In the latest episode of the Formula Scout Podcast, we speak to new British Formula 4 champion Luke Browning about the dramatic title decider, his season before that, and how he’s making money in Esports
Just over a week ago, Fortec Motorsports’ Luke Browning won the 2020 British Formula 4 title in the most dramatic way possible, making it through a race shortened by a sudden and heavy arrival of rain to be crowned champion. Initially it looked like his rival Zak O’Sullivan would take the crown by winning the race, but with the race distance only allowing half-points it meant Browning – who finished in 10th after being caught out by oil on track early on – instead claimed ultimate honours.
He sat down with the Formula Scout team to share what his feelings were during those tense moments, as well as give an insight into what he has planned next in racing – both in the real and digital world.
Has the title sunk in yet?
I think it’s finally starting to sink in a little bit. I’m at home, I’ve had a smile on my face for the last couple of days and it’s been sort of a really nice feeling at home.
How has reaction been, been able to sit down and reflect on the last few months?
Yeah. I’m only just getting time to sort of take it all in and understand all the benefits. It’s awesome to be able to speak to you guys and all the other media teams that are approaching us. It’s a really nice feeling to be wanted in that way.
What were the thoughts going through your head when the red flag came out in the title decider?
I thought I’d lost it, ititally. I was absolutely gutted. My heart was in my mouth, well, it felt like it was in my stomach. Just that really, really low feeling that I’m sure all of us have all felt at one point. Just complete and utter despair. A lot of racing families will know who have been in it, and for the guys at home, we put absolutely everything into this, in terms of money – it’s so stressful for a racing family really just to get to this point. When it all went out of the window it was absolutely gutting.
But little did we know that that was the point that we’d won it. What I was really upset about initially was that I didn’t have a chance to catch back up. Because slicks in the rain, that really sounds like my sort of forte, but it didn’t matter either way in the end.
We all wanted the full race. But missing out on Luke Browning’s 10 minutes in the wet weather was also something we missed out on, because you’ve always liked the wet
For sure. The conditions have usually suited me in that way, and I said in an interview on the day ‘the rain’s saved me again’. I was sort of sat there hailing it, I just couldn’t believe it. It was something out of the Bible. Just absolute torrential downpour for five minutes, and then blue skies. It was absolutely crazy. Monsoon weather and then the seas parted and it started to dry up again. It really was crazy.
Well that’s typical Brands Hatch weather for November
Brands Hatch is awesome. It’s the place where I got my first win. I’ve always been successful there. I’ve always had the luck on my side there. I’ve never really DNF’d, just always had good results there.
And I was actually really looking forward to it, despite the odds going into it of not having had the perfect last couple of results going in, or the momentum; we managed to turn it around on one of the most technical tracks. Double poled it, and I think taking the race one win really helped us secure it.
The season as a whole for you, how has it been on the inside?
Stressful. A very, very important year for me. This was the last year that I could really do British F4 before moving up. It was sort of my natural time to win it, and if we hadn’t it would have been quite detrimental for my career. It would have put a halt on the brakes at that point. To come away and get it, absolutely meant everything to me. I’m so thankful to everyone who was around me.
You’d been with Fortec about two days by the time the pre-season Media Day test came around. Obviously been a truncated year for everyone, but for you it kind of started later anyway?
Yeah. I didn’t even know I’d be racing in British F4 the day before the media day. It got announced the day before the media day. Obviously I knew maybe a week or so before, but it was pretty tight and last-minute. We hopped in, I was over six months out of the car, and my first day back we went to P1 by half a second, which is quite awesome. It’s very rare. It just kind of shows what an awesome team I have behind me. With Ollie, and my awesome mechanic and my engineer as well.
Did lockdown help you, because you were so late in gave you that breathing room with the team before the season eventually started
Yeah it helped me out a little bit, for sure. The only thing it didn’t help me out with was some of the other competitors were able to get a few more test days in. And obviously we weren’t able to do that. So that sort of worried me a little bit, but other than that it was, it for sure helps getting to know the team. And I think funding-wise as well, it’s spread out. It spread out the rounds and it gave me a little bit more time to be able to get some more funding in to be able to finish the season. I think at the start of the season, it was noted that were only going to do, or we were only confirmed for the first three rounds. And then, yeah, finishing it at the end, and I think COVID actually helped us with that.
That’s crazy. You’re the first non-Carlin driver to win the title while Carlin has been competing.
