Ben Barnicoat admitted that the disappointing weekend at Silverstone in 2015 cost him a genuine shot at the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series championship, with a trio of no-scores seeing him drop too far out of contention.
The Racing Steps Foundation-backed Briton finished fourth in the championship last season while driving for Fortec Motorsports, but a first race retirement and two further non-scores saw him leave his home track disappointed.
“Silverstone was an awful weekend really; it was probably the weekend that ruined all my championship hopes,” revealed Barnicoat to The Checkered Flag at the Autosport International Show. “[This] was really disappointing because if it weren’t for that, I would have been in with a great shout of winning the championship.
“Even if I’d finished kind of sixth in all three races it would have still put me in a great bid to win it.
“Ferdinand [Habsburg] hit me in the first one, which wrote that one off, and the team had a massive job to get it out for the second race but they unfortunately didn’t quite see that the oil pressure sensor was broken, which is what caused it to turn off in race two. When it did eventually start back up again then Harrison [Scott], when I was struggling a bit for speed, had a collision with me; it was a great shame really.
“I can’t really put all the blame on Ferdinand because the other guys did slow down pretty quick, it caught me a little bit by surprise but I’d seen the safety car boards so I was a bit ready for it, whereas he hadn’t seen them and that’s why he hit me. It was a massive shame but these things happen.”
Despite his disappointments of Silverstone, Barnicoat put them all behind him to secure a trio of wins over the final three race weekends at the Nurburgring, Le Mans and Jerez, to finish just 22-points off champion Jack Aitken.
“After Silverstone it was great, I just wish the first half had been like that really,” said Barnicoat. “To go straight to Nurburgring the following weekend and bounce back as I did was great really, and to show good pace as I did.
“The first day I only got fourth but I knew I could have done a little bit better, I knew I didn’t quite nail qualifying, but the second day I got it all right and it all fell into my hands really. I qualified on pole in the dry and won in the wet, couldn’t be any better really, and then after then it all carried on flowing and I had a great string of results.
“It was great to win the last race of the season; it’s the one that a lot of people remember, so it was really good to win that. It was nice to sign off with a win, as that is where I knew I should have been really all through the year but for whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be.”
Initially, Barnicoat had been announced with Prema Powerteam for 2016, but the deal between Racing Steps Foundation and the Italian team fell through, leaving the British driver to seek drives elsewhere, something he found in Hitech Grand Prix.
“I did a little bit of testing with Prema to start with, Racing Steps Foundation did a deal to go there but unfortunately it fell through, which is a great shame,” admitted Barnicoat. “It would have been great to go there and follow in Jake’s [Dennis] footsteps; it would have been a very logical step; but then for some management issues at Prema I was then kicked out.
“Then I did two test’s with Hitech and Fortec Motorsports, and both went extremely well, I was very competitive in both of the cars. I’ll be going to Hitech GP, a brand new outfit, when you go there you really get the impression that they are there to win and nothing else. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into making sure everything’s right.
“I was very impressed with how professional they were and I’m really looking forward to working with them, obviously George [Russell] has gone there as well which is a massive bonus because he’s got the years experience that will help me learn, and if there’s ever a point where I’m struggling a bit I’ve always got his information to bounce back on. We’re both up-and-coming British racing drivers, so we’re going to push each other extremely hard which is great, what you need in a team.
“Nikita [Mazepin] also, he’s a great guy. I think he might find it a little bit harder because he doesn’t have quite the experience me and George have, he’s only done one year of single seaters. In testing he always did a good job but he didn’t have that last little bit, but I’m sure it’s going to be a good team and I’m really looking forward to it.
“Alexander [Sims] just kind of jumped into the Hitech car [last year] and he did good, so that was very promising, and they’ve had a lot of days testing to improve that, and they’ve got the technical director John McGill, who’s come from Prema, so that’s a really good bonus, as he’ll have a great understanding of the car, so its great in terms of car development.”
The Briton felt a move into European Formula 3 from Formula Renault 2.0 was an obvious one for him once he knew he was not going to get the prize fund available to the championship winner of the Eurocup title to aid a move into Formula V8 3.5. He remains realistic with his rookie year ambitions, but is keen to prove himself and become a race winner sooner rather than later.
“Obviously if I had won 2.0 litre, then I probably would have gone into 3.5 with the prize money that you get but obviously that didn’t happen, and as soon I knew I wasn’t going to win 2.0 litre and Renault pulled their backing out, it was a bit of a no-brainer really to go to F3; a lot of races, and a good season,” said Barnicoat.
“It’s a shame there’s no Silverstone, I would have loved to have driven a Formula 3 car there but I suppose it’s one of those things I’m not going to get the chance to do.
“I’d love to be a race winner, that is a definite target, not sure how soon that is going to come, little bit going into the unexpected, I know that Formula 3 is extremely hard, but I believe I have the ability to win, its just how soon I can get to grips with the whole racing side of it.
“Probably a realistic target is to get into the top five in the championship, but its quite hard to know where I am at the moment but after the first official test [in Vallelunga], I’ll have a good understanding where I’m at and I’ll be able to set a more realistic target from there.”
Barnicoat admits he is still pushing to get into Formula 1, despite acknowledging the difficult in the modern era to make it, but feels with the backing of Racing Steps Foundation and being part of the McLaren Junior programme, he has a good chance to succeed providing his results continue to be positive.
“At the moment I’m still pushing for Formula 1,” said Barnicoat. “But as everyone knows it’s extremely hard but at the moment I’m very lucky to have Racing Steps Foundation behind me, as well as McLaren.
“I’m in a great position providing I keep on giving them the results that they need; I can’t really do anything more than to show how committed I am to my racing, which everyone seems to give me good feedback on, so as long as I keep on pushing as hard as I can, getting the results I have been getting, I can’t see why I can’t be in with a good shout of it really.”