British Formula 3

The hardest part of lockdown…I realised I’m not going testing for a while, I’m going to have to train for two months, and I don’t get to drive a car!

Feature Image Credit: Bart Horsten

As the British F3 season gets ready to kick off at Oulton Park on the 1st of August, Overtake spoke with F3 newcomer Bart Horsten to find out what the Australian driver has been doing during lockdown and his thoughts on the upcoming British F3 season…

Australian driver Bart Horsten was getting ready to embark on his debut season in British F3 with Lanan Racing.  Sadly, the Coronavirus pandemic hit, all racing was cancelled and – much like many other drivers across the globe – Bart found himself with a strange extended pre-season. The F3 desk spoke with Bart back in June to find out how he was keeping his eye in during the downtime, how he found taking part in the British F3 iRacing championship, his thoughts on motorsport during lockdown, and the forthcoming 2020 season.

Part One – Lockdown

I started by asking how he had been keeping sharp during the strange period of lock down. “From the driving side”, Bart began, “I’ve done a lot of sim racing on iRacing, in quite a few different series, even some that aren’t really public. Some private leagues as well, with some pretty good drivers and with quite a few different types of cars.

I’ve just been doing a lot of iRacing”, Bart continued, “especially about a month ago, I’d say, was probably about my busiest.  I had seven races a week kind of thing, which is really hard, because if you want to be competitive, I wasn’t putting five hours of practice into every track, but especially considering most series were using the F3 car, I kind of knew it well enough, but you usually want to do at least two hours of practice.”

The Australian driver has been keeping to fresh by giving himself different goals.  Different qualifying runs and track conditions are all helping the former British F4 driver to keep sharp.  “I’ve been doing some training, just general, with people I’m pretty close with from a performance coaching side of things”, Bart explains. “On the mental side, I’ve been focusing more on meditation and trying to think of everything I can do, preparation-wise, coming into this season.”

“Now that we’ve got all this extra time, trying to make sure I make every test count and every race session count. As well as, I’ve been doing just simulator training just on my own, other than online racing, just to try and really put pressure on myself.”

It’s not just been about putting virtual laps in, the Sydney-born driver has been working hard on the physical front, despite lockdown limiting options. “From the physical side of things”, Bart begins, “it was a bit harder a while ago, when everything was very much locked down, because it was very much restricted to home only, things I could do at home.  Which, again, is hard, because you haven’t got weights.  I don’t have anything, really, equipment-wise, except for a stationary bike, which I’ve used pretty much every single day for quite a while.”

“The hardest part of lockdown was kind of a few weeks in, I realised I’m not going testing for a while. And then you kind of sit there going, ‘So I’m going to have to train for two months, and I don’t get to drive a car?’ It sucks when you’ve been preparing.  You’ve been preparing yourself all of the pre-season, you did all the testing, you were so ready for racing, you want to get into racing, you were loving driving the car because that’s what you do it for, and then it all kind of falls apart. That was quite tough, but at the same time, that wanting to perform well in the car, and getting the most out of it, and really enjoying that experience is kind of what motivated me to do everything I could in the off-season or pre-season, or whatever you want to call it before we start driving again.”

Part Two – In the car

It’s clear to see that Bart is itching to get into a car and doing everything he can to build on this free time and ready himself for the step up to British F3.  That takes a great deal of focus and determination and I hope that pays off with results on the track. On the subject of F3, I asked Bart how he had found the step up. Despite some early tests days, time in the car has been limited and I wondered how this had effected Bart’s preparation.

“I think the main thing, “the Lanan driver continued, “is mentally, the speed of everything that’s going on.  Just everything comes at you so much faster. “Wow, there’s so much more downforce. Wow, it can carry so much speed. Oh my, I can brake so much lighter. What is this? This is so much faster.” And your brain just feels fried when you start driving a car that’s a lot faster, but it doesn’t take that long before the brain gets used to stuff like that and it becomes pretty normal and you get up to speed.