For sure it’s a big achievement. The team’s been trying really hard. Carlin was in full force there. Four drivers paying big budgets, all done 40 test days, it was no easy task beating them. I think their run’s been fabulous so far, and at some point it’s got to come down. I mean, I’m just so happy that us and Fortec are sort of taking on the reins on that.
What’s next for 2021? Will there be time to celebrate the title?
Fortunately, I’m testing a British Formula 3 car next week. Which is an awesome opportunity. Driving an F3 car, just straight away, is going to be pretty mental and a big step up, but I’m ready for the challenge on that. Where it goes, I’m not sure. It will be obviously down to funding as usual, but whatever I do, I’ll make it exciting.
Describe the relationships with the two teams you’ve raced for. Richardson Racing in Ginetta Junior and British F4 last year, then Fortec this year
The two teams there are very family orientated. Richardson’s all family-oritentated, it’s run by the family. Richardson’s mum does all the admin, and the [team principal] is very good at going to the clerk’s office with the juducials book and everything. And it’s very, very similar actually. That is two aspects that are very similar between Fortec and Richardson, is that we’ve got that sort of family feel.
Fortec has been known as this such massive team, but since they’ve scaled down, I know everyone in there and everyone’s happy to help each other out, and it’s very similar from team to team there, because in a way there are small-scale teams at the moment. But with everyone scaling back up, you start to get that more commercial feel. But at the end of the day, I think that’s what breeds success.
Your title rivals pushed it down to the wire. Talk about stengths and weaknesses of title rivals and how you were able to overcome them
Obviously it was very, very tight year this year. The extra testing, it just meant that coming into it everyone was at a much higher level. Second year wasn’t such a big advantage.
Around the technical tracks, we really seemed to excel, and that’s what eventually helped us out. I think Casper [Stevenson] did a brilliant job at Thruxton, and Zak [O’Sullivan] at Silverstone. We all had our tracks. But fortunately there’s a few more technical tracks on the calendar than there is of ones that are more prone to overtaking.
Of course Brands Hatch stood out. it’s the place where we on it. That Oulton Park weekend was absolutely insane. Doing the triple win there for the first time was really, really special. Unfortunately, it’s recently been taken over – it was my best day up until the day I won the championship. That’s recently taken over as the best day of my life. Two really, really special days.
How do you plan to wind down?
I’ve got to try to relax a little bit. As I’m sat here, I’m sat on my simulator, doing a little bit of time on that again. I saw British F4 tweeting about the British F4 iRacing Trophy coming back up, and stuff like that. All these Esports series and the opportunities that come throughout the winter. I’m sure I can get my teeth into that. I’ve got to try to relax, in terms of my family and stuff. There’s been a lot of stress this year. And just sort of enjoying, rejoice, get back to full fighting form for next year because we’re all starting at a level playing field again.
In Esports, you were racing against the likes of Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean the other day. What’s it like to race them?
It’s awesome. I’m so lucky to be in it, to start off with. I’m just learning so much off these guys. You just see the way they drive, just driving style and technique and the way they approach overtaking someone. I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn from these guys, and it just fast-tracks my progress when I can race against Max Verstappen and the amount of names in that field. You can say any one of them.
It just means that I can use these techniques that I’ve been racing against these brilliant guys. Sometimes they use it on me, I’ll be able to use that in the future on some unsuspecting victim as well.
You’re part of Team Fordzilla, Ford’s first ever Esports team. Can you talk a little bit about the involvement thay’s had in your racing career?
Ford have been brilliant. I got invited onto the Team Fordzilla programme, and they’ve helped coach me in the sim racing world and told me what championships to do. They’ve really sort of put my name on the map in terms of that. And getting paid to drive on the simulator was just a totally new aspect for me that I hadn’t really taken into account. To be pro on the sim now is just absolutely awesome. A big thanks to them guys.
You’ve been in the TOCA paddock for four years now. How weird has this year been without all the crowds, and us being there annoying you with questions, and everyhing else?
It’s been strange, it really has. Not at all on the side of you annoying me! It’s been really, really strange. it’s been a bit sad not having all of the teams there, or the crowds there, to support you. It makes it sort of extra special when you win a race. I remember my first race win in Ginetta Junior at Brands Indy, and it just felt so special. You come past the grandstands, and you get your fist out of the car, and everyone’s screaming. You can actually hear the clapping, which is a surreal feeling. We’ve missed out on that this year, but it means the supports have a greater online presence, and that boosts the TV figures which helps in other ways.