Motorsport’s absolute measure of success is trophies, and this year FIA Formula 3 Championship squad Hitech GP has been earning silverware even when its cars are finishing 20th.
The Silverstone-based squad, the third to use the Hitech name, is currently the sole operating team in W Series and the World Motorsport Games Formula 4 Cup. This has its benefits – namely a guarantee of victory every race – but far more challenges than a usual racing team would face.
Former Red Bull junior Oliver Oakes fronts the modern iteration of Hitech, founded in 2015 when Oakes was just 27. The 2005 World Karting champion had known David Hayle, who co-founded Hitech Racing in 2002, from a young age and wanted to launch a team of his own after seeing some of the young drivers he helped have their potential unfulfilled elsewhere.
Two FIA European F3 appearances in 2015 preluded a full campaign the next year, where it finished second in the teams’ standings and third in the driver’s championship with George Russell. With record windtunnel time, a testing war between teams and possibly the biggest amount of money ever spent on development in F3, it was quite the year to be a debutant.
“I joined it in 2016, invested a fortune, did a really good job – we were third with George and took the fight to Prema,” Oakes tells Formula Scout.
“We got to the end of 2016, and then it was a brand new update kit with no windtunnel testing. I went: ‘but I’ve just bought everything’. Then it became apparent in 2017 that certain teams had been testing in windtunnels, there was lots of stories going about. And you know what it is in motorsport, if there’s a rumour there’s an element of truth.
“After that in 2017, I was pretty disillusioned with continuing in F3.”
F3 was in the DNA of Hitech, and the team scaled back in 2018 to leave room to commit to the new FIA F3 concept introduced this year – which it successfully beat European F3 rival Motopark for a slot in. Some of its Dallara F317 chassis were then sold to Double R Racing, freeing room on the factory floor for its most recent projects.
“Dave [Ryan, W Series sporting director] came to a F3 race last year, looked round a couple of teams.
“From my understanding, myself and an Italian team appeared to him as the type of teams he’d want running W Series. Then I think between us it was then a case of who could actually take it on.
“I can’t explain in words the amount of work it took to get it up and running, but also we knew that. It’s more just when you look back at it going: god, If I could describe to you seven trucks, 20 cars, finding 60 people, getting them all from A to B. All the equipment, from zero.
“The last three years in Hitech I’ve started a brand new F3 team of four cars, going to five for the title, the Asian F3 department which ships a load of kit to Asia, also from zero. That goes from track to track, and we’ve opened a Sepang base for that.
“Then we started W Series and FIA F3 this year from zero. It’s really nice, because actually what I realise now in the company is we’ve got some good resources, and we don’t want to do lots of projects, we want to do stuff properly.
“You want to enjoy what you’re doing, and at the moment we’re really lucky. We had a team gathering before [the FIA F3 round at] Silverstone. Because it’s very rare that we’re all in one place, whether that be the Technologies department, the Asia team, FIA F3 or W Series. It’s so nice to get everyone together and go ‘we’re all part of this’. It’s quite cool.”
That Silverstone weekend resulted in pole and both wins for Hitech through Juri Vips and Leonardo Pulcini. F3 rookie Yifei Ye, whose signing has helped Hitech understand how to “work with a rookie and bring them on”, also came close to scoring his first point.
“Juri won at the Red Bull Ring and we had proper pace. But Silverstone, what was a surprise for us was we had a perfect weekend in terms of execution. Good qualis, good races. From that side, you leave it smiling going ‘you’ve got to soak up that moment’. Because it won’t happen all year long, we all know that.
“There’s a really funny picture of me hugging Rene [Rosin, Prema boss], because we’re giving banter going ‘it was my turn this week’. We know from one race to the next it will be one of us enjoying it, and the other kind of depressed on the pitwall.”
The 30-car FIA F3 grid, as a F1 undercard, gets far less track time than the disbanded European series, making it a less-than-simple transition despite both championships visiting many of the same circuits.
“We thought we were prepared in the Barcelona season opener, and to be brutally honest, people can see now that at Barcelona we were probably a team where we were there on race pace, but in quali we missed a little bit. It’s very clear to see since then – Paul Ricard, Red Bull Ring, Silverstone – our trajectory is improving.
“In European F3, you had Hankooks and push the whole session. You know track to track, stupid things, but like the way to the grid, what you do with pit trolleys. When you arrive on the F1 package, everything’s different – it’s really odd.
“It probably doesn’t affect performance, but it does affect your efficiency. It takes your mind off other stuff. For me, I’m just really proud of the guys, and I know everybody can write good things about us, but actually feet-on-the-ground we know every weekend in FIA F3 is going to be a fight. There are so many top teams there, and hopefully as a young group we’re in there amongst it. Actually, I think it’s no shame on anyone saying that it’s hard.”