Then the other thing is, like I said, physically it’s a step up. I wouldn’t say it’s leagues away.  I think most people in F4 could drive the car perfectly fine, it’s just a case of, you don’t want to be able to be strong enough and fit enough to drive the car for a race weekend, you want to be able to do three days testing in a row and not break a sweat, which I don’t think I could do yet, but that’s kind of the goal, because you want to try and maximise every single bit of performance you can.  I’ve really enjoyed the car, and the big thing is, it’s so light, even with all the downforce on it now. There’s a noticeable difference in the way it drives.  It feels a lot more planted in general. You can sort of rely a lot more on the downforce and the high speed.”

British F4 and British F3 have an international reputation of being an excellent feeder series for higher formulas, with the likes of Lando Norris and George Russell as past alumni. A high level of driving talent with top class tracks attracts drivers from near and far. I asked Bart if a move British F3 was a conscious decision rather than any other series.

“I wouldn’t say I necessarily wrote any other series off”, Bart starts. “It was kind of just, that was originally what we’d thought and motorsport is such a changeable landscape, you don’t really know if a series is going to be there next year, and there are so many things to think about.  Most of them you can’t even know before the season starts, in terms of what kind of prizes there are going to be, in terms of prize fund, or if that’s money or just support in general. How much coverage is the series going to get? How many drivers and what calibre of drivers are there going to be, am I going to be able to get a good seat in a series, so there’s a lot of things that you look at.”

I think, more than anything, that British F3 is relatively affordable versus the other series at the moment, but also I think it’s just that heritage, in terms of ‘This is British F3’.  This is historically considered a very important F3 series around the world, and in recent years has obviously kind of made some steps in terms of becoming a more competitive series again.  I think the car is good, and we heard a lot of good things about just the car in general, which I think is, again, an important part of what you want when you’re a young driver, you want to have a car that’s not only nice to drive, but also you can learn from it and take what you’ve learned into your career.”

Bart will be driving for well-established British F3 team Lanan and the Australian was happy to explain how that came about. “It just happened that Graham (Johnson) got someone to talk to me when I was at Knockhill, and said, “we’d be interested in letting you have a test and I just thought that was great. I had heard of Lanan, but I didn’t know anything about them, it’s just funny how things turn out that way. I didn’t plan for any of that, even though we were looking at British F3.” Explaining further, Bart said,  “At that time I was still very much focused on doing the best I could in F4, but all of a sudden focus turns to next year, and I found myself with a really, really good team, with Graham and Lanan.  I’ve been really enjoying working with my teammates as well, so I think we’ve got a really good group of people for the season.

In some ways, we did British F4 because of British F3, because it was kind of the case, ‘Well, should I do two years of British F3 or a year of British F4?’ And I think it’s obviously smarter to do F4 because then you can build into it, and I know all the tracks, because F4, we have an even bigger calendar.”

Part Three – Virtual vs reality

Focusing back on the present challenge, I asked Bart what the benefits are to sim racing and what it brings to the table.  “I think a lot of it comes down to yourself”, the Lanan driver began. “Even though that sounds kind of obvious it does come down to how much you’re willing to put into it and how much you think you can get out of it.  There’s so much you can change, and so many different things you can do on the sim. I think something you have to understand right from the outset is the car you’re driving and all the wheel and the pedals and everything, you’re not driving a real racing car.  You’re not driving on a real racing track. If you understand that, but you also understand that it’s similar, and you use your brain in a similar way, I think you can get a lot out of it.

You shouldn’t drive the sim and then go, ‘Okay, I’ll drive exactly the same in the car.’ That doesn’t work. But I think you still have to approach it in the same way that you would in the real car, in terms of when you’re learning. You learn the track and you learn the car, and you have to race people and deal with dirty air and stuff like that.  Even if, again, everything doesn’t play out the same as it does in real life.  It’s not 100% realistic.  As far as your mind is concerned, it’s the same challenge, and, as I said, even though it’s not the same physical challenge, mentally it is, your brain has to see it in the same way. It’s like driving a car that doesn’t exist on a track that doesn’t exist in reality.”

