Jake Hughes’ Formula 2 debut felt like it had been long time coming, so there’s an irony to how little time he had to make it happen. “It’s always been at the last moment that I’ve known what I would be doing,” explains the 26-year-old.
Hughes was a late starter - he only tried go-karting for the first time ten years ago - and has always had to work hard to keep his racing dream alive after that. “Since then I have been fighting and scrapping, calling, emailing all the time, just to get anything, and I was never sure if my career would even carry on.”
The Briton’s debut for HWA RACELAB in Formula 2 was significant for many reasons, not just because it was his first taste of the top tier of junior motorsport – it may also be his last, he admits. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the doors this experience could open could change the pathway of his career.
He made a good impression as well. His Sprint Race may have ended in retirement after a coming together with Guilherme Samaia, but up until that point he’d been doing everything right. This included a P12 finish in the Feature Race, just a couple of places out of the points - one of HWA’s better results this season.
Hughes made his debut in the third tier back in 2016 and since then has driven in all of its various guises, European Formula 3, GP3 Series, and in the past two years, the amalgamation of the two: Formula 3.
Hughes said that he expects this to be his last year at that level. Ultimately, at the age of 26, he wants to start making a living from the sport he loves – wherever that may be. Though, the pull of F2 could change that if an opportunity arose.
A QUICK TURNAROUND
Hughes actually had plans last weekend. He’d just returned from a bike ride and was preparing to fly out to Stuttgart for a stint on the Formula E simulator ahead of a private test on the weekend. But he was interrupted by a phone call from HWA’s Team Principal Thomas Strick, which set a different set of wheels in motion.
“He said that there could be the chance to do F2 if I wanted,” Hughes explained. “Just in case it happened, I did my Russian visa on the Friday morning after flying back to the UK from Stuttgart. I got back at like 8am and drove straight into central London with rush hour traffic.
“I didn’t even get a go on the F2 simulator or anything like that. I had the seat fitting on Wednesday in Sochi - thankfully my F3 seat fitted. I was a bit surprised when I got to the airport and saw the guys were carrying my F3 seat… It’s the same, so as long as it wasn’t sliding and visually it worked, then it was all good - and it was.
“It was good to get the monkey off the back in a way. Obviously I decided to do this instead of the Formula E test, which was a close call. Even in hindsight now, it was the right decision.”
Perception in motorsport is massive. It can earn you sponsors, fans and seats. That’s why this weekend was such a big deal for Hughes and he says that it’s already paying off. “Just from the feedback I have had, this weekend is not going unnoticed.”
From the feedback I have had, this weekend is not going unnoticed.
Formula 2 is the Road to F1, and that’s what every single driver in the Championship is working towards – Hughes is no different. But there are 22 drivers in F2 and not every single one of them will get a chance in the pinnacle of motorsport.
“Everyone on social media thinks that everybody is chasing the same dream,” he continued. “For sure, I know I am good enough to do Formula 1, but I know I’m on a different story and a different path - let’s say - to the guys around me. The difference for me is whether someone is willing to give me that chance from a financial point of view. That’s why having good results in front of a wider audience like this helps.
“I understand how the perception in F1 works. For me, it’s been about getting a seat to show what I can do, year-in-year-out, until I get the drive that I know I am capable of. We are here, all of us, trying to showcase our talent.
“It is not as simple as just saying if you don't have the money, or if you’re getting a bit older now, why don’t you just go and do GT racing, because you need to have the results on your CV to walk into a drive like that. That’s what I’ve been fighting to try and do for the last few years. I think F2 is the pinnacle of that and I can see already that it is helping me.”
For me, it’s been about getting a seat to show what I can do, year-in-year-out, until I get the drive that I know I am capable of.
A UNIQUE PARTNERSHIP
Hughes was ready to quit junior Formula at the start of 2019, but the ambitious project put on the table by HWA convinced him to make a U-turn. The German outfit are a major player in the world of motorsport with a rich history in DTM, as well as links to FE and F1 through Mercedes. It was an opportunity to enhance his contacts book in the sport, as well as his reputation and ability on track.
“The company (HWA) itself have always been asking me to do various programmes,” he continued. “Private testing, simulator development, all sorts really. The beauty of my relationship with HWA is that I know they appreciate and value my role and my ability.”
As Hughes says, the relationship is two-fold. He has had a positive influence behind the scenes in the past two seasons of F3 and that was mirrored in F2 as well.
“I was sitting with our (F2) team manager Kenny (Kirwan) and he was saying that the guys, the mechanics, engineers, himself even, were being pushed quite hard by me.
"Kenny said that after 10 rounds in 12-13 weeks, everyone is knackered, but all of a sudden everybody is pushing because of what I have come and done. Not just on track, but in terms of asking questions and challenging the engineers to think differently, maybe, just generally not relaxing, and I think they like that. I like to work with people who like that, and I want them to push me as well. That is how you do well in this sport.”
Two more rounds of the F2 season remain and HWA are yet to confirm who will drive in the No.17 car. Hughes remains a possibility, though he says he “won’t be losing any sleep over it.”
They might take the view that they want me to continue and help push them forward, at the sacrifice of other things.
“There is a bit of a gap between rounds and things can change, in a good or a bad way,” he concluded. “I don’t have the ability to make the decision myself and say ‘I want to do Bahrain, let’s go.’ I am at the mercy of the team.
“They might take the view that they want me to continue and help push them forward, at the sacrifice of other things. If that is the case, then I think I'd probably say yes.”