Despite having just 10 starts under his belt in Formula 2, Jake Hughes’ name carries a certain weight to it. Jumping into a vacated HWA RACELAB seat on several occasions during the last two seasons, the 27-year-old is known as a reliable and safe pair of hands, and someone who can help improve things behind the scenes.
But after taking HWA’s best Qualifying and race result in F2 at Sochi and having now signed up to Van Amersfoort Racing’s F2 project for 2022, he’s out to prove he’s much more than that.
Many feel his chance in F2 should have come a long time ago, but Hughes has been bound by a lack of options and having to take “whatever was on the table” – in 2019 and 2020, that was Formula 3, and in 2021 it was non-racing roles in Formula 1 and Formula E.
In 2022, it will finally be F2.
“This isn’t me looking for sympathy because I have been privileged to do what I have done,” Hughes begins. “But in terms of being able to go and achieve what I am able to achieve, it’s not that I’ve held back at all, but it has been difficult in that I cannot choose my own path. Financially, I have struggled since let’s say 2016, and I have had to take whatever option is on the table.
“That has been GP3 or F3 and these odd races that I have done here and there. I don't have the means to be able to go and do whatever I want, and because I haven't been in the environment to go and win the Championship in F3, I haven't had the results to stand out enough to go and do Formula 2, Formula E, sports cars or whatever full-time.
“F2, from my perspective, has always been a very big and highly watched Championship and it is only getting bigger. It was definitely in my mind when I was offered the seat that it would help me, given some good results, to push for seats. That was a big selling point for me, and I jumped at it immediately.”
It was definitely in my mind when I was offered the seat that it would help me, given some good results, to push for seats.
In two seasons with HWA in F3, Hughes was the team’s most competitive driver, finishing seventh both years with eight podiums and three wins. Across those two years, he also took all but 27 of their 238.5 points.
But when a move into F2 failed to materialise, Hughes opted to spend a season on the side-lines, working as a simulator driver for the Mercedes Formula 1 team and as a Reserve/Development driver for the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team. He’ll retain those roles for 2022, as well as occasional simulator duties for the Aston Martin F1 team.
Wedged within that was a round of F3 with Carlin and four rounds of F2 with HWA RACELAB, the combination of which led to the interest from Van Amersfoort Racing, who were set to join the F2 and F3 grids from 2022.
“It wasn't on my radar at all, to be honest,” said Hughes. “The initial chats began just after Sochi, when I’d had the standout result for HWA in F2, sixth in Qualifying and fourth in the Sprint Race.
“I know how good Van Amersfoort are in everything that they have done. Having had the chance to work with them, the structure that they’ve put in place and the motivation that they have, I’ve no doubt that they’re going about it in the right way.
“They’re not coming in just to be here, they're coming in to win, and that is what I want – that’s what I’ve always wanted. I am really excited to get going. I think that we share the same vision, the same motivations, the same work ethic, and I am excited to see what we can do together.”
Joining HWA when they were a new team in F3, there are clear parallels to be drawn between the German team’s decision to recruit the Briton in 2019 and VAR’s this year.
The team believe he can deliver points on track as well as progress off it, with Hughes previously playing a key role behind the scenes for HWA when he was in F3.
He continued: “I think that was a big plus point for me, in that I did help develop the programme at HWA and every time I jumped into one of their cars, I think I did a very good job, so I think that was in the back of their minds for sure.
“Then the standout result in Sochi was maybe the last tick in the box in terms of my selling points, to show VAR that I could clearly do it if given the right environment, the right car and the right team. Okay, we’re starting again, similar to what we did at HWA, but for me, we are coming in to try and do something special, so I am excited.
They're coming in to win, and that is what I want – that’s what I’ve always wanted.
“They’ve got a lot to learn, and I have only done four rounds in F2 myself, so I’ve got a lot to learn as well, but you never stop learning. We have the talent. It’s just about having the right mindset because it’s going to be really hard and it is going to require serious work.”
But how heavily does Hughes – who has more than 200 starts to his name in car racing - expect to be involved outside of race weekends, and given his prior experience in F3 with HWA, will he be engaged in that side of the business as well?
“I still need to go over to the workshop to talk about that side of things,” he continued. “I think by the time we get together at the pre-season tests in Bahrain, we'll know a lot more about what my role will be outside of my own driving.
“I have no doubt that they will ask, and I have every intention of helping them with their F3 project. It would be silly of them and myself not to utilise that, but they are a new team, and they need to decide what they want from me.
“In terms of simulator work and pre-event prep, I expect that they'll be leaning on me a lot for that. I’ll be offering as much as I can in every aspect of the company and the race team. My expertise lies primarily in these two championships and with the Pirellis but I am also sure that I can help them elsewhere, if they want me to.”
It’s a partnership that should suit both sides, with VAR gaining Hughes’ expertise and Hughes gaining a platform with which to showcase his abilities. At this stage, it remains a bit difficult to define exactly what success would mean for either party, but they both aim to fight towards the front.
“As I said, it’s all about the mindset and trying to extract everything we can out of the car,” he continued. “I know what I am capable of, and I am sure that the team and the engineers are the same. I can’t put a target out there, but I am coming in to be at the front of the grid.
“How we achieve that is not as simple as saying 'this is what we’re capable of, so we'll achieve it,' it is about doing the work in the background to put the building blocks in place to achieve that. So, diving into the data, the pre-event prep, and not getting too high or too low on the results. I think if we do that, then the underlying ability we have will start to shine through."