Bart went on to say, “It’s silly for me to think, ‘Oh, no, the stakes are the same as if I’m racing the real car because you can’t hurt yourself’. That’s a big thing. There’s no self-preservation, so I think that makes people be a little bit careless. You can’t hurt yourself; you don’t have the real forces acting upon you, and there’s not money at stake in the same way there is in real life.  There’s still pressure to perform, and everyone, I’m sure, especially at the front of that field in the iRacing championship, I want to win the race. They all do. That’s why the championship exists. That’s why we race.”

It has not escaped Bart that embracing sim racing is part of the modern racing driver. “I mean, look, it’s actually part of your job now, basically, for the young top professional drivers, if you look in the main series, especially in F1. Especially when it comes to developing the car.  You have to be good on the sim, quick on the sim, and if you get called up by the Renault Academy, Red Bull Academy or Ferrari Academy, they’re going to test you on a sim. They’re not going to put you in a real car first. They’re going to put you on the sim, because it’s cheaper and it’s easier. So I think it’s part of our job now. I think if people know how to use it and you want to use it correctly, it’s a really valuable tool, and if it’s there, you’ve got to use it, because if you’re not doing it, maybe someone else is.”

Part Four – The racing season

With racing in the UK postponed, British F3 looked to iRacing to set up a championship taking in tracks from the F3 calendar. Having been on schedule to make his debut this season I wondered what Bart wanted to take away from series. Was it an opportunity to increase track knowledge or take an opportunity to size up the competition and did he think that would translate into the real world?  “I think especially in iRacing, a lot of the British tracks don’t have very good models, because they’re quite old, but I think you can learn a lot from drivers.” Explaining further, he continued” I think, pace-wise, you don’t want to read into it too much, but characteristic-wise, you can, if that makes sense. Some people are going to be quick on the sim, because maybe they have a better sim set-up, or they know how to set up the sim better, or they’ve spent more time, but something you shouldn’t think is everyone at the front is going to be good, to an extent, in the car.

Everyone at the front in the sim is going to be somewhere. It’s very unlikely for someone to be that quick on the simulator and not be any good in real life. The only thing you will get is you’ll get some people who maybe struggle a bit on the sim, but they’re actually going to be right up the front in real life.”

Not one to waste an opportunity to gain as much information as possible, Bart has used his time competing in the British F3 iRacing Championship to scope out the competition and give himself a head start on the field. “From that perspective, you shouldn’t read into it too, too much, but again, you can kind of get an idea of maybe this person makes a few mistakes, this person’s good at stuff, this person’s quite aggressive. You can learn stuff, to an extent, that you don’t get to learn until the season starts, about other racing drivers, which can be useful if you use it correctly. It’s information. It doesn’t give you a handbook about how to win the championship or anything like that, but it certainly it’s information that you can take on board.

I think it is nice, it’s strange, but it’s quite nice in a way, to be able to compete against a lot of the same people who you’re going to be racing against in the season, before it’s even started.”

Part Five – Goals

Moving into the challenge of motorsport this year, given the pandemic and the challenges faced in terms of scheduling some sort of calendar, I wondered what Bart’s thoughts were on the British F3 calendar and the wider motorsport world. “I can’t speak for anyone except for British F3, because unfortunately I don’t pay too much attention to things that aren’t in my world, even though I do love Formula 1 and love motorsport”

Explaining further Bart goes on to say, “I’ve been keeping my head focused on what I need to do to be honest.  I can’t really speak for F1, or F1 drivers or anything like that.  As a racing driver, I want to start racing as soon as possible. I’m obviously annoyed that we can’t go racing yet, and I also understand, as a person, why we can’t and why we shouldn’t.” This is a very mature outlook for a driver who is only 18 years old and shows a great deal of focus on the job in hand.

Going on, Bart explains, “I’ll do whatever, as a driver, I’m just happy to go racing this year.  I’m happy that we get this opportunity.  My only comment on the calendar was wow that’s quite a bit of Donington we’re doing. Three rounds at Donington and one round on the national track, but in some ways it’s good, because I did really well there in F4, so we’ll see how it is.”

