Never the bride but often the bridesmaid, JHR Developments has been able to stay under the radar in British Formula 4.
Despite running in the series since its current iteration’s inception and producing two championship runner-ups, it’s not often thought as one of the big teams in the series compared to the likes of Carlin, Fortec Motorsports and Arden.
But over the years it’s played a role in shaping the careers of many future stars, both in single-seaters and tin-top racing. Half of this year’s Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award finalists have driven for the team, as well as 2018 award winner Tom Gamble.
The pairing of second-year driver Josh Skelton and Formula Ford graduate Carter Williams spent the first half of this season relatively unnoticed, before an incredible second Thruxton round where the team won all three races put them in the limelight.
“The one thing you have to take into consideration throughout the year is that this is a grassroots series,” JHR team principal Steve Hunter explains to Formula Scout. “It’s the first element into motorsport for most of these drivers. So they’re all learning, and learning at different paces.
“That learning experience tends to blossom. They get their head around it, and you tend to notice the results.
“Carter came into the series exceptionally green to F4. He’d only really done one test prior to the season and he’s gradually gotten better and better as the season’s gone on.
“The same really applies with Josh. He hadn’t done much testing. Now, we’re starting to get to the sharp end. From round five onwards, he seems to have been on the pace. His experience has grown.
“We revisited Thruxton. We’d already learned a lot about that circuit from our previous experience with it and what we took away from there was three wins from three races and our first one-two in the series.
“Josh broke the record for the most podiums in a row since [FIA British F4] started, and it shows you the level of pace. The team is certainly working together with the drivers to get better and better. You never stop learning. You never stop moving forwards. That’s how motorsport is.”
Skelton heads into the final round as the title outsider in fourth place, 59.5 points behind the joint points leaders.
The Cumbrian’s season is in some ways reflective of JHR’s British F4 experience. Skelton took second in the opening race at Donington Park but was unable to match the performance until Oulton Park nine races later. In that time, he did win the reverse grid race at Croft, but it run entirely behind the safety car due to treacherous conditions.
In the season’s second half, Skelton has taken nine consecutive podium finishes, including his first ‘proper’ win at Thruxton.
JHR has had a similar up-and-down F4 journey. After finishing fourth and then second in the standings with Sennan Fielding, the team suffered a difficult 2017, missing three rounds after lead driver Billy Monger had his life-changing crash in one of its cars. That same year it was suspended from competing in Ginetta sportscar championships while under investigation.
“In our second season running the F4 cars, we finished third in the [teams’] championship and lost the drivers’ title by seven points. Billy’s accident was the third season. We absolutely parked all the cars after the accident until everything was deemed to be safe, so we really missed the majority of that season. Then we went back into the next season with Ayrton.”
Ayrton Simmons, who arguably cost JHR the 2016 title in the final race by finishing between champion Max Fewtrell and JHR’s Sennan Fielding, joined the team for 2018 and immediately returned the squad to the top step with a double Brands Hatch win to start the season.
Though he fell behind Double R Racing’s Kiern Jewiss, he kept the pressure on and took the title fight to the final round.
“I had a great experience with Ayrton,” Hunter continues. “He’s very determined, always looking forwards. Similar to Billy, and Sennan Fielding. They’re the three drivers that stand out as being what I consider an A grade driver, and I’m sure Ayrton’s got a great future ahead of him.”
But what of JHR’s future? The team’s F4 alumni may not include Formula 1 juniors or factory contracted drivers like some of its rivals, but as a whole the team has more than enough engineering experience and single-seater expertise to win the title.
“Our overall knowledge of single-seaters is not as innocent as people would think going into it,” Hunter said. “In the 1990s, we were out in both Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Renault UK.
“Paul [Leach], our engineer, is ex-Minardi chief engineer. He was Fernando Alonso’s chief engineer in International Formula 3000 and Mark Webber’s engineer. So the knowledge and expertise is already in position. We’ve got the same staff that have run these cars for five seasons, so that knowledge is in position.
“Over the years, we’ve won in nearly every series on the TOCA support package. Our challenge is to make sure we win the F4 title before we move on to other things, or even stay here. Because the experience of F4 for me has been head and shoulders the best support series that we’ve done.”
JHR is looking to expand once again. The team currently runs three F4 cars, as Alex Walker joined from Oulton Park onwards. In 2020, Hunter intends to field four cars in F4, and two in BRDC British Formula 3 – a series it planned to enter this year.
“We’ve done quite a lot of testing with that F3 car, and we’ll attack that with the same ferocity that we attack F4.”