The only team on the grid fielding an all-rookie line-up this season, Hitech Pulse-Eight got back to basics in pre-season testing and their work embedding their duo into the ways of Formula 2 seems to have worked well.
After an impressive rookie Formula 3 season, 18-year-old Isack Hadjar remains with the British squad for his step up to the second tier. Partnered by 17-year-old Jak Crawford, the pair have the youngest combined age on the grid and are two of the six Red Bull juniors on the grid this season.
Consequently, the team’s focus has shifted towards helping their young chargers master their new machinery. Rather than a sole focus on the timing sheets, every lap brought new data for them to analyse and with 373 laps across the three times, the areas to work on have been clearly identified.
Reflecting on the three days of running, Crawford was pleased with how it had panned out – particularly after struggling somewhat in testing in Abu Dhabi last November. Ironing out any teething problems, the American driver believes that the times he laid down aren’t a full reflection of the potential pace Hitech Pulse-Eight has.
“It was very, very positive for us and the team. We had good pace, and I don’t think the time sheets really showed what we have. I think we had really good speed and I improved a lot from the post-season test last year. It gives me a really good feeling going into the first round.
“The biggest thing I learnt was just through driving and getting more experience in the car. I think that’s all I really needed; I was immediately up to pace. After that, it gave me a good baseline to work from and I was able to work on my driving. We learnt a lot of things about the car and my driving as well, so there’s stuff to be improved.”
For Team Principal Oliver Oakes, pre-season testing was just as much a learning experience for the team as the drivers – as it was the first trackside opportunity some new crew members to learn the ropes.
Fortunately, the drivers are well familiar with how the outfit operates, with both having competed for the team in F3 – Hadjar in 2021 and Crawford in 2020. Easing back into the swing of things, Oakes was full of praise for how they’ve approached the new season, particularly given the limited number of track days they had prior to the opening round this weekend.
“Obviously, it is the first time out after the off season so there is such a variation of things you are working on and looking at. Whether that be one or two new people in the teams finding their feet, the drivers get back into the swing of it and bedding things in ready for the season.
“They all got on really well – especially the working approach inside the team. What was really nice is all of them know us well as a team, which means we have been able to hit the ground running. Isack obviously stepping up from F3 with us last season and Jak was with us in his rookie year in F3 so it’s sort of a home coming.
“We have been really happy that all of them seem really well integrated inside the team, and we have a good strong relationship to start the season. This aspect is really important considering we only had these three days of testing before Round 1.
"The main positive is that each driver seems extremely motivated to work hard, to learn and to approach things with a good open mind. It has been three long days but at different points they all showed a good potential. The key will be to execute that in the key moments come the race event.
“On the team side it was positive to see both teams run competitively and the car’s to be well prepared. As much as you can hope the will is there in the workshop, you only see the proof of that hard work when you get on track. This was positive to see and now we need to carry that momentum across the 28 races respectively the coming months!”
While there are many aspects of F2 drivers can prepare for in advance – whether that’s mastering their one-lap pace or improving their understanding of tyre management. However, previous seasons have shown that they must expect the unexpected.
Bracing himself for the variables at play during a race weekend, Crawford says that equipping himself mentally will be vital to keeping his head above the water during the opening round.
“We’re working on making sure we’re ready for every possibility – whether it’s Qualifying, a race or from my side or the team’s side, especially from my side. I think there’s a lot of unknowns that could happen and I’m trying to prepare myself in every way. I think the driving is the easiest part of the Bahrain race weekend, since we’ve already done three test days. I think it’s all going to come down to a big mental game, so I’m mentally preparing myself and being ready for the things that might surprise you that can’t happen in the test.
Oakes added: “I think obviously aside from the usual thing of chasing a good performance with the stopwatch we are obviously working to understand what each needs for their driving style, ensuring they are well prepared in terms of what they need to do with their driving approach, whether than be in short runs, long runs, adapting to the track evolution.
“Prior to Round 1 we will go through the good and the bad of these three days of testing and see where we can improve. We will do our usual pre-race preparation at the factory with meetings, simulator sessions but because it is one of the few rounds we will go from a test to a race on the same venue things will be a little different in that we can probably focus a little more in certain areas on the preparation, having a good reference from the testing.”
Expecting any rookie driver to dominate the first round in Sakhir is a tall order, but time and experience should allow them to quickly close the gap to the returnees. With Hitech Pulse-Eight's wealth of knowledge behind them, Hadjar and Crawford are in a prime position to get up to speed quickly and target points, podiums and even wins as the 14-round season progresses.