The ability to fight ART Grand Prix and Prema at the front is primarily why eyes have been on Hitech this year, but its W Series work is an even greater challenge.
“When you first put pen to paper on a project like W Series, regardless of if its three or 20 cars, obviously quality of people is your biggest headache. What’s different with this is it’s a driver-orientated series. By that, I mean you want to give everyone access to onboards, set-ups, data. To be brutally honest, we didn’t struggle on the quality of engineers, what we struggled with is adapting to some drivers that have done a lot of racing and some haven’t. That’s the hardest thing to get your head around.
“In a normal team with three cars you sort of pair people, the difference here is they also rotate cars and engineers to keep everything fair – so that sort of communication between everyone is an interesting battle to get on top of. You’ve got a mix of cultures and languages, differing abilities of drivers. Some have done a lot of racing, some haven’t.
“What the brains of the operation really is that we operate here as we would as a race team as Hitech – and by that the way we work in FIA F3. All the engineers use our own engineering tools, and basically the thought-process, the way of analysing data, all of that is identical. And the way we do the run plans.
“For me it’s quite proud, it’s very different to see 60 people working in your ethos as opposed to the 10 operational in F3. But it’s very nice, from another side, just to give everyone the same opportunity. I think that’s what’s different with W Series, compared to something else centrally run like French F4.
“What Dave Ryan has wanted is to give the same opportunity to everyone, whilst running it centrally to ensure everything is fair, costs are controlled and it’s done properly. That’s quite an achievement on his part.”
Unlike most championship’s, W Series’ Saturday-only races means technical preparation and rebuilding for the next round can be done on Sunday before leaving the track.
The Asian F3 department, which has a crossover of personnel, brought the Hitech name its first title since Felipe Guimaraes’ 2013 F3 Sudamericana triumph when Raoul Hyman won the 2018 crown. Rinus VeeKay then took the 2019 Winter Series crown, and Ukyo Sasahara added a second main series title at Sepang last weekend.
Hitech will get even busier through winter, with the 2019-20 Asian F3 season, W Series driver selection tests and its newest centrally-run project: the Motorsport Games Formula 4 Cup. It also marks the team’s first venture outside of F3.
“I would say with all these types of cars these days, it’s just your way of working you transfer across series.
“You guys as journalists know better than me the key movers in each team in terms of engineers, and who’s doing what. I think what we’re lucky as a company now is we’ve sort of got a bit of momentum going with the way we work and what we do, that we feel quite confident taking on new cars that our same DNA works across different categories.
“I think what’s hard, and I’ve been through the receiving end of it as a new team is when you’re sort of [metaphorically] firefighting, it’s never easy. But I think as well when you start to do one or two projects, you start to build up almost a psychological handle as to how to tackle stuff, and that’s helpful.
“I feel very fortunate to have done the original F3 before everything sort of becomes monomake. Because I had the year in ’16 where it was probably the most competitive year of F3 ever, with windtunnel programmes, all this development. As a baptism of fire as a team boss back then, to now where everything is quite normal.
“I laugh, because when people moan now about schedules, workloads, spare parts, I think: god, that’s just normal operational stuff, not development. And actually I was really lucky to be part of that, because I feel like if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gained that knowledge and experience. And if you look back at the history of old F3, that’s brilliant.
“Obviously it’s uneconomical to continue year after year, that’s why all the teams needed investment, but it was an interesting time of racing. I think you can see it this year in 2019: FIA F3 is exciting. We sit on the pitwall, and if you had a fly on the wall listening, it is like that every single time you hit the track, you are looking for minuscule amounts of perfection. It’s brilliant.
“You can’t fault having a grid of 30 cars. Any driver in the top 10 would be on your wishlist as a F1 junior. I get goosebumps in FIA F3, it’s a bit sad. But I know we’re going up against teams that have got a 20-year history, we’re in our fourth year of racing. If you don’t think that that’s awesome, then you shouldn’t be doing racing.
“I massively enjoy that, and I enjoy the difference of coming to W Series and running something centrally. I get pleasure here from seeing all 20 cars pull away from the pitlane and all the guys working like clockwork. It’s really gratifying.”
Oakes has been heavily involved in individual drivers’ careers, including many of Britain’s rising stars, and his passion to work with young drivers is in part explained by: “I failed to reach F1, and I’d like someone else to achieve what I didn’t”.
He still works with Ferrari Driver Academy-linked Tony Kart in karting, naming France’s Jimmy Helias as one to watch, and is a huge junior motorsport fan. So are Hitech GP’s stats a continuation of the Hitech Racing’s that competed in Britain and Brazil?
“Not sure, really. The core values of the initial team when it started under David was a high-tech, professional team. I’ve always resonated with what David did. I could have chose a unique name, but in a way the company’s not about me it’s about Hitech.”