After signing as a Williams junior in March, Ollie Gray has his sights on the British F4 title as he moves to Carlin for his second season in a championship changing in a lot of ways
Aged 16, single-seater racing sophomore Ollie Gray has already been used as a reference driver in Formula 4 and has moved from Fortec Motorsports to Carlin for his second British championship campaign.
A year of experience won’t be as applicable as usual (although clearly valuable given the circumstances behind Gray’s team switch) as British F4 moves under the organisation of Motorsport UK, switches to the new Tatuus T-421 car and from Ford to Abarth engines.
Gray is confident, however, that he will be challenging at the front of the grid, and is already feeling the difference in experience against slicks-and-wings rookies Ugo Ugochukwu and Louis Sharp who will be his team-mates.
Along with Ugochukwu (McLaren) and Argenti driver Daniel Guinchard (Mercedes-AMG), Gray is one of three Formula 1 junior drivers on the grid following his recent signing by Williams.
“I’m a bit older than both of them here so I feel really old compared to them, Ugo still being 14,” says Gray, referring to Ugochukwu and Guinchard.
The combination of his 2021 experience, and the fact he’s one of the few drivers who learned the T-421 by contesting F4 United Arab Emirates at the start of 2022, means there “is definitely like a bit of pressure to perform this year”.
Increased width and weight are the two main changes to the new F4 car, more than the presence of the halo cockpit protection device, as it changes the drivability and makes it harder to overtake. Gray points out other changes of feeling at the wheel too.
“It’s pretty different,” he says. “The main thing is that it’s a very stiff car compared to the old one and more power which is always good. It’s really enjoyable to drive and just keep learning with it [with the mileage so far], really.”
“It’s definitely negated some of the advantage you get being a second-year driver. But obviously I’ve got all of that race experience behind me racing in a car where these two [Ugochukwu and Guinchard] are fresh out of karting.”
Williams’ overhaul of its driver development programme involved signing Gray last month, which was perhaps a surprise piece of news given Gray’s rookie British F4 season resulted in seventh in the standings and only one weekend in 10 where he made the podium (in the form of two victories from two poles).
But Gray has been more impressive than results suggested, and is part of the WH Sports management group that also guides Ollie Bearman’s career. He actually finished second to his namesake in the IAME Euro Series in karting’s X30 Junior class in 2019, when he also won the British championship and Kartmasters GP titles.
Being well connected in the paddock helped land Gray some additional mileage in the second half of last year. He joined Bearman on the Italian F4 grid for the final two rounds of the season with BVM Racing, and then tested with Bearman’s old team Van Amersfoort Racing.
Perhaps more significant though was the fact that he was one of several reference drivers used by Ugochukwu’s backers for his preparatory F4 test programme.
That put him in contention at Carlin, and with Ugochukwu headed there it meant there was a preference for Gray to be one of his team-mates. Several months later, Gray became a Carlin driver and just as he joined Williams too.
With such firm backing and what should be a top seat for 2022, it gives Gray room to look forward to 2023 as well.
“Because I spent this extra year in F4 I need to sort of make the jump to FIA [Formula 3] as soon as possible really and basically just win this year. And then make the jump to F3 hopefully the year after. But you’ve just got to focus on race-to-race, test day-to-test day and just perform at your maximum.
“Being part of Williams has just given me so much confidence,” he adds.
“Coming in as one of the top second-year drivers from last year and after not having the season I wanted in my rookie season, but I feel much more prepared this year and I’m looking forward to this year.”
The teams that raced in the UAE got a big benefit as their orders of the T-421 were delivered first, while the rest of the British teams were sat waiting a month longer before they could even shake down the new car as supply chain issues slowed the production of the complete cars. But that means the majority of testing for the paddock has been done on British circuits, and Carlin has been one of those teams that’s been busy on home soil (although it did plan to enter F4 UAE).
“I went out for the first two rounds of the UAE series [with Hitech GP] which was pretty good. A different tyre though on the Hankook so a bit of a reset back to here [on Pirellis], but it was good for just driving the new car really, even though it was a bit different,” Gray explains.
“We’ve just had a pretty intensive testing programme with Carlin, every week pretty much we’re out in the car, understanding more and more every time up and down the country. Which I’ve enjoyed quite a lot.”
D/O/B April 28, 2004
2022: British F4 with Carlin
2021: 7th in British F4 (2 wins, 2 poles, 1 fastest lap), 37th in Italian F4
2020: 6th in WSK Euro Series – OK, 10th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK, 14th in WSK Super Master Series – OK
2019: British champion – X30 Junior, British Kartmasters GP winner – X30 J, 2nd in IAME Euro Series – X30 J, 5th in IAME Winter Cup – X30 Junior, 32nd in IAME Int. Final – X30 J, 33rd in WSK Euro Series – OK Junior
2018: 11th in British championship – X30 J
2017: 10th in Little Green Man Series – IAME Cadet, 17th in British championship – IAME Cadet