In terms of Formula 1, Bart thinks despite logistical challenges they will make it work.  “I don’t think the calendar itself is going to make a huge difference, being compacted, the teams can do it.  The drivers can do it.  F1, obviously, is probably more of a challenge, from a logistics perspective.”

Part Six – The UK

Born in Sydney but living in Perth since he was three-years-old, the UK is a long way from home. I wanted to know what prompted the young driver to up sticks and move to the UK and how that related to his career in motorsport. Bart started by saying, “To further my career, I was going to move anyway.  So then it becomes a case of where.”  Going further, Bart said, “If I wanted to race in Australia, I was going to have to move to the east coast at some point.  We had been to the UK, and I was fortunate enough to have contacts, people in the UK.”  Bart had been looking at racing in Asia, but the series changed, and it was clear it had to be the UK.  “You look at the world, and where you want to move, so then you go, okay, the best F4 series in the world? I’d done Formula Ford, so it kind of makes sense to go F4.  Most people would say the British series, even though the grid’s not massive, generally people say it’s quite competitive.  The biggest thing when I went in was the teams. I thought the teams were very high-level in terms of the amount of resources and everything that’s poured into F4 cars. It seems insane that even though there are only a few teams on the grid, it is really high-level preparation.

The only other series you look at is maybe Italian or German F4, but I think as an Australian, it was always going to be easier for me to live in the UK.  I knew people in the UK and I knew people in the teams, so it was just easier. And then you also had this pathway, British F4, British F3. So I think, again, nothing was 100% planned. It just kind of, the pieces fell into place and it made sense.”

 Part Seven – This season and the future

With the Coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the motorsport calendar, I wondered how Bart thought it might affect drivers and teams over the “off season” and, in particular, domestically. “Some people are going to have budget problems, which are going to stop them from moving up, with the current situation, and then, again, people aren’t going to be as confident, because they’re not going to feel like they got a full season. I mean, obviously I’d like to think that with the extended pre-season and I’m going to get a full season’s worth [of racing] you call it maturing or experience or however you want to put it, for this season.

Motorsport is strange, because you’ve kind of got to go, ‘I want to be there next year, but I don’t know where I’m going to be at the end of this year,’ so it all depends on how much better I think I’m going to be at the end of this year. Then there’s obviously other factors like money, and finding the right team, and doing enough testing for that series, and maybe having to move somewhere and things like that, and travel, which again, could be a bigger problem this season, moving around, travel-wise, especially around the UK. I have no idea what’s going to happen, so again, I think it would encourage caution.”

Bart’s hunch is that people will try to stay in British F4 or F3 as it’s a safe bet but the ambitious driver still has high goals. “I’d obviously like to move on, because I think that’s what you need to do if you are competing at a high level”, Bart explains. “If I don’t do well enough this year, I’ll have to repeat or I’ll have to go somewhere else, wherever I can get a drive, but the goal is to keep moving forward, always to try and improve and if the results match the effort I’ve put in, and the results show that there’s something there, then I can keep moving forward and opportunities will hopefully come up.”

All this talk of looking forward and moving up lead me nicely into asking Bart what his goals were for the upcoming season and what he felt was achievable this season. “I always think the two thing you need to think straight away, is that everyone should be trying to win the championship.” Explaining further, Bart said, “Whether or not it’s realistic or not, you should be there to win it. The other thing is, and well, I don’t generally like the idea of it; it’s not because it’s not a smart thing to do, necessarily, I don’t want to say you’re being silly or stupid if you think, ‘Oh, this year I’m just going to take experience, and then next year I’ll go for it.’ I just feel like maybe that’s a missed opportunity.  You don’t know how well you’re going to do this year. I could be terrible; I could be great. I don’t know how we’ll go, so you might as well give it everything you’ve got, and you can’t worry, if I’m right here now, at this point in the season, and I say, ‘Okay. Next year I’ll go for it, this year, I’m just going to take my experience and we’ll see how we do.’ Then in a way, you’re almost giving yourself an excuse for not performing well.

