The British F4 Championship enters its seventh season in 2021, and not many have been as potentially unpredictable as this one. With many drivers switching teams, entire teams changing their lineups, new exciting rookies joining the series as well as new nations being represented at this level, there is no doubt that the anticipation is palpable.
Having wrapped up the 2020 Team’s championship with great drives from eventual driver’s runner-up Zak O’Sullivan as well as impressive rookies Matias Zagazeta and Christian Mansell, Carlin will be looking to repeat their performance this year, albeit with a brand new driver lineup.
Roman Bilinski comes over from Arden Motorsport, and is joined by three first year drivers. Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak becomes the first Thai driver in the series, and joins the team after an impressive winter season in 2021, scoring four podiums on the way to a fifth place championship finish in the F4 UAE Championship. He is joined by two rookies with impressive karting backgrounds in Japanese rising star Dougie Bolger, and British hopeful Kai Askey.
Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak, or as he’s affectionately known as ‘Tern’, is hoping to use his previous winter experience of racing in the UAE, as well as COVID restrictions not allowing others to race as an advantage as we head into the new season. He also speaks of what it’s been like joining Carlin, as well as how he’s been adapting to life in the UK.
“Yeah it’s been good. Obviously the COVID restricitons have played a role, but we’ve been trying to get the most out of pre-season testing to be as ready as possible for when the season begins. It was good to see where we were compared to the others and to see where we need to improve, so yeah it was definitely a good testing day.
“It’s been great, and such an honour to be with such a great team like Carlin, a team that achieved so much. I’m very thankful to them for having given me this opportunity to represent them in this season. For sure of we can fight at the top it would be good, but I look forward to hopefully getting a few podiums, wins or even challenging for the championship.
“They’re both really competitive championships, and the UAE Championship was mainly preparation for the British one, and it’s obviously very different with the differing temperatures, and also the chassis are different. It was a challenge to get used to the new British chassis, but now I’m looking forward to getting started.
“There were a few options between Italian, German and British F4. We chose British in the end because we saw that it was probably the best option for us. Racing in the UAE over the winter has given me a lot of confidence. Because of COVID, a lot of drivers haven’t done a lot of racing in the past months, so to get the opportunity to race in January and February has given me plenty of confidence coming into this season.
“I moved to the UK at the beginning of last year, and I’m in. a boarding school here and thankfully they’re really supportive and flexible with me, allowing to skip class to go racing but also following up in online classes. So thankfully I’ve been settling in well so far.
“They [Carlin] have a really good facility, and a great simulator for us to use and prepare for tracks we haven’t been yet. They’re in IndyCar and F2, so they can lead the drivers to great success. It’s been quite difficult. UK tracks are know for having no runoff, just grass and wall! So there’s no space for errors and you have to get used to that. But as they say, if you can drive UK tracks fast you can drive any tracks in the world.” explained Inthraphuvasak.
As for the two new rookies in the Carlin camp, Kai Askey and Dougie Bolger spoke about how their testing programmes have been so far over the winter and what expectations they’ve placed upon themselves heading into their debut single seater campaigns.
“Yeah, everything has been positive so far. Obviously we’ve been testing quite a lot since we got into 2021 especially. We’ve been working on lots of stuff since last summer but so far were learning consistently. We’re looking positive for round one. There’s still plenty to learn but I’m looking forward to beginning now.
“On my side I’m not really fussed about results. I know it’s the rookie year but I want to perform the best I can and my objective is more on my own personal performance. I want everyone to be impressed, and I do this because I love racing. It would be nice if I could just leave a mark on history.” said Bolger.
“It’s been a good few weekends of testing, we’ve been testing since 2020. Making improvement here and there, going through data with the team, improving and getting closer with the times.
“I’m not really focusing on numbers too much. I’m just working my hardest to try and get as far up the field as possible. Just pushing as hard as I can to get to the top of course.” added Askey.
And joining a team with the history and prestige of Carlin would be considered a massive win for any driver looking to make their name in junior formula, let alone two rookies. Askey and Bolger were full of admiration for the team and what it means for them racing for such an outfit.
“The team have been consistently fantastic through the testing, and we always have things to work on. It’s always an accurate review after the testing is done, and the team is always wanting to win. The team will dedicate mechanics, engineers and team personnel to me so I think it’s working really well. And Carlin is a name you hear around the world, so it is the team that everyone looks at, and I’m really to be here. It will be nice to leave my name with Carlin history.
“At the moment everyone is doing the best they can do within the team. The team are helping with the finer details, helping me in the corners, or even half a corner and it all adds up to something more. I think we’re working hard on that before the season begins.” said Bolger.
“We’ve had a pretty good relationship so far with Carlin. Of course all of the mechanics and engineers are very serious and very determined to do their best. But at the same time everyone is really friendly and we get on really well. We’ve been doing some work on the sim at the factory, comparing times and doing qualifying and race simulations too.” said Askey.
Carlin bring in second year driver Roman Bilinski, after a credible and sometimes dazzling debut year for Arden Motorsport in 2020, and just like the other first year drivers on the grid, having that team mate with a year’s experience could pay dividends in the preparation for this season.
“Of course he has the experience and most of the grid this year are rookies, so he is one of the drivers to look at this year. We dan definitely learn something there. At the same time I have to look ahead to beat the better driver. I have to get all the information I’m learning into my head and back out again in lap time on the track.” explained Bolger.
“I think having Roman in the team his very helpful, and he’s really fast too. Of course we’re able to compare times and data to go faster, so all of us are making time in every session. But yeah, always looking ahead never wanting to be the one dropping behind. But it’s definitely good having him as a team mate for 2021.” said Askey.
One of the defining characteristics of this season’s British F4 Championship is the arrival of drivers from a few nations that haven’t been represented at this level yet. And Dougie Bolger representing the rising sun of Japan is just one instance. He speaks of what it could do for his nation from where he grew up, and why he chose this series as his 2021 destination.
“Obviously I grew up in Japan, but I’ve seen a lot of racing in Britain and the standard is obviously very high. The reason I chose British F4 was after I saw some Youtube videos of the races and it’s completely different to any other series. It’s proper racing, and it’s not always the fastest driver that wins. I’m the first Japanese driver to race in British F4 and there are very good Japanese drivers. but hopefully there’s something I can teach Japan about British F4 and show everyone how incredible this series is.” said Bolger.
During the off season we had the second running of the British F4 iRacing Trophy, which tests many young junior drivers from around the world in an esports competition on the popular iRacing platform, and Kai Askey believes running in such an online series helps keep the skills sharp and assesses the competition ahead of the real championship getting underway.
“I think it’s pretty good practice for all the drivers to do. To learns tracks and it’s very good for race craft. It also gives us a good idea of how some drivers will behave in reality too, so yeah it’s good practice and a good way too find strengths and weaknesses of some competitors.” said Askey.
And lastly, the hot topic of the mid-weekend reverse grid race is something that the drivers commented on, with both Bolger and Askey keen to see how it works and mostly in favour of the potential fan spectacle that could be caused from this new regulation, adding that race craft and looking after the tyres will now be paramount.
“I think it’s very interesting. It won’t be just speed that is key, you’ll have to look after the tyres as well as going forward. You can afford to crash and lose points in each round. So I think the cleverest people will be winning. It is a hard challenge but I think that’s what fans will like, it’ll be fun.” said Bolger.
“I think it’s very different to what they done last year. A full reverse grid is quite interesting. It’s a similar thing in karting with mixed grids, so race craft and managing tyres will be a big factor in this.” said Askey.
The 2021 season begins at the high-speed Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire on 08-09 May.