Coming into the 2021 British F4 Championship, we have four returning drivers all searching for championship glory. And one of the biggest talking points as we head to Thruxton for round one in early May is the return of impressive first season driver Abbi Pulling. Of the returning drivers, Pulling is the only driver to keep the continuity of staying with the same team in JHR Developments. We managed to catch up with her a few weeks ago at the official season launch test at Silverstone as she prepares for what she believes can be a breakout year.
“I always want to win. Last year I wanted to win, but I think this year we’ve had a really good pre-season testing in trying to get the most out of the car. JHR always have a really good baseline setup anyway. The team want it just as much as I do, and they want their first championship also.
“I’m not underestimating anyone. Initially you look at the second year drivers and we’ve also got a strong lineup in the team this year as well. I just have to make sure I don’t make the first year mistakes again, and I think I’ve come back as a completely different driver. I want to go for that title and become the first female to win an FIA championship.” explained Pulling.
Like the other second year drivers of Zagazeta, Bilinski and Hedley, Pulling also believes that having that extra year of experience heading in 2021 should stand the sophomore drivers in good stead over the other first year and rookie drivers, and is enjoying the new senior role within the team in helping new team mates Mckenzy Cresswell, Joseph Loake and Matthew Rees settling into their new environment.
“The preparation has been very different this year, obviously with covid I’ve mainly just been at home streaming. Last year I was a bit ignorant, not really knowing how much work would be needed in the off season to prepare. And then after teaming up with Alice [Powell] it made me realise what I needed to do to get to where I want to be. Every day I’m doing something towards the season, wether it’s prep or training or even interviews in order to reach the end goal of winning the championship.
“I didn’t need as much testing this year as i’m not a first year driver anymore, but I would say i’m still at the same level of track time as I was this time last year. As I’m more of a benchmark this year I’m there to help Matthew, Mckenzy and Joseph get up to speed and hopefully have some good data to go off. But i’m also the guinea pig, trying new setups, getting a feel for what the car should and shouldn’t be doing now.
When asked about her performance at the first official test of 2021 at Brands Hatch, Pulling was quick to show confidence in her ability and speed of the car around the Indy circuit, and what that means for herself and the team’s potential heading into what could be the closest season we’ve had in many years.
“From the get go I think I was sitting P1 for the majority of the morning session, and then Matias [Zagazeta] set a time that was only about half a tenth quicker than me. It’s hard to compare on those days because the track is always changing, but I felt quite happy with it. It seemed that everyone had been there testing this year, so I was just thinking I couldn’t do much better considering I hadn’t done much testing until that point this year.
“And then in the second session I was at the front. I think I was on older tyres and still a bit ahead of everyone. I remember when I went out on new tyres for my first run and there was lots of traffic, something like 18 cars on a small track like Brands Indy is difficult to get a representable time in. There was a couple tenths left in the track if you looked at my sectors, and last year that would’ve been the difference between pole position and fifth place roughly. But overall I think it was a good day and made people think ‘Oh, Abbi’s in for a shout’, and ultimately that’s what I’m here to do.” said Pulling.
And with Thruxton hosting two race meetings in 2021, coupled with JHR Developments’ strong record around the high speed track, Pulling admitted that the expectations would have to be tempered with the addition of a full reverse grid race in the weekend’s schedule, and told us not to expect a clean sweep of race victories similar to what was achieved last year in the hands of James Hedley. A good haul of points and consistency is the aim of the game, as well as if she’s been able to impart any wisdom to her new team mates.
“The team isn’t really putting that much pressure on us there. Obviously the team joke about how good our record is there and how nice it would be to continue that, but they know it’s going to be hard this year with the reverse grid. There’s a lot of cars to go through, and i’m not worried about that but it’ll definitely be harder to win those races. But they have high expectations for the fact that they have a good setup around Thruxton and I’m confident in myself at that track. I haven’t been there since the last race we did there in 2020, and I finished P2 and I think I can be consistent and rack up some good points.
“It’s been kind of fun, in a way I’ve been helping them. Me and Mckenzy have the same coach this year so we’re together in a way, So if there’s anything I pick up I can mention it to the others to help them. The prep of the tyres is so important, and that’s something I really missed the mark on last year, so being able to help them is also beneficial for the team this year.” explained Pulling.
The 2021 season begins at the high-speed Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire on 08-09 May.