I can’t realistically tell you where I’m going to finish this year. I can’t tell you where I think I’m going to finish.  I can’t tell you where I expect I’m going to finish, because I have no clue.  What I can tell you is, statistically, chances are I’m not going to finish last, I’m not going to finish first, because there’s however many drivers there are.” That’s not for the want of trying as Bart continues, “I’d like to finish first.  I’m sure everyone else would, too, and that’s what makes it hard. I, more than anything, just want to improve and keep improving and I’m confident in my own ability.”

Looking more closely at what challenges lockdown has presented a young racer making his debut in a series, Bart says, “It’s so hard to say after this period how much; because at first, I was very caught between whether this would favour second-year drivers or first-year drivers because first, originally I thought second-year drivers would get favoured because there would be less testing. There would be less time in a racing season, less race weekends, but the same amount of races, it’s less time for the less experienced drivers to catch up than compared to a normal season. At the same rate, this extra four months, that’s extra physical, mental, whatever, technique preparation for first-year drivers to catch up to more experienced drivers, so it’s really hard to say.” Regardless of who this extra time favours, Bart has his eyes firmly set on Oulton Park. “Usually, the people who are at the front of the championship are usually there at round one, so, we go to Oulton Park, we’re going to see what happens when we go testing that week, and then wherever you qualify on the Saturday, that’s going to be your best indication of what’s going to happen for the rest of the year, until then, we don’t really know. All I can do is do my best and just enjoy it.  I’ve been having a great time driving the car and working with Graham, a really experienced engineer. I think that’s a great thing to have, and that gives me a lot of confidence, because then I can not only drive a car I’m confident with, but I also feel that if I’m struggling, I don’t have to worry about it, because I know what we can get out of it.

I’m just really looking forward to the season, and if I do well, that’s a bonus, but I do race to win.  I do race to do well, and I think I’m fortunate, because this year we’re looking like we’re having quite a strong grid.”

Bart is right, it’s a very strong grid with drivers from all over the world and with all manner of backgrounds, from Karting to F4 and other series, both here and abroad. Looking at the long-term goal for Bart, I wondered if it’s all the way to Formula 1, or if other series hold just as much attraction.

“I know a lot of people who say, aim for GTs, especially GT3, because it’s the best way for a professional driver, at the moment, to make money. Or if you do prototypes with a gentleman driver or something like that, or GT at Le Mans or something like that. And then, obviously, you’ve got your indie car, your WEC, Formula E, all those second-tier categories that sit under F1, where you’ve got high-level drivers and quite a lot of money coming in. There are a lot of avenues now, but I think something that, I mean, we all want to make F1, and F1 would be the dream for all the drivers that I’ve raced with. I’m very sure of that. And again, it’s going to be really hard, and really unlikely that you get there, but the thing is, though, there’s no real loss for you because I think if you aim for the stars, and maybe if you miss, you land on the moon, kind of thing.”

How very poetic! Continuing on, the Lanan newcomer said, “I’m confident that if you put me in a GT, I’m not going to be terrible. Driving’s the same.  You drive a road car the same way you drive an F1 car, believe it or not. They’re very different, but an F1 driver’s going to be quick if you put him in a Ford Fiesta, because it’s the same skill, just applied differently.  It takes a little bit of time, sometimes, to learn the track or learn certain things that are specific with the car, but it’s the same sport and it’s the same skills.

I think the best thing you can do is, in my opinion, as a driver, where I’m at the moment, is just put myself in that competition, just try and climb up the single-seater ranks and if opportunities come grab them or you could go off to the side and do a different series then, whenever that happens. I think it’s silly for people to give up before it’s forced upon them because there’s always a chance that you could make it to F1. There’s always that chance that’s still there. I think it’s worth it, in my opinion.”

Part Eight- …and finally

With time coming to an end, I asked the now regular and – dare I say – “famous” last question…  If you could drive any car, with anyone as your teammate, on any track, what would you choose?

“Let’s say a Can-Am car, because they’re insane. So like the Porsche turbo Can-Am car with Alain Prost as my teammate, so I could learn. I’ll probably get beaten, but it’s fine, because hopefully he’s nice to me and I’ll learn something! Track wise, I love Knockhill, but I think it’s a bit too small for a