British F4 is set for its largest grid in four years. Unsurprisingly, it’s also expected to be one of the most competitive fields the series has ever had, with no clear pecking order emerging in the pre-season
Carlin’s unbeaten record in running drivers to the title in British Formula 4 was spoiled at the end of last year when Fortec Motorsports took Luke Browning to the crown. The team will no doubt be looking to bounce back and reclaim the top spot, while Fortec aims to do everything it can to make it two titles in a row.
Argenti Motorsport and JHR Developments both have the advantage of returning drivers on their side, while Arden and the returning Richardson Racing each have promising newcomers making the step up from Ginetta Juniors and karting.
A new race format is also likely to shake up the action and drivers will not only need to be quick but have the best racecraft to win this season.
Argenti’s Matias Zagazeta has to be one of the favourites heading into the first round of the season this weekend.
Zagazeta is one of four drivers continuing in the championship for a second season. He spent 2020 with Carlin, and moved teams for 2021. The Peruvian has set the pace in three of the four pre-season tests, and less than a tenth of a second off the top in the one he wasn’t, and he’s confident he can fight for the title in Argenti’s second year in single-seaters.
“Last year was very difficult, but we’re here to take advantage of all the experience gained last year and try to turn it around,” he told Formula Scout.
“There’s been a massive change compared to last year. I’m working four times harder and I hope to have a good year. It’s been going very well during testing. All the experience I gained last year, I’m putting that into what I’m doing now and it’s really helped a lot.
“I know what to do in every single race weekend, so that’s a massive advantage to have done a second year.”
Also doubling down on training for 2021 is Abbi Pulling, who continues at JHR this season. The team has a proven record at Thruxton, which holds this weekend’s season opener and is visited again in August, so all eyes will be on its sophomore racer.
Pulling had one-off standout moments in 2020 and showed clear progress over the course of the season. Like Zagazeta, she hopes to turn her second year in F4 into a title-winning campaign.
“I always want to win. Last year, I wanted to win but this year I’ve had a really, really good pre-season testing, with so many different set-ups, trying to get the most out of the car,” she said.
“I have a really good baseline set-up anyway, but it’s about finding what I want in the car. I’ve come back as a completely different driver. I’m not the same as what I was a few months ago, and I want to go for the title, be that first female to win an FIA championship.
“The preparation is to a whole new level. This time last year, I was just on my simulator. I was quite ignorant; I didn’t realise how much time I had to put into it. Working with Alice [Powell] halfway through the season it made me open my eyes to what I needed to do to get to where I needed to be.”
Pulling also made an outing in the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2020 to bolster her experience, while winter series aren’t widely entered or possible for most drivers at this stage of their career.
Carlin’s Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak – or Turn as he’s known within the team – was able to get out on track during the winter break though, competing in F4 United Arab Emirates for what was his maiden single-seater campaign.
He finished fifth overall, going head-to-head with the likes of SMP Racing protege Kirill Small and Enzo Trulli, who is now racing in Euroformula. The UAE series uses a different chassis and engine to Britain, meaning the transferable learning between the two series will be limited, but Inthraphuvasak still expects it to work in his advantage.
“UAE was preparation for the British championship,” he explained. “They’re different, with different temperatures there and the car and chassis were also different. It was pretty hard to get used to but it was good preparation nonetheless.
“It has given me a lot of confidence. Because of COVID-19, some drivers haven’t done a lot of racing in the past months so the opportunity to race in January and February has given me a lot of confidence going into this season.”
Having raced in the UAE, Inthraphuvasak has forfeited his ability to race for Rookie Cup honours this season, so has his eyes set on the overall title instead.
In terms of outright rookies, eight fit the criteria of having not entered more than two race meetings in cars. Picking a favourite for the Rookie Cup is possibly even harder than naming picks for the overall title.
JHR’s Matthew Rees and McKenzy Cresswell both impressed during testing, though both were reluctant during the media day to put the pressure on themselves at this early stage. Argenti’s Eduardo Coseteng and Arden’s Thomas Ikin have also shown strong single-lap pace.
As in previous seasons Ginetta Junior graduates will be out in force, with four drivers having previously raced in the series.
James Hedley and Roman Bilinski both made the step up from Ginettas to F4 last year and will spend 2021 racing for teams who know how to win the title.
Hedley made the late switch to Fortec, while Bilinski moves to Carlin, so neither can be ruled out when it comes to the title. Bilinkski was one of the first drivers to confirm his place on the grid, something that will no doubt work in his favour. However, Luke Browning announced his 2020 spot at Fortec only days before last season’s media day, and the late announcement from Hedley could just be the first step in repeating Browning’s achievement.
Elsewhere, Zak Taylor and Georgi Dimitrov will be making the step up from the entry-level sportscar series.
Dimitrov will race for Richardson as it returns to the series after a year out. Despite being the sole driver of a one-car team, the British-Bulgarian is still confident in his chances.
“There were thoughts of going with someone else but I think, at the end of the day, Richardson Racing is the perfect team for me,” he explained. “I built a relationship with them and they’ve only had one season in single-seaters with Browning in 2019. What they went through that year, they learned a lot from, and for this year they’re more prepared than they were in 2019. I think they are the perfect team really. We built a relationship and it’s all planned out really well.
“With the more cars in the team, you get more telemetry and you see what the other cars are doing but generally I’ve always been a little better by myself, as a driver, just focusing on my own thing. With the one-car line-up, I think we’re looking really strong. Some people might improve with a four-car line-up, but I think it’s an advantage and a disadvantage.”
Picking a favourite this early on, or even the title protagonists, wasn’t something most of the grid could agree upon, but there was a general approval of the championship format changes.
As in previous seasons, the second of the three races will be a reversed-grid race, but this year the entire field will be reversed rather than just half the finishers.
Reversed grids have become a controversial talking point higher up the single-seater ladder but, at this stage in their careers, the challenge is something the drivers are looking forward to.
“For me it’s a really good idea because it won’t necessarily be one or two or however many drivers at the front always wining a race,” Dimitrov said. “People who finish at the back will have a chance to go for the wins and the podiums, and the guys who finish at the front get a chance to start at the back and go through the field again.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea, it mixes things up perfectly and I think that’s what the championship needs.
Arden’s Taylor added: “I think it gives a whole new dynamic to British F4 and I think it will show the real driers from the people who can pop in a fast lap in qualifying and just stay there. I’m looking forward to it.”
Between the reversed grids demanding different talents from drivers and a packed grid of evenly matched competitors, the British F4 class of 2021 should finish the season well equipped for the next step on the single-seater ladder, whatever that may be.
|2020 campaign (2021)
|Formula Nordic champion
|14th in F4 UAE (’21), 12th in British F4
|5th in F4 UAE (’21), Senior karting
|4th in Ginetta Junior
|8th in British F4
|6th in British F4
|5th in British F4
|BRSCC Fiesta Junior champion
|11th in Ginetta Junior