After over 20 years in the business, there’s probably nothing Trevor Carlin doesn’t know about running a successful racing team, having seen over 200 drivers don their iconic silver and blue badge. Despite the many achievements to its name, one remained elusive from the British team until now.
Last time out in Silvestone saw its young charger Zak O’Sullivan catch everyone by surprise, storming to his and Carlin’s maiden Formula 3 pole position before converting into a podium at their joint home weekend in Sunday’s Feature Race.
Following a weekend that saw it replicate glory across both the Formula 2 and Formula 3 Championships, with Logan Sargeant claiming his first pole position and an emotional maiden victory, we caught up with Team Principal Trevor Carlin to find out how he’s feeling after a rollercoaster weekend, why its success is a testament to the team’s hard work and how the team is already beginning to eye up fighting at the front in the not-so-distant future.
“Both the F2 and F3 teams worked really, really hard to prepare for the weekend – as they always do for every event,” Carlin began. “To get such strong results at your home race is fantastic so we’re chuffed to bits!
“It’s no secret that we’ve struggled a bit in F3 recently, so I didn’t expect us to have the weekend we had. However, the engineers and the mechanics worked very hard in the gap to understand where we thought we were missing performance. We came into Silverstone with a new setup and a new concept, which worked pretty good and with the changes we made, we gave Zak the car which allowed him to express himself.
“He knows the track really well because he’s done a million miles around there. So it was the perfect scenario where we gave Zak a great car and then he did a great job - everything came together.”
Carlin's performance in Qualifying almost seemed too good to be true. O’Sullivan’s previous starting position was P8 in Imola and at one point Carlin himself appeared to be in complete disbelief on the pit wall with his head in his hands, as the final seconds of the session ticked down. Whilst many were unsure what was behind the rookie’s sudden shift in form, Carlin says it was all down finding to creating the ideal match between driver and setup, which allowed O’Sullivan to thrive.
“To be honest, Zak did a brilliant run to go P1. We’ve been P1 on the leaderboard before with three minutes to go and then for whatever reason, other people have knocked us down, so we’ve ended up dropping from P1 to sometimes P15.
“All I was doing was basically holding my head in my hands to see how far we were going to drop down. But as it happens, no one could match our pace, so we didn't drop at all. It was quite incredible. It was a surreal moment and hence by expressions and even if it didn’t look like it – happiness.
“At the end of the day, the driver's got be comfortable in the car. When they’re comfortable then they can push to the limit. He knew the circuit as well as anybody out there and he absolutely delivered. He nailed the driving; we nailed the setup and that’s the only way you can get pole position in F3. It's such a close championship, everything has to be perfect, car and driver. At Silverstone, the team delivered, the driver delivered – it was fantastic.”
With a pragmatic mindset, the team tactically opted to use Saturday's Sprint Race to tweak its car’s weaknesses, allowing it to springboard straight into the optimal setup for the Feature Race. Given that O’Sullivan lined up in P12 for the Sprint and finished in P14, it appears their strategy paid off – something that Carlin believes is a testament to the team’s dedication to providing the best chances possible for their young racers.
However, he realistically identified that there were several areas still in need of addressing and refused to get ahead of himself. The Feature Race was a baptism of fire for O’Sullivan, who despite his relative inexperience, proved himself to be more than a match for the likes of PREMA Racing’s Arthur Leclerc and fellow rookie Oliver Bearman. The 17-year-old got his elbows out to fight for P2 all the way to a photo-finish on the line, but didn't let the pressure of the opportunity faze him.
“In the reverse grid race, we didn’t quite have enough pace. We lost a couple of places, so we were a little bit disappointed with our performance on Saturday, but the engineering team and mechanics worked extremely hard. We had our race at 10 o'clock Saturday morning and the team were still there at 8 o’clock at night working on preparation for Sunday.”
Carlin added: “We were hoping to be able to just stay in the podium positions. We were up against some incredibly strong rivals - race winners and Championship contenders.
“We changed the race setup at lot, and I think it’s absolutely proven that the changes they made, made the difference. In the end we were fighting for the win, it was an incredible race – great for the spectators, great for us. Arthur Leclerc and PREMA are incredible competitors and we managed to stay with them. The fact that we were challenging for the win sort of dropped us back to defending for P3, you don’t know what to do – whether you attack or defend, and Zak managed it well. The whole result could easily have been Zak winning, Bearman second and Leclerc third, it was that close at the end, it was awesome.
