at the end of 2016, and Sumann left to join GP3 rival Campos. He was promoted to the team’s F2 operation when the new car was introduced last year, and his role has been expanded for 2019.
While many teams were frequently hit by teething issues using the Dallara F2 2018, particularly with the clutch, Campos went practically problem-free. They were however off the pace and relied primarily on Luca Ghiotto for its points tally.
“Talking about the clutch last year, I think we had that fairly under control at Campos,” Sumann explains.
“We had a working procedure, and we had good starts and reliable starts. In 2018 we had just two stalls: one in pre-season testing, and one with Ghiotto in Baku. For the clutch, it was also down to the teams to work out a safe and reliable procedure.”
Campos finished a very distant seventh in the standings, but it ended the season on a high with both of its cars making the podium. Enough to catch the eye of Aitken, who would prove to be another key element in the team’s 2019 rebound.
“I didn?t know a lot about Campos actually [before joining],” says Aitken. “They had some good results with Luca last year, although never quite broke through into what you would call that top tier of teams.
“For sure, we saw some potential and they made an approach, we had a chat, and some of the stuff that they?re doing in the background is really, really impressive, and in some ways it?s better than what I?ve seen elsewhere.
“On the resource side we don?t have as much to play with compared to some of the bigger teams, which are almost mini Formula 1 establishments these days, it?s kind of crazy. What they don?t have in that sense they do make up for with some really good people, and Adrian [Campos] has done a really good job of that as well.
“It can?t be understated how difficult it is to make a successful team when you maybe don?t have the pick of the drivers or as good drivers as maybe you?d want, which over the last five years they?ve been a bit hit and miss in that respect.”
Aitken is clearly a hit, bringing with him experience and expertise from his role as test driver with the Renault Formula 1 team. But a driver is only one part of a team, and it’s the rotation of personnel elsewhere that’s assisted Campos’s 2019 form.
“The engineering structure has changed. That?s a fact. We brought up people from within the team that I?d previously worked with in GP3, and I moved up to the team engineer position for the F2 team,” says Sumann (pictured, above right).
“There are other long-term changes of staff too, people who had been at Campos for a long time and left for personal reasons. That was not a change that Campos forced. That was just like a natural development of the team.
“Then they offered me the chief engineer position, and that was a natural way of promoting the GP3 personnel that I worked with in 2017 from within Campos to the F2 team. I think it?s a nice development in the team.”
Sumann agrees with Aitken on Campos’s 2018 form, and has some insight into how the late double-podium set this year’s tone.
“Talking about the results, we obviously already had a very good driver with Luca last year, but the results weren?t really coming to us. Part of it was down to bad luck and DNFs early in the season.
“I also changed the set-up approach a bit ahead of this year, and I think it?s paying off. It?s obviously early in the season, and there are still teams and drivers ahead of us. We are not where we want to be. It?s a positive start, but it?s not good enough.”
The belief that the team’s progress has yet to be fully fulfilled is repeated by Aitken.
“We?re challenging for race wins. I think we can be challenging for poles, we certainly have done at some points this year. We could have had one or two, but maybe we still have a bit of work to do in that area. But certainly for race pace I think we?ve been really really strong.
“It took us a race or two to get our heads around each other. Bahrain was a bit of a struggle, but since then we?ve been working really well together.”
Sumann enjoys being reunited with Aitken, and has noted how much the 23-year-old has developed “as a person and as a driver” since becoming a Renault F1 junior in 2016. Renault’s continuing support has no doubt helped Aitken put 2018 behind him.
“It?s nice to bounce back from 2018 when it was just a bit of a difficult season as a whole, nothing was really working,” says Aitken, who is still a relative newcomer to F2 in comparison to his championship rivals, who are all in their third or fourth full seasons at this level.
“It took a lot of long nights and hard looking to figure out what was going on, and even then F2 and Pirelli tyres can be very very tricky. So I?m quite happy to have got on top of it this year, and to be I think one of the best so far in that respect.”
While qualifying remains an area for the partnership to work on – their best so far was third at Paul Ricard – they have been looking increasingly strong on race days. That’s thanks to a combination of rapid getaways, slick pit-stops and strong tyre management, plus some excellent racecraft on Aitken’s part as demonstrated by his bold pass on Louis Deletraz for the win at Silverstone.
“Obviously we have some weekends where we?re not quite there but we?re working on it, and weekends like Silverstone where we?re challenging for wins, that?s what we?re here to do so it?s much easier to have a smile on your face.
“I?m not completely satisfied [with my season], just because I?m a bit lower in the championship at this stage than I would like, but some of that?s not really in our control.”
After his sixth podium of the season in the Hungaroring feature race, just seven points separate Aitken from a place in the top three. Such a commendable result at season’s end would represent a fine turnaround for both driver and team.
Aitken and Campos: 2018 – ’19 comparison
|? ? ? ? ?Jack Aitken|
|? ? ? ?Campos Racing|