Compared to 2015, the F4 British Championship appears to be far more competitive with six to eight drivers still in with a chance of the title. TCF caught up with one of these competitors; James Pull, about his history, title chances, future and why he races with a British licence.
As British F4 enters its second half, the drivers are becoming increasingly aware that every point counts. Last season, incredible consistency saw Ricky Collard keep up with Lando Norris, taking the title fight to the final round.
This season has been no different, with some drivers proving to be quick over a single lap, yet lacking race pace or overtaking ability. While others are more consistent, valuing high points scores and minimising bad weekends. In a year where Carlin has dominated, six drivers go into the final three rounds with 25 points between them.
As for Pull, consistency seems to be key, with six podiums and no victories to his name. “Considering the unluckiness we’ve been having, it’s been going well so far.” he started. “Obviously Carlin have been showing a pretty good performance, that’s been very good.
“We’ve been working hard to fight for the championship, but we know there’s seven other drivers that could be champions at the end of the year. It’s close, but we know it’s been going well.”
Pull is no stranger to the series though, as one of the highest place returning drivers, the Singaporean-born driver was one of the pre-season favourites. He talked about his time last season with Joe Tandy Racing.
“The JTR team were great, they had the Formula Ford experience, so they had a lot of knowledge of the engine and the championship in general. They were excellent at the start of the year, obviously with Nick Tandy on board it was a massive influence to me and the team. He was the person who taught me the basics of how to drive a car and how to do it fast!
“Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for him, he won the Le Mans. He had had great success in the Porsche team and it was great to be part of the team he was managing while he was doing that. In turn though, he had more important things he needed to do with Porsche and his own career. This meant he had less time for the JTR team and so we didn’t push on as much as the others.”
Despite his run of podiums at the start of the year, Pull didn’t remain with the team and moved to Fortec Motorsports in the second half of the season. He insisted the relationship with both teams remains strong.
“The team themselves were a great set of people. We’d shown at the start of the year that they were, but after that we decided to move on and see what else we could do with a different set of people.”
While the option remained open for him to return to Fortec, the 16 year old decided to make the switch to Carlin for the 2016 season. With himself and Petru Florescu having gained a years experience, it has been important for Pull to set a benchmark to Devlin DeFrancesco and the relatively inexperienced Max Fewtrell who’ve been racing elsewhere.
“I’ve known Max since the start of my racing career and we’ve done AsiaCup together. Dev has been with me since my first year of European racing, which is great. We’re all really close and competitive, so we push each other to do better. I think that’s one of the reason’s we’ve been so successful this year.”
With Florescu and DeFrancesco on four and three wins a piece this year, Pull insists that consistency is key, despite having not taken the chequered flag this year.
“The main aim is just to get as many points as we can. All the drivers push each other along and that’s why we’re successful, we’ve got four great drivers and we push each other to get better.
“So far I’ve struggled with qualifying, but with the field so close, one tenth can be race changing. We’ve got to keep our heads down, keep up the pace and I’ve shown I have really quick race craft.”
Other than the four Carlin drivers, two competitors have been keeping them busy this season. Luis Leeds and the highly experienced Sennan Fielding currently sit second and fourth in the standings. Despite the threat, Pull thinks his team dynamic will eventually win out.
“Yeah, they’re the main championship contenders for their individual teams, but it’s also harder for them to get stuck in when the Carlin boys are pushing each other ahead.
“Obviously they’ve shown that they’re extremely quick in the race and qualifying, so we do have to watch out and it’s not just a guaranteed Carlin lock out any more. We have to be wary of what they do, but with the set up we have, we can beat them.”
While he may have competed in the AsiaCup before his MSA Formula debut in 2015, track time has been minimal for Pull. With his team-mates having gained experience in MRF Challenge, the Toyota Racing Series and EuroFormula Open, he does feel that has held him back, even if school should take a priority.
He remains focused on claiming the British F4 title, but like many young drivers has eyes on the future. As for many, F1 remains the clear goal, yet Pull was realistic and accepted his future could lie elsewhere, even outside of driving.
“Of course F1 is the dream goal, I’m going to aim for that, but I will be realistic in the fact, there’s a small chance I might not get there, so I’ve been looking elsewhere. My main aim is to just make a career of racing and get paid to do what I love.”
“F1 is a hard place to get to and there’s a lot of other talented drivers and those with money, so it is going to be tough, but if not, I’d like to look into GT cars, LMP’s, Sports or Touring Cars. So anything just to have a career in racing. Even if it’s with engineering, I love it so much I want to have it as my job.”
Changing nationalities hasn’t been uncommon for some drivers either. Even Nico Rosberg briefly competed under a Finnish flag in his younger days, yet Pull seemed unreserved in talking about his younger years.
“Well, I lived in Singapore, for a year when I was born, then Hong Kong for seven years. I later moved back to Singapore and three years ago, when racing got serious, I made the decision that if I want to do racing I’ll have to move to Europe, as the European scene is much stronger.
“You’ve got all the big karting teams in Italy, after that I moved to the UK, where I live with a guardian, but I’ve always associated myself with being British as my dad’s British, so when we moved here, we thought it’d be easier to use a British licence while I was racing in British F4.”
Despite this, he insists that he has not forgotten his roots and has great respect for his country of origin, even if it seems a long way away right now.
“I do still associate myself with Asia. My mum is Malaysian / Chinese and I lived the majority of my life in Asia. It’s not really a big worry for me, as long as I get to race, that’s all.”
While on track experience has been hard to come by, Pull has had great assistance off track with the McLaren Performance Academy, who he still associates himself with. He considers them a large part to his success this season.
“They’ve helped me to become fit enough to drive in a car because the step between karts and cars is a big one. They’ve allowed me to have work with their physio[therapist] and equipment.”
“They have also helped me with mental fitness. This helps me to approach good times and bad times, how to stay focused if things are going bad and just attitude in general.”
Pull currently sits fifth in the championship with 208 points. A poor weekend in Knockhill means that he is 22 points off the leader; Fewtrell, but is still focused on the long-term.
“All I really care about is being the winner of the championship. No one will remember the winner of Snetterton race two, but they will remember the British champion. I’ve shown the pace and hopefully we can get over the bad luck and show our true potential.”