Enaam Ahmed left the first round of the 2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship as points leader. After a trying first season in cars the year before, the step up to F3 looked to be an inspired move.
Unfortunately for Ahmed his first round points haul proved to be his largest, and an inconsistent season riddled with mechanical issues left him fifth in the standings, behind Douglas Motorsport team-mate Thomas Randle.
For 2017 he has moved to the crack Carlin squad, and he sits on top of the standings once again. The difference this time is Ahmed has won four of the first six races and, although it?s still early days, is favourite to win the title he has remained in the series for.
?It?s my second year, I?ve learnt a lot from mistakes last year where I was very inconsistent,? he says?This year the aim is to be a very consistent driver. I have a really good team behind me. Carlin?s car will be a lot more consistent than Douglas?s car. Oulton Park and Rockingham are two of our stronger tracks, so yeah, we?ll see how it goes.?
Last year Ahmed acted as the understudy to the older Randle, but is now the lead driver in Carlin Motorsport?s line-up.
?It?s my team-mates? first year in this series, they?re generally relying on my data to improve. I was with Thomas last year, I was the person who was learning off him. Obviously he was very experienced, he was 20 when he did it last year. It?s a different environment for me now.?
Ahmed?s data seems to be proving useful, as American team-mate Cameron Das has beaten him to pole on three of the four occasions this season and sits 12 points behind in the standings.
Das is ?really quick? according to Ahmed, but he isn?t the only driver he?s watching in the hunt for the title.
?Toby [Sowery], Callan O?Keefe. James [Pull], my other team-mate. Ben Hingeley. He?s really good as well. I think each team has at least one or two strong drivers.? according to Ahmed. ?Everyone has their strong points. Oulton was obviously a strong track for me, and we?ll see how the rest go.?
At Rockingham Das and Hingeley took their first wins in a weekend of mixed fortunes for Ahmed, off the back off his hat-trick at Oulton Park. After victory in the first race, a strong result was ruined in the second after avoiding an incident, and a self-inflicted mistake in the third while attempting to overtake Pull sent him to the back of the field and a second eighth-place finish of the day.
It was these kind of setbacks that were the hallmarks of Ahmed?s inconsistent 2016 season, a year which he believed could?ve gone a lot better.
?I think last year I could?ve won the championship; there was a few things that went wrong. I had a few breakdowns and things like that. Like in Brands Hatch I broke down in both races when I was in a good position. Also in racing I?ve never been with the best team, now I?m with the best team in Carlin. The car is really good, I?m feeling really good. I think I?m ready to win a championship finally.?
That feeling of being ready was not something the Londoner had two years ago when he made the step up to British F4 (then MSA Formula) with the Arden squad fresh from winning the world junior karting title
?I?d say that I might have moved up from karting a little bit too early, just due to the fact that Lando [Norris] did a year in senior karting before he went to F4. I was the junior champion and I think I should?ve done at least one more year before I would?ve moved up, because I never raced senior guys like he did.?
In 2014 Norris had claimed the World Karting Championship on the same day Ahmed took the Junior equivalent. Norris also competed in Ginetta Juniors that year, and so was plenty experienced in car racing come 2015.
Ahmed was completely new to the discipline though, and he made the step up to Formula 4 at the same time as Norris.
?In every form of racing, even from karting, he was always a category ahead of me because he?s nearly a year older than me.
?When F4 came about, I saw that it was for 15 year olds and I kinda rushed to the opportunity. Personally, I don?t think I was ready for it because I didn?t do any private testing or anything. I just threw myself in.?
Norris picked up four victories in the first half of the year, while Ahmed managed just two seventh places.
?For the first half of the year I was struggling, but then once I got to grips with it, I did some races abroad [in SMP F4] and I won in those against [future Red Bull junior] Niko Kari, and obviously I won at the last round in British F4. They were pretty strong over there.?
In the second half of the season Ahmed notched up a win and three further podiums, with his SMP programme resulting in five victories and two other podiums.
Despite eventually winning races, Ahmed never seemed fully at one in F4, and it?s been in the higher downforce F3 cars that he has flourished. The machinery was not the only thing that heckled him in the lower formulae:
?The problem with British F4 is the fact that at a lot of the tracks we tended to go on the national version. The good thing about BRDC F3 is that we run the full Silverstone track, full Brands GP, full Spa. In my opinion it?s one of the best national championships you can do. It?s actually cheaper than F4, and also you get a much faster car, and you get a lot more track time.?
Rivals Das, Sowery and O?Keefe have each contested a round of this year?s USF2000 series, which runs a similar Tatuus chassis to BRDC F3. Ahmed doesn?t see the benefits of such extra outings, but is open to racing stateside in future.
?The problem with the USF2000 car is that there is a lot less power [its Mazda engine produces over 50 horsepower less], and also a lot less downforce. So it doesn?t really make sense for me to go out there.?
?America?s always on the cards though, I wouldn?t mind going out there at all. I?ll see where life takes me.?
Being a part of Carlin means Ahmed has access to the team?s vast amount of data, which stretches back to the previous era of British F3. Carlin took a driver to the title nine times during that era, and were unlucky not to do the same in their return last year.
Ahmed added another trophy to their cabinet when he joined the team over the winter for the Autumn Trophy. At a foggy Snetterton he took two victories and impressed team boss Trevor Carlin enough to be retained for the main series.
?Enaam was a great asset and addition to the team when he joined us for the Autumn Trophy last year,? said Carlin. ?His attitude towards getting the job done was great, and he impressed with his natural ability in the car and his strong race craft.?
If success comes his way, could Ahmed follow old rival Norris in moving up to European F3 with the team?
?I?ll look at my options. It really does depend on how I do this year, because I have a lot of sponsors behind me, and I really need to win this year to be able to get a chance to go into something as high up and as expensive as FIA F3. But we?ll see how it goes.?