Having put a title charge together in their first ever season of Formula 2, Hitech Grand Prix boss Ollie Oakes is excited to see what his team can do with a year’s experience and a full pre-season, describing the winter as “almost too calm,” in comparison to this time last year.
The Silverstone-based outfit officially became the 11th team on the grid in January 2020, increasing their participation on the Road to F1 on the back of a title-challenging campaign in Formula 3.
Despite their lack of experience at this level, and the hurry to get everything ready in time for pre-season testing, Hitech still managed to finish fourth overall, with Nikita Mazepin and Luca Ghiotto taking 10 podiums and 3 wins between them. Oakes feels that it’s given the team a solid grounding to build from.
“This pre-season has been more a case of refining everything and that has been really enjoyable,” he explained. “A lot of credit goes to Aaron Palmer, the chief mech, who worked really hard this winter and has managed to raise our game again. We turned up to pre-season testing anxious to get on track, as opposed to worrying about what we hadn’t done.
“The extra time has allowed us to focus on the right things, compared to last January and February where we had to build two brand new cars, get 12 people together and all of the equipment as well.
“In that first year, a couple of times, I wouldn’t say we were rabbits in the headlights, but we had a new group trying to adapt to a new format and everything that came with it. Pit stops were completely new to us as a team and it all took a bit of energy, whereas now it comes naturally, and because of that, we can use that energy to focus on the things that add performance. It’s like all things in racing though, you can never rest on your laurels. You have to keep pushing.”
Boosted by the knowledge and experience of Ghiotto and Mazepin, the team were able to swiftly overcome an initially difficult bedding in period – where they scored just one points’ finish in the opening four races - to challenge for podiums and wins.
The driver duo had four years of F2 experience between them and played a huge role in the team’s adaptation behind the scenes.
"The first two races were a baptism of fire with pitstops and a new group, but afterwards it was really enjoyable,” Oakes continued. “There is a lot to be said for how Luca and Nikita got on together. They were massively helpful. Luca was such a calming influence as well, and having him there kind of reasserted what we needed to worry about what we didn’t.”
Such was the team’s improvement that Oakes felt confident enough to go with a rookie and a “half-rookie” for 2021, promoting Liam Lawson from their F3 team and re-signing Jüri Vips, who completed four-rounds of F2 with DAMS last season.
“The boys this year, Jüri and Liam, are two drivers who we know from within Hitech. They both drove for us in F3, Liam in 2020 and Jüri in 2019, and we know that they work well with the team. They trust us and we trust them.
“Looking at the field this year, the drivers who have stayed in F2, most of them were already aligned with teams, like Zhou and Lundgaard. It seemed natural for us to bring through the boys from F3 into our F2 family.
“The new format and the street tracks, which they haven’t been to yet, will make it a little difficult, but I think they are two talented boys and we’re confident that they can deliver.”
Lawson steps up on the back of a race-winning season in F3, where he took three wins and six podiums with Hitech, while Vips took three wins and four podiums in the same garage the season prior.
Forming an all Red Bull line-up at Hitech in 2021, Oakes says they’ll bring different qualities to the team, but the same will-to-win.
“They are both very different, one being from New Zealand, one from Estonia, but they both push hard. They’re your typical Red Bull drivers, where they are hard racers and they give it all to win. Those are the quality that you want because they push the team forward.
“But there is never a textbook of how they will perform in F2, we all know that. You have got different tyre compounds, different races, street tracks, normal circuits, and it is so hard to predict, but I am sure that both have the right quality to do well.”