When a season’s racing comes to a close, there’s unfortunately always got to be a second placed driver. But if the 2020 British F4 Championship was anything to go by, then the vice-champion in question here put on one hell of a show. Carlin’s Zak O’Sullivan showed immense pace, resilience, race craft and determination to put up a stirring title fight against Luke Browning, and just came up short my a matter of seconds, literally.
In part two of our driver reviews of what has been another fantastic campaign of British feeder series action, we take a look at what made O’Sullivan’s season one to remember and what the youngster expects moving forward.
O’Sullivan started the season strongly, winning three of the first six races and taking an early commanding lead in the title race. Five further wins at Knockhill, Silverstone, Croft and Snetterton set up a title deciding race against Browning amidst mixed conditions at a wet and cold Brands Hatch. And despite winning the final race of the season which would’ve given him the title, a stoppage midway through the race handed out half points, giving Browning the title and leaving O’Sullivan wanting.
But when asked about how he found bis debut season, O’Sullivan was quick to admit his lack of expectation helped him keep focused during his debut campaign, and the confidence he gained from his results stands him in good stead for 2021 and beyond.
“It was a great experience. I learned a lot, which was my main aim heading into the season. I didn’t set myself any targets other than to learn as much as I could in my first year of single-seaters. My main takeaway would be that I know I can do a good job in this kind of car and championship. It gives me a lot of confidence going forward into 2021 and beyond.” explained O’Sullivan.
Scoring the most wins in the season was always a high watermark, and that fact wasn’t lost on O’Sullivan. A fresh approach to each session was the secret to his success according to the Carlin man.
“I had the same approach to every race weekend, which was to take every session as it comes and just get the maximum out of it that I could. Every time I went out on track, it was a chance to learn more. I had a great team in Carlin behind me and adding that to what I was learning every weekend, I managed to achieve a lot of wins and podiums.” said O’Sullivan.
Not many drivers had such a varying spectrum of highs and lows than Zak O’Sullivan. From scoring some dominant pole positions, wins and comeback drives, to missing out on the title at Brands Hatch by a matter of seconds – there isn’t anyone with more authority to run us through their most unforgettable and forgettable moments of 2020.
“My highlight was Snetterton, which was pretty much a perfect weekend. I finished first on the road in all three races and only missed the hat-trick because of a penalty for the incident with Luke in the first race. It was the same circuit where I took my first win in the Ginetta Junior Championship, so I know I go well around there.
“The lowlight would be Thruxton. I got taken out of the lead by Luke in the second race and had a technical problem in the final race. It was a really disappointing weekend, probably the only one of the year where there wasn’t at least one positive result.” explained O’Sullivan.
A season’s racing is like a book, with each race acting as the chapters revealing the story. And there are multiple parts of the 2020 story that O’Sullivan could pinpoint as a turning point in his title fight against eventual champion Luke Browning.
“That would also be Thruxton. I was almost 60 points behind Luke at that stage and the pack behind me were closing in as well. However, it became something of a turning point as every weekend after that was a winning one. I had a couple of mechanical issues on the car over the course of the year, which is always a disappointing thing to happen. Without those, I would have had enough points to win the championship, but it is all ifs, buts and maybes.” expressed O’Sullivan.
Driving for a name like Carlin is a privilege for any up and coming driver in the single seater world, yielding world superstars such Sebastian Vettel, Kevin Magnussen, Lando Norris, Will Power and two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden to name a few. O’Sullivan explained how he settled in well and looks to leave his mark on the team and use it as a springboard in his own career moving forward.
“I settled in really well. We worked really well with the team throughout the year and I had their full support. We’ve had a really good relationship and it was nice to help win the teams’ championship for them. They were able to help my development by passing on their huge amount of experience, both in this category and others. It was great to learn from a team which has had so many famous names through its doors over the years.” said O’Sullivan.
His season-long fight with Browning for the championship trophy was something to behold, and O’Sullivan was quick to point out how much he enjoyed the battles with the Fortec Motorsport champion. But ultimately, it’s the heart that he takes from his successes in a stunning debut campaign that will drive him forward.
“It was really enjoyable. We had some great battles on track and there was absolutely nothing in it in the championship fight. We really put the pressure on and closed the gap every weekend, which was very satisfying considering the relative difference in our experience levels.
“We all know how it ended and if it wasn’t for that red flag, I’d have been champion. I can take a huge amount of encouragement from my performances this season. Taking nine wins and 18 podiums is something I’m really proud of.” explained O’Sullivan.
And finally, like everyone else up and down the paddock and beyond, the wait for O’Sullivan’s future plans was tantalising. And at the time of this interview, the news of his 2021 British F3 programme hadn’t been announced, but he was always sure that something would be lined up very soon.
“I’m looking to try something different to F4 in 2021. Watch this space!” exclaimed O’Sullivan.