Expectation was the word of the day when Luke Browning was announced as a Force Motorsport driver ahead of his sophomore campaign in British F4 for 2020. This was expectation that he could fulfil on a promise of becoming champion and continue his march up the ranks. When I caught up with him on pre-season media day at Donington Park last March, he seemed assured, comfortable and most of all – at complete ease with his ability and where he envisioned his 2020 panning out.
Fast forward to just two months ago at Brands Hatch for the season finale, and it was Luke Browning that did indeed fulfil that potential, and claim the British F4 title by the merest of margins after a hard fought season-long campaign with Carlin’s Zak O’Sullivan. In this third and final part of our end of season review of the top three finishers in the 2020 British F4 championship, we look back at what made Luke Browning tick, and what he has planned for the future after a quite astonishing season for the Fortec man.
When asked about how he’s managed to settle into his new role as an FIA champion, Browning was quick to remain humble and grateful for what he’s accomplished yet bullish, as he reflects on his year.
“Yeah, it’s been a nice feeling. Me and all the family have been relaxed through the winter. It’s always a nice feeling winning the championship, especially being the first one to take away from Carlin’s grasp made it a little bit sweeter. Sometimes you have a bad day during the off season and then all of a sudden it just sinks in again, and the smile starts to reappear on my face.
“At the end of the day, nothing else really matters to me other than racing, and being champion just overrules all the other feelings.” expressed Browning.
But when we discussed his early season consistency, with Luke scoring 11 podiums in the first 13 races, and the incredible four race winning streak including a clean sweep of victories at Oulton Park, Browning was quick to point out that his first half of the season haul of points was the key to success in the campaign.
“For sure. With the previous champions, it’s pretty much happened like that every time.They dominated the first half of the year and then it gets clawed back in the second half. That could be down to engine balancing half way through the year, or we hadn’t done as much testing through the year.
“I think maybe taking advantage of that second year experience helped a lot. I had to work on my fitness a lot at the beginning of the season, coming back into the fold at such a late date. But thankfully now my fitness is the best it’s ever been. But overall it was definitely important to have that early season pace.” explained Browning.
Even the champion had his personal ups and downs in what proved to be a frantic season. Browning was quick to point out the Brands Hatch finale as a lowlight, even though that’s the race where the championship was secured. The chaotic nature of the race with himself and many others falling foul to the conditions didn’t make for good memories for the 2020 champion. And it’s of no great surprise that sweeping the weekend at Oulton Park was Luke’s highlight of the season. A fighting performance in all three races really stamped his authority on the championship, and left O’Sullivan, Stevenson and company with it all to do as the campaign reached its conclusion.
“I can’t describe my thoughts with that last race. I saw both Hedley and O’Sullivan go through that gravel trap at Clearways and thought to myself ‘there’s absolutely no way they’re getting out of there’, and they just managed to get out. The race was wild, and it was completely dry for the first five laps, but we knew there was going to be a downpour at some point, but what we didn’t expect was the oil on track from the previous race that caught us all out, but thankfully it all worked out in the end!
“The highlight was definitely Oulton [Park] triple win. It was very special, especially with it being my home track. As for the incident with Alex [Connor], there was plenty of grip around the outside if turn one as it was drying up and has plenty go camber. He didn’t quite give me enough space but I would say it was a racing incident. But overall, the conditions of the weekend played into our hands and I wanted that triple win so I went for it.” explained Browning.
There was always an air of confidence that Luke Browning’s early season competitiveness and consistency, coupled with some wins would be enough to see him through, and he states that himself and the team never lost sight of the fact that they had the ability to get the job done.
“We always had a level of confidence to be perfectly honest, and we knew we were quick. We had our unlucky times, like Silverstone for example where Zak [O’Sullivan] took a hell of a lot of points out of us. The one win there was crucial, hanging on for dear life and it made me think we could hang on to our lead, even after the mid-season engine BOP change. And then they protested for track limits and the win was taken away from us, so that was pretty harsh and that was 25 points gone from our large lead.
“Thruxton was also tough, but we always maintained confidence that when we got to places like Knockhill, Oulton Park and Snetterton that we would perform better. The more technical nature suited us better and we would be much quicker.” said Browning.
Racing for one of the powerhouses of junior formula racing in Fortec Motorsport is definitely a highlight for any up and coming superstar, and Browning shared his emotions on what it was like to race for his new team in his sophomore season, being announced a Fortec driver before media day in early March, and how they helped his development in 2020.
“I managed to come in and click with the engineer and the rest of the guys almost immediately. And I think when you get the car working well for you it all just comes naturally. I hopped in the car and I fit right in, it felt like a tailored suit! First time in the car we were quickest on media day and I think that shows what a good car Fortec has.
“I’ve never seen anything like it when I arrived at the factory, the place was absolutely spotless. The mechanics, engineers and all personnel take top pride in all their work and they’re definitely the real deal. I can see these guys building up to some real glory again. It’s a great name to be connected with, and they’ve truly got everyone around them to be a brilliant team.” expressed Browning.
Luke was also full of praise and admiration for his main arch-rival in his title winning campaign, Carlin’s Zak O’Sullivan.
“Yeah I loved it! It’s great to have a bit of rivalry there, and it can always push you on. The way that Zak came along in the second half of the year was very impressive in the racing. We came along strong in qualifying, but we just couldn’t always get the points from it that we deserved. Zak raced really well and that’s what put him in good stead. I was winning most of my races from the front, and Zak was fighting through the field a lot, so we didn’t actually have that many wheel to wheel battles unfortunately!
“It didn’t get scrappy between us in the end, which is quite good. Building up the early cushion took a lot of stress off mine and team’s shoulders and perhaps that kept me tempered and more relaxed. We did only sign up for three rounds initially so it was very important to get out of the blocks quickly, and luckily we actually won it!” explained Browning.
And finally, no end-of-eason review would be complete without quizzing the driver in question on what his plans for the next season are. Luke remained tight lipped on his 2021 plans, but promised that a decision would be made soon after some pretty rapid speeds when testing some different machinery.
“It’s hard to say at the moment with increasing budget and all of this COVID-19 stuff, but I’m really positive that I’m going to be on the grid. It would be great to have that continuity with Fortec moving forward, but for now I’m just looking for new opportunities. I’m sure that once we get back into testing, the deals with be struck and i’ll be able to tell everyone what I’m doing, but I think the most likely scenario for me right now is moving up to British F3.”