It might be a newcomer to Formula 2, but Jake Hughes says he’s impressed by the rate Van Amersfoort Racing has built momentum since joining the Championship. The team’s potential has the British driver eyeing up a trip to the podium, keen to give the home fans something to celebrate at Silverstone.
Although he sits 16th in the Drivers’ Championship on 15 points, Hughes’ tally doesn’t quite tell the full story. In Baku, a track that neither he nor the team had raced at before, he salvaged a point in the Feature Race but admits the team didn’t maximise its potential with the right car setup.
“Baku was a bit of a struggle. In general, we've had quite a good car in Qualifying, but Baku was probably the first time where we didn't get it right,” he noted. “We started the weekend in Practice with just completely the wrong car. We managed to do quite well in our work between Practice and Qualifying to improve it to get into the top ten and get reverse grid pole.
"In the Sprint Race, we got it wrong with the downforce level. I think if people watch the race back you can probably see that it was definitely far out of the window. Starting on pole and eventually to climb back to P9, it was lucky with a Safety Car.
“We improved the car a lot better for Sunday and we were running quite well. When I boxed, I was just behind Felipe Drugovich, who finished third. Unfortunately, on the Safety Car restart, I got hit in the rear and it completely split my diffuser in half so from that point on it was just a surviving race. Given where we moved the car to on Sunday, I think we had the potential to be in the top five. So that's a positive and something we will take forward to here.”
Undoubtedly, VAR has shown that it’s got the one lap pace in Qualifying. As one of the most consistent qualifiers this season, Hughes has secured a top ten starting position in five of the first seven rounds. However, converting that into points hasn’t always worked out. After scoring in the opening two rounds, the 28-year-old failed to recreate that form across the following three races and Hughes recognises that it is a crucial weakness that they need to address.
“Generally, we suffer from a lot of rear tyre overheating. I think we understand it a lot better in terms of where we need to move the car setup to in the race to improve that. We had a car that is capable of challenging for the front row of the grid if not pole on occasion. Various reasons have not enabled that to happen, but it's been there in the background.
“Our race pace is our Achilles heel at the moment. In Jeddah, where rear tyre temperature limitation wasn’t so much of an issue, we had the best race pace and that’s clearly outlined the area of the car we need to fix for the long runs.
“It’s always a different set of circumstances to apply to the car and the tyres, which are so sensitive. The Championship is so competitive, the teams have been here for probably a decade or more. You’re up against a lot, but we will get there. We will understand how to keep the tyre in the window in the race more often and then our inherent car pace will shine through. We’re always quick at the start of stints and then we just sort of fade away. It’s a difficult one to fix in one moment, but hopefully we’ll start to get on top of it soon.”
Heading into this weekend as one of only two British drivers on the F2 grid alongside Olli Caldwell, Hughes is relishing the opportunity to put on a show in front of his home crowd and is hoping that he’ll have some of the love from the fans on race day.
“I’m super excited! Last time I was here with F3 in 2020 there were no fans and before that in 2019, it was a great experience. I’ve enjoyed every time I’ve raced here. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the results but taking a step up to F2 now and the next step up in the ladder one spot below F1 and being a British driver at the British Grand Prix - I’m just buzzing for it.
“The cliché is that it’s like no other, but I think it’s true, there’s a certain type of fan base here – they flock to the track because they love the sport, seeing fast cars go past on fast tracks. It’s almost like a festival atmosphere and they tend to really get behind the British drivers. Hopefully, they’ll get behind me as well when we're out on track!
“I stood on the podium here in 2020 in the F3 Feature Race, but there were no fans. I just need to scratch that itch! The first time I raced here in 2016, I was running in P3, and my rear wing failed randomly. I missed out on that chance to stand on the podium as a British driver in front of the fans, that's my goal. Also, generally just to stay out of trouble – easier said than done in F2.”