Midway through last season in Budapest, Hitech Grand Prix boss Ollie Oakes declared his belief that the team had reached a turning point. They went on to prove him right, taking five podiums, ending the year as one of the form teams.
Starting the year without a podium in the opening round for the first time at this level, Hitech had to wait until Round 4 for their first of the season
Ayumu Iwasa won Race 1 in Hungary and Roman Stanek scored third in Race 2, with Jak Crawford claiming a maiden rostrum in the following round at Spa-Francorchamps. Iwasa and Stanek both scored a second podium each, while Crawford ended the season with points in five of the last six races.
“I think people underestimate how tough it is for rookies coming in,” said Oakes. “I had two who had only done a season of F4 last year, and that was a covid-season, so that wasn't 12 months, it was four. I think they have done phenomenally.
“I think that Helmut Marko's eye for spotting (drivers) and dropping them in initially always seems crazy to people, but there is no doubt from our side that Jak (Crawford) and Ayu (Iwasa) are massively talented. It was very clear early on to see that they had the raw speed. Our job was to help them use that with the characteristics of FIA F3.
“To see them end the year as strongly as they all did puts a smile on your face. You do look back and wonder what you could have done slightly differently to have sped that up, but I think that everybody realises that it’s a process you have to go through. You cannot look over your shoulder.”
Only 16, Crawford arrived on the back of finishing second in ADAC Formula 4 in his first full year of European racing, while 20-year-old Iwasa won French F4 in his first season in Europe. Stanek had a full F3 campaign under his belt already but is still just 17 himself.
Having previously overseen more experienced drivers, such as Liam Lawson, Max Fewtrell, Jüri Vips and Leonardo Pulcini, Oakes feels that he’s learned a lot from working with a younger trio.
“They are coming through a lot younger now, getting into FIA F3 with just a year of racing experience,” he continued. “It is odd really, but when looking at the Red Bull drivers, on one side you look at Liam (Lawson) and Jüri (Vips) and compare them to the two youngsters from this season, but it is completely different, and you can't.
“The main thing is that there is no doubt that all are supremely talented. I think that all four of them are going to have careers, it is just a question of whether it is in F1 or somewhere else.
“We have learned that how you work with the younger guys is slightly different to the more experienced guys, not for better or worse, it’s just about how you handle certain things.”
Hitech competed with PREMA Racing for the title in each of the first two seasons of F3, finishing second and fourth, but were some way off that in 2021, finishing sixth, largely due to their slow start to the season.
And although Oakes admits this was a “frustration” for himself and the team, the former Red Bull Junior Team member believes the development of the trio is proof of the team’s success this year.
He explained: “One of the frustrations this year is that we have fought for the title against PREMA every year except this one, but because we were starting the year with quite a young line-up, we weren't in the mix for that.
“We have ended the year there, right on their toes, so you do have a bit of confidence that what you did was right and that we were right to stick to our guns.
“When you end the year strongly and you look back and understand all of the things that went into it, you realise that it is a process everyone has to go through. That will make them ready for the next stage, which is hopefully fighting for the title.”