Last month Adrian Quaife-Hobbs became the first champion of summer 2012 when he secured the Auto GP title in Curitiba, Brazil. TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk asked the young man from Pembury in Kent about his season and the future.
Quaife-Hobbs was one of a number of drivers who impressed in 2011’s ultra-competitive GP3 season, which saw ten different winners from the first ten races. Driving for Marussia Manor Racing, he won in Valencia and then took a pole position on home soil at Silverstone, a feat he repeated at the season finale at Monza.
Those performances earned him opportunities with the sister Formula 1 team (Virgin, as it was then) – first in the form of some straight-line tests and then a run-out at the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi.
After finishing fifth in the GP3 points (and just a couple of points away from third), things were looking good for Quaife-Hobbs. He had previously shown great promise in GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 tests, and a step up to one of those categories beckoned for 2012.
But what happened in reality is a mark of how difficult it is just to get on the grid in the junior categories in this age. Quaife-Hobbs hails from a family that owns a successful business, whose logos are seen on racing cars around the world. And yet still, that wasn’t going to be enough.
“As part of the Marussia F1 young driver program we waited to see what their plans where for 2012 and by the time it became apparent that they were not going to continue the program it was impossible for us to get the budget together for a championship challenging campaign in either GP2 or World Series by Renault with a front-running team,” Quaife-Hobbs explains.
“We then looked at other options and made the decision that whatever we chose needed to continue my racing education and Auto GP with 550 BHP, pit stops with two tyre compounds to deal with seemed to be the answer as the right preparation to try to hit the ground running in GP2 in 2013.”
Even though the deal with Super Nova International Racing came together late, Quaife-Hobbs hit the ground running. His last race of 2011 had taken place at Monza and he had started from pole, and he ensured that 2012 was going to start in exactly the same way – even though he had to get to grips with the big jump in power. This time he converted that into a victory, and the 21-year-old jointly led the championship after the opening weekend.
Quaife-Hobbs took pole in three of the next four weekends, and also scored four more race wins. That included an emphatic double victory at Portimao in round five, a result that meant he made the trip to Curitiba with the chance to win the title.
On pole again for Saturday’s first race, a bad start saw him drop to third place. That was still going to be enough to wrap up the title, but a problematic pit stop saw him fall to sixth. The championship would have to wait, but only four points would be needed over the remaining three races.
That equated to a seventh place finish in race two, but Quaife-Hobbs wanted to do it in style. A great launch took him from third on the grid into the lead and he was still there on lap 20 of 23. The last frontrunner still to make his mandatory pitstop, he had a lead of 35 seconds as he headed for the pit lane. Disaster then struck, as on his worn tyres he slid off the tarmac and into a tyre wall, ending his race.
Nearest rival Pal Varhaug didn’t get the result he needed, so Quaife-Hobbs was champion nonetheless. The television images showed he was visibly angry, but he says that he soon put that behind him.
“I have been around racing all of my life and I realise that motorsport is not an exact science and every now and then things can go wrong,” he states.
“So for an hour I was disappointed and then on reflection of the season I was delighted to win the title in Curitiba and realised it was down to all the other hard work and results from the previous races.
“In race one it was an issue with a rear wheel nut retaining clip which nobody could foresee so nothing to be done except get the best result possible after a 24 second pit stop and the sixth place secured the championship. Race two I was pushing ten-tenths and without the mishap on pit entrance I should have come out some three or four seconds in front of Pizzonia to win my sixth race of the year.”
Looking back on his dominant season, Quaife-Hobbs believes that most important thing is that it has helped him to develop as a driver.
“It has been a fantastic year working with Super Nova and Rob my race engineer and it helped me to develop as a driver,” he said. “It has been very professional and we have tried to leave nothing to chance and because of this we have got the results we have.”
David Sears’ Super Nova outfit have a history of success in Formula 3000, but their time in GP2 came to an end over the winter. Now, Quaife-Hobbs has returned the team to their glory days. He says that being able to work with the Norfolk-based team was a great help.
“Because of their professionalism in team management and car preparation I was able to focus with my race engineer on trying to win races and not having to worry about other issues,” he said.
One race remains in the Auto GP calendar. Sonoma provides Quaife-Hobbs with an opportunity to end the year on a high, and the chance to deliver Super Nova the reward of the teams’ championship.
“Yes I am very much looking forward to racing in Sonoma and it will be the first time I have raced in the USA,” he said.
“We will be looking to try to win both races as we have done the whole season and with the drivers’ championship won we now need to try to get two good results to try to secure the team championship for Super Nova.”
Having wrapped up the title a little over halfway into 2012, there is time remaining for Quaife-Hobbs to do something else before the year is out. But at the moment there are no firm plans for any more racing beyond Sonoma, as he instead focusses on testing opportunities ahead of 2013.
“Ultimately I would like to do the young driver F1 testing in Abu Dhabi later in the year,” he said. “We will also look to do the GP2 testing at the end of their season but will obviously look at any other opportunities that are placed in front of us if we feel it will assist my career.”
Talking of F1 opportunities, Quaife-Hobbs is naturally disappointed that the tie-up with Marussia didn’t work out like it did for his GP3 teammate Rio Haryanto – whose popularity back home in Indonesia affords him the backing to remain on the programme and step up to GP2.
“I can only thank them for the opportunity and I am aware they were very pleased, especially the engineers, with my input,” said Quaife-Hobbs about Marussia. “But unfortunately because of budget issues, I was unable to find the budget to continue with them – yes it was disappointing.”
Looking ahead, Quaife-Hobbs is now aiming for a bigger F1 role in 2013, off the back of his 2012 success.
“The perfect scenario would be to be in a Formula One team young driver program as a test and reserve driver with some Friday morning running at the GP events,” he said about his hopes for next year.
“Alternatively, to be affiliated to a Formula One team whilst doing a GP2 race program with a leading team.”
Whatever happens next, Quaife-Hobbs has really proved himself in 2012. And after winning the same title that Romain Grosjean did in 2010 – and in similarly convincing style – he’ll hope to follow the Frenchman to the top of the sport soon.