The final driver announced for the 2023 Formula 3 season opener in Sakhir, Luke Browning might have been late to the game, but his rookie campaign has had a lot more to take from it than what the end results show.
Finishing 15th in the Standings with one podium represents the Briton’s lowest full-season finish since graduating to single-seaters in 2017. Having arrived off the back of his 2022 GB3 Championship title, it seemed like a natural progression for the Hitech Pulse-Eight driver.
On reflection however, Browning acknowledges the jump to F3 might have been an uphill battle, but that the leap of faith into the unknown can only be an asset going forward.
“I felt ready, but I think in hindsight I probably wasn’t due to not knowing many of the circuits. Silverstone, I knew very well, and Spa I’d raced one weekend at, but the rest of the circuits I didn’t know at all really. You turn up and you’ve got one push lap and then the second one is half a second off and then you go into Qualifying.
“Realistically, having to catch up on that is difficult and I think that’s probably where a lot of the mistakes came from this year. In Qualifying you’re having to try and put it on its limit, but not necessarily having any experience to know where the limit was and sometimes over-pushing it, which can make a big difference.
“Coming from post-season testing again, I can see a huge improvement in pace and the ability to turn up and just be right at the front, so that experience is super valuable.”
Browning’s late call-up left him with less of a window to prepare for the Championship compared to most of his fellow rookies, with pre-season testing in Sakhir his first taste of the F3 car. Additionally, having limited experience racing in mainland Europe, he lacked previous knowledge of six out of the nine circuits on the calendar.
Combined with the only one Free Practice session to learn the track, the Williams junior was on the backfoot from the get-go.
“If we look back at it, we didn’t do a bad job,” he noted. “In Free Practice in Bahrain, we were four tenths off, but in Qualifying I made a mistake combined with not getting the traffic right and then, we were outside the top 10 and it’s not really where we deserved to be. We drove from P17 to P5 in the Feature, so it shows that the pace was there throughout the year.
“There was a big disparity between the pace and the number of points we got, but ultimately it was down to my own mistakes and not being in the right place at the right time. Playing catch-up throughout the year was difficult, but I think we’ve caught up now.”
When things went right for Browning, he was a force to be reckoned with on track. However, with only four top 12 performances in Qualifying, it created a knock-on effect on his ability to climb back up into the points.
On paper, six points-scoring finishes isn’t up to the standard Browning was expecting of himself. Although bad luck had an impact on occasions, he recognises that his own mistakes had part to play, such as getting caught up in contact during both Melbourne races which cost him a shot at victory in the Sprint Race. However, he knows that in order to become the best driver he can be, sometimes they have to be made.
“This year was always a learning year. I knew it was going to be tough but looking back at the year I thought I’d come out in a much better position. Realistically, where we did end up was a bit shocking in the cold, hard facts – it really doesn’t show the pace that we had.
“When you’re trying to put a Championship fight together, all these little instances that may have been in my control, but also a lot of the time may have been outside of my control, really kill that Championship fight. From second to where I was, it wasn’t actually that big of a points gap. These mistakes really show that we could have been there and ultimately, we had the pace to be there, but just not the consistency or the luck.”
He added: “The amount that we learned this year is more than anyone and the amount of mistakes we made this year was probably more than anyone, but that’s going to put us in a really, really good place going forward into the future. You only learn through mistakes and stuff going wrong. That’s the thing – okay, we finished outside of the top 10 this year, but realistically we learnt a lot and it would not be the same if we went again.”
By the time he reached Round 5 in Barcelona, his hunger for a podium was still unsated. Duelling with fellow Williams junior Zak O’Sullivan for the Sprint Race victory, Browning says he had ‘to put his sensible hat on’, exercising restraint and maturity to not gamble away points that could be valuable in the long run.
“The podium couldn’t come soon enough! I think we were knocking on the door of it for a long time. Looking back to the Bahrain Feature Race, we could have been on the podium and Melbourne a similar thing. Going for the win, I flew over a kerb, so when it got to Barcelona by that point it was like ‘when are we going to get a podium?’
“It almost felt like we’d been robbed up to that point by not having one and it was all from either mistakes or having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The podium wasn’t as special for me because I felt like it still wasn’t optimised. If I had really gone for it, I could have got the win, but I just used my head in terms of thinking it’s not really worth the one extra point in the risk of crashing it.”
For Browning, there is no doubt progress has been made with every bit of mileage he’s gotten under his belt. Coming full circle in his rookie season, the challenge of adapting to Formula 3 has been arduous for the 21-year-old, but it’s been a journey well worth having.
“With it being such a powerful car, especially coming from having not raced anything near this before, hopping in and particularly on those circuits, it was just a big learning curve to just get up to speed. I think we showed that the pace can be there and in Free Practice when we’re able to get laps in with no issues, we were well capable of being there.
“The biggest learning just comes from having more time in the car. It’s very, very difficult if you’ve never raced at the circuit and second of all, turning up to the other side of the world in Melbourne and having to do it within three laps of pushing or maybe you’re not on the same compound from FP to Quali.
“It’s not to be underestimated how difficult F3 is and to pick where the limit is, but we’ve learned a lot and will be in a good place going forward.”