“I’m very pleased, Zak did an amazing job. He drove so well, and he got P2 and got on the podium at his home race which he should be very proud of and we’re very proud of what he did.”
While the race got many fans hearts racing, as Leclerc and O’Sullivan fiercely duelled over the victory, Carlin revealed that he actually managed to stay relatively calm throughout.
“Well, the longer the race went on, the less nervous I got because it was very obvious that Zak had the car to do the job and Zak was doing the job. The longer it went on, the more confidence I got. Analysing it in hindsight, Leclerc’s setup suited his car much more in the beginning of the race. They were clearly trying to get the lead and check out, break DRS to pull a lead.
“Whereas I think our package was probably better for the overall race and the fact that Arthur Leclerc never got out of DRS range. The whole race we stayed within less than a second away from him, which is pretty impressive.
“Leclerc made a decisive move very early, Zak’s a super smart driver, he’d never cause an incident. He tried to fight back but couldn’t quite do it, but then stayed with him. It was pretty cool thing to watch and after halfway through, I was fairly confident that Zak would be on the podium.”
The path to the podium hasn’t always been the smoothest of sailing for O’Sullivan. A challenging third round in Barcelona saw the Brit languish way off the pace. However, Carlin acknowledged that the leap up on the Road to F1 isn’t a simple transition and that the Williams Racing Academy driver has had many obstacles to overcome – particularly the sometimes hard to predict Pirelli tyres.
“Zak’s a very mature driver. He's very smart, very intelligent, and so he’ll always do the best he can. But we must remember he’s a rookie to F3, a newcomer to the Pirelli tyres and their idiosyncrasies. Now he’s done the races he’s done, he’s got some experience, he’s got a bigger database and he’s starting to learn and understand how to keep the tyres in better condition.
“This is this is the beauty of Formula 3, it teaches drivers how to manage tyres because in Formula 4, Formula Regional and GB3, you don’t really have any tyre management, you just go flat out for the whole race. Whereas the moment you get to FIA F3, F2 and of course F1, it’s all about tyre management. Zak’s a quick learner - in the first race in Bahrain, it was super-hot, tricky conditions, he didn’t understand it. We’ve helped teach him what to do and he’s picked it up. In Silverstone, he used everything he learned from us and that let him do what he did.”
However, there’s one key component to the team’s success that Carlin believes is one of their greatest attributes and was the special touch that made their results at the British circuit possible – the team’s united front. Often unrecognised, Carlin recognised that although the drivers are very much the face of the racing, nothing would be possible without each individual team members’ time, dedication and various areas of expertise. It’s that united culture that Carlin says is the reason the team continues to grow and thrive.
“It’s the only way you get any chance of success in this sport, but especially the higher you go. It’s about having everybody working together and pushing in the same direction. People just think it’s a few young lads driving around in fast cars and having a good time, but the work and the preparation that goes on behind the scenes is largely unknown by the general public. If you don’t have a strong unified team, you have no chance of beating the competition because it’s all about teamwork and sticking together.
“That’s the secret for us at Carlin. We’ve been going for over 20 years now, we know the power of being a strong team – working together, never blaming anybody and taking group responsibility for issues. We’re super competitive in every category we compete in, which is only down to the team, it’s as simple as that. Every person including the guys back at the factory, the lovely girls that help with marketing, we’re a small tight unit and everyone pulls together.”
While adding a new piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet is always a pleasant experience, Carlin’s not resting on his laurels. He’s determined to push the team further forward and with high expectations, he’s casting his eye towards the title fight next season.
“We want to keep building on our database and our knowledge. Going to the Red Bull Ring, we’re back to ground zero and now we’ve got to learn and get a decent baseline for there. Then we’re going to get a decent baseline from Budapest and if we do all this well this year, then we’ll get some decent results.
“We don’t expect to be fighting for the Drivers’ or Teams’ Championships. We’ll do our best of course, but we’ll be doing our best to prepare ourselves to that we’re 100% ready for 2023 and that’s where we’ll be expecting from ourselves as well.”