Topping Free Practice five times and taking four poles, Trevor Carlin could have pinpointed pace as the strongest tool in Carlin’s armoury last season, but the team principal believes that it was their driver development which stood out above anything.
The British outfit took third in the Teams’ Championship in 2020, one place and 36 points better off than the previous year, and enjoyed an explosive end to the season, taking 123 points from the final three rounds – over 30 more than any other team.
For Carlin, the increase in points as the season grew older was proof of how far Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala grew as a pairing.
“We developed the drivers to take care of the tyres in the race,” explained Carlin. “I think our race craft, certainly Yuki's, was exceptional. That’s down to the work that the engineers put in to help him work out how to control the tyres, teaching him how to save them without losing too much pace. For me, that’s where we were really strong.
“We were fast, while still keeping the tyres alive, which meant that we were really strong at the end of races when everyone else had worn out their tyres. So yeah, our speed was great, but our tyre management was fantastic as well.
“It really goes back to the work that we did pre-lockdown. At the Bahrain pre-season tests, I don’t think people will really remember now, but I think we were first and second on most days, so we knew we had a decent car.”
The British team topped the opening two Free Practice sessions and the second Qualifying at Spielberg, but overall, their start to the season was more solid than spectacular. The team took just three points finishes from the opening six races: a podium from Tsunoda and a P6 and P7 from Daruvala.
Things clicked into place for Tsunoda quicker than they did for his Red Bull academy teammate. The Japanese ace added a further podium to his roster in Round 4, before taking another five in total, including three wins.
Daruvala hit form in Round 8 with a stream of steady points finishes, before a maiden podium in Round 11 and a first win in the final race of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit.
It was this increase in form that helped the team to usurp Hitech Grand Prix in the Teams’ Championship in the final leg of the campaign, while also dragging Tsunoda towards a late title charge.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t even looking at the Teams’ standings and we weren’t expecting to (finish third),” he admitted. “That’s why poor old Benn Huntingford only had his team kit to wear on the podium in the prize giving ceremony! We didn’t bring a shirt or anything.
“We were disappointed that we had missed so many points earlier on in the year and weren’t contending for the championship, so we were just focused on the standings from Yuki's point of view. It wasn’t until the end of the Sprint Race that we realised what happened. Third wasn't something we were actually looking at, but we were chuffed when it did happen.
“I think if the first round in Bahrain had gone smoother for Yuki, then we could have been looking at him on the top step of the prize giving ceremony. We were happy to get third, but really, we were disappointed because we could have done so much better.”
With a years’ experience of the 18-inch Pirellis under their belts, Carlin are already looking to turn that disappointment into a positive. The team have now gotten the cars back from Bahrain and the hard work has begun, with the target of winning both the Team and Driver championships in 2021.
Given their success in 2020, and the lack of changes to the cars in 2021, Carlin is eying only minor alternations, as opposed to any drastic upgrades, explaining his belief that the title will be won and lost in the finer details.
“The engines and everything have gone away, and the chassis’ have gone back to Dallara to be checked and tested, so at the moment, the guys are working on the finer details of rebuilding the cars.
“We'll be looking at the setup in more detail and trying to improve things again for the tests in Bahrain. We know we’ve got a decent car there, so we have got to be careful not to do anything that could mess that up.
“It is going to be a case of improving the basics and ensuring that the drivers are ready to go when they hit the track for the first time in March.
“We have got a year of stability from a car and technical point of view, so it is up to us to ensure we have done our homework over the winter and that our preparation with the drivers is top notch.
“Every team will be pushing hard, so we have got to make sure we are one step ahead. Our target next year is to win the Drivers’ and the Teams’ Championships and I believe that is possible.”