While their dreams of a first Formula 3 Drivers’ title failed to materialise this season, Hitech Grand Prix are refusing to dwell on their disappointment. Confident that the team can address any lingering questions from their 2022 form, their Team Manager Jay Davenport believes they’ve laid the foundations for another shot at the Championship in 2023.
“The goals for the year were really to challenge at the front and improve our position in the Teams’ Standings. We moved from sixth to fifth, so it’s a little step in the right direction, but maybe not as much as we would like,” Davenport summarised.
“With Isack (Hadjar) being a rookie, we’ve perhaps exceeded some expectations in terms of where he should have been. For us as a team, maybe we performed a little bit better than where people would have expected at the beginning of the year, which is quite a nice position to be in. But we’re always looking at ourselves and always trying to improve – it’s the nature of racing and that’s how you win.”
On paper, finishing fifth in the Teams’ Standings and improving by one place may not sound like much, but the end results don’t fully reflect what has been a strong season for the British outfit. Taking breakout rookie star Isack Hadjar under their wing, the partnership flourished from the outset and saw the Frenchman become eventual Champion Victor Martins’ fiercest rival up until the final round.
That potential was clear from the get-go, as Hadjar secured victory on his debut in Sakhir – courtesy of a time penalty for race leader Oliver Bearman. Constant improvements throughout the first half of the year saw him claim back-to-back Feature Race podiums in Imola and Barcelona, before two further victories in the Silverstone Sprint Race and Spielberg Feature Race culminated in him heading into the summer break at the top of the Championship – a feat which Davenport credits as a testament to the 18-year-old's dedication.
“Isack’s been impressive this year, especially going back to the Valencia post-season test he did. He struggled a bit with his fitness, probably more so with his neck, but he went away and worked really hard over the winter.
“He was kind of a different man when he turned up in Bahrain. We were delighted with how he approached it. He works really hard behind the scenes preparing for the event, he puts a lot of work in. He’s very analytical – he’s a clever guy and he can put a lot of stuff into practice. When you don’t get a lot of running before you go into Qualifying, then it’s a tricky Championship to be consistent in and be fighting at the front, so the fact that he went into the last two races leading the Championship, then you know he’s done an outstanding job.”
He added: “Isack came in and started off at a high level in terms of his preparation and understanding of the Championship. He’d done a lot of research, reading and analysis of the historical data. He carried on at that level and improved during the season, I think the results showed where he was at, really.”
Unfortunately, both his and Hitech’s momentum ebbed away slightly during the final three rounds, while fellow rookies Zane Maloney and Bearman came into their own up front and Martins’ consistency held firm. Nevertheless, Hadjar sat second for the Monza season finale and knew that making up a five-point deficit was doable.
Yet a mistake in Qualifying left him in trouble at the final hurdle and despite a heroic fightback from P16 to P9 in the Feature Race, he dropped to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship. A bitter pill to swallow... Davenport points to their achievements as a positive sign for the team in their fourth F3 campaign.
“It’s one of those things that happens – he was pushing, and he would have been on a good lap to potentially be right at the front or at least in the top five. Had he not done that, it could have been quite a different story, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m not frustrated by that, I guess we and Isack were a bit disappointed that it took away our opportunity to fight in the last two races at Monza.
“It’s frustrating to then be sat on the sidelines watching the races and not being in the thick of it after going in with the expectations that we were here to fight. We were almost spectators for the last two races, which was a bit frustrating because we were all pumped up to be in the battle and that didn’t really happen, but it’s not anybody’s fault – it's one of those things that happens from time to time.
“Going into the last three races, he was leading the Championship, so I guess we’re a bit disappointed to come away with him finishing fourth. A combination of a bit of bad luck and weather conditions sort of caused that, but that’s motor racing – it’s the same for everybody. I think it’s the first time Hitech has led the F3 Drivers’ Championship, so that’s a nice accolade to have, it’s just a bit of a shame that we didn’t really convert it and bring home the title or at least a top three in the Championship. I think Isack was deserving of that really, but it wasn’t to be.”
As a second-year driver, Kaylen Frederick’s sophomore campaign also began positively with seven points-scoring finishes in 10 races. Although adapting to a new team came with its challenge, Davenport welcomed his growth, but the post-Spielberg dip in results for both him and the team overall has left them puzzled.
“Kaylen came in from Carlin and he’d gotten some sort of ideas on how to do things, which were somewhere on the same line as what we do at Hitech. Then, there were other things that were quite different – so he had experience, but also needed to kind of change his approach a little bit. We got him to change that towards what we think is going to be the best and I think the first half of the season was a good improvement over his first year. He developed and improved all season, everyone kept pushing all the way to the end.
“He had a good solid start, scored points and we were pretty happy with where he was at. We felt that there was more to come and then for some reason or another, we haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of it, the second half of the season wasn’t as strong. He struggled to get into the points-scoring positions, which isn’t really a true reflection of where he’s at with his speed and potential. I think he could have and really should have been a top ten contender in every race.”
For Nazim Azman, his learning experience was strenuous both on and off the track, juggling both racing and university studies simultaneously. Although he was unable to claim any points this season, Davenport reckons that his work ethic and performance showed that he was capable of more.
“Nazim had a bit of a tough year stepping up from Euroformula. It’s quite different in terms of the category, the tyres and the tyre warm-up time and management, so he was on a pretty steep learning curve. He was also finishing off his degree, which fair play to him, he’s done that and gone racing at the same time, so he was a busy person.
“I think he’d probably be the first person to say he didn’t manage to sort of focus 100% on the racing side of stuff because of his university studies. He improved his preparation before the events and what we’d expect him to do to get himself ready – he went from strength to strength every weekend. He was a bit unlucky at the end of the season not to get better results because his preparation and understanding of what he needed to do had improved so much that he really deserved better results than he got.”
Assessing those final three rounds in Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza, Davenport believes that it was the team’s Qualifying performances that ultimately wrote the story of their season - giving them the upper hand on their rivals during the middle of the campaign before becoming a thorn in their side towards the end.
“Everybody’s got their tale of woe of why something didn’t quite go their way, but the reality is there were probably people out-there that did a better job than us and we will strive to improve and step our game up. It’s very hard to be consistent with the weather factoring into things and if you get a bit unlucky with where you are in the pitlane for Qualifying and the traffic. Everyone tries to go out altogether to warm the tyres, stay in the same sequence, manage their gap and all you need is someone to cause a yellow flag and that’s your lap ruined.”
He added: “If you want to score decent points on a weekend, it’s all about qualifying inside the top 12 – ideally inside the top eight. So, if you’ve got a weekend where you haven’t achieved that, you’re struggling. It’s not like you’d give up, but it’s a tall order to score decent points.
"I’m thinking from Isack’s point of view, we had a bit of a bad Qualifying session across all three cars at Spa, then somehow everyone else seems to have had a bad weekend as well. We still came out leading the Championship, so I was a bit amazed by that to be honest. Qualifying was probably where we were a bit unlucky or didn’t perform as well as we could have in getting the guys into those positions for the last three rounds."
Now back at the factory, the hard work has already begun at Hitech in order to put their best foot forward for the 2023 campaign, and Davenport reckons the potential is already there to be in the hunt for glory once again.
“We want to use 2022 as a stepping-stone to move forward for next year, we’ll try to come back and go a bit better. Top three in both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships would be where we are looking at as a minimum. Then ideally, we’d like to be in a position to be going for the win in both as well.”