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Podcast: Dennis Hauger on how he bounced back to win FIA F3

by Craig Woollard

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Dennis Hauger scored just 14 points in a challenging first F3 campaign but emphatically bounced back to win the crown in 2021. Speaking on the Formula Scout Podcast, he explained the factors behind his turnaround

Confidence and self-belief are important factors to success in many walks of life, and that is perhaps exaggerated further in motorsport than in most other areas. Lacking that bit of faith and doubting oneself ever so slightly can have a huge impact on performance, particularly in high-downforce machinery.

It was the case for Dennis Hauger, more than a year ago now, in his first FIA Formula 3 Championship season off the back of a very successful time in Formula 4 – 12 wins and the title in Italy, six wins in Germany and four in Great Britain.

With Hitech GP in 2020, he found himself unable to acquit himself to the nuances of the outfit’s set-up, and the performances and confidence simply spiralled downward. Fellow Red Bull junior Liam Lawson challenged for the title with the team, but Renault-backed team-mate Max Fewtrell struggled even more and left mid-season after scoring just five points.

As Hauger himself explains, he doesn’t put it down to the fault of the team per se, but he found himself much more capable of getting adapted to what Prema brought to the table.

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“In the end, I don’t want to say any shit about the team I had in 2020 there,” he said with a slight smile. “But I think the main difference was me, just the way I could work with Prema this season and really get how I wanted the car, and how I could get myself confident in the car.

“[That] allowed me to push the limits and push a little bit over the limit in the end, which wasn’t really something I was able to in 2020, where set-ups were sort of the same all season, even though I wasn’t really happy about it compared to my driving style, which made it really hard to progress.

“I tried to change my techniques, but nothing ever really seemed to work. So I was just struggling, and I was living in the UK at the time as well, so I never got home to reset or anything, I was just in a bubble all season and it was not really easy.”

Not only did that leave Hauger with a huge statement to make on track in 2021 with reduced Red Bull support, but he also had to make a statement to himself as well mentally. It’s not easy to turn it around, but the switch to Prema, the change in scenery (and leaving dreary Britain) combined with fitting into the team seamlessly while reuniting with an old friend allowed him to hit the ground running with the confidence and drive he displayed brilliantly all year.

“Heading into the 2021 season it was quite, like, I really had to build up my confidence and my mental game again and I think that was really important heading into the first round. I worked hard with the team to get everything clear in my head and everything and then getting the pole position on the first weekend [at Barcelona] was really a confidence boost for me, to just clear everything out and then ‘okay I can do it’.

“[That] was hard last season so it was really a relief and something that I will bring with me, to never doubt myself and my skills.”

To be so open about such struggles is something Hauger should be commended on and is part of a shift in the way athletes discuss mental health in this industry.

Photo: Joe Portlock

“I mean I’ve always felt pretty strong mentally on the racetrack, but I think last year was one of the harder ones for me in my career. But still, I think I built some strength on [the back of] it, and brought it into this season and I think as a journey, it was nice to bring and then come back this season and then bring it home, it was just extra special in that sense.”

Using all of his experience and new surroundings to his advantage, Hauger was able to immediately come on strong despite Prema’s performance advantage of the previous two years seemingly being cut. That was helped by a certain familiar face.

“To be honest, I connected really well with the team straight away and I spent a lot of time in Italy with them as well. My engineer I got in 2021 [Pedro Matos] was my engineer in my first year ever in single-seaters so I sort of already had a good connection with him, so it was nice to really build up from there. And he knew how I am and everything.

“So it was really easier to build up that mental game and everything again. But yeah, as a team, we weren’t as dominant as they might have been before.”

While Hauger won the title, his team-mates came eighth and 10th. This enabled Trident, which “was quite strong, especially in the [season’s] second half like in Spa” to beat Prema to the teams’ title.

“Once we got everything to work, we’ve been there always and we’ve shown that quite nicely, so it’s mainly Spa for example where we were a bit lost and came a bit back in the last race, but we figured it out too late,” Hauger added.

“Overall, just always being quite confident with them and had trust in what they do and when we talk and when we communicate, we get it together and fix what we need to, so that’s been really nice this season and one of the better partnerships that I’ve had.”

Four wins, nine podiums, three poles and 205 points from the 20 races was an immense return from Hauger’s season given F3’s new format.

Where he made the difference in his battle with Jack Doohan has already been covered, and Hauger was able to add onto the points discussed there, highlighting what turned out to be a very rare mistake as a positive for him.

“I mean the first thing that I would say would be consistency,” he said when asked about the key factors in his campaign.

“Especially in the first half of the season, we were always getting a decent result in race one, like top-eight or top-five, and then also into race two we did a decent job, just damage limitation while some of the others struggled sometimes.

“Then some things happened [to them], and they got out of the reverse grid [top 12], so that was one of the main keys for us. The racecraft I had this season, it built up quite nicely I’d say, especially from Barcelona race two where I had the crash.

“From there on, something clicked in my head in terms of that, so we just built up that confidence from that mistake. So that was almost one of the keys as well, that we always had to move forward into the reverse grid and get some points in every race, because some points [in those] and suddenly you have 20 or 30 points extra.

“So those two were [among] the key moments and then qualifying… getting a good qualifying was important for me, I worked a lot with that in the off-season last year to really nail everything on that first lap which the work seemed to pay off.

“I had that crash at the beginning of the season and from then on I think I really got… my mindset really changed after that and I managed to keep those points going into the rest of the races.”

The FIA F3 chapter for Hauger is one that ultimately delivered on the promise that looked unfulfilled at the end of 2020. He’s shown growth as a driver and as a person over the past couple of seasons, and he closed the podcast off by reflecting on his stint in the championship.

Hauger with his engineer Pedro Matos

“I think it’s been an important few years for me, especially this one, doing well. It could have been hard to keep going forward if it didn’t go well this season as well. But I think if I could have been good and at the top as a rookie, if I had the confidence as I had this season, it would have been fine.

“It was a few factors that didn’t make that happen, but it’s still a journey and you still learn many things on the way. And in the end, I think I could bring some things into this season, and I think my mentality has just been strengthened from before [compared to] when I went into the 2020 season, where it went quite down.

“I worked my way up again and getting the championship was a really indescribable feeling after that 2020 season. It’s years I will take with me and it’s a lot of experience that gained me as a driver.”

We can now look forward to Hauger’s move up to Formula 2, as a full Red Bull junior once again, and there’s a strong chance he will be doing it with Prema and with Matos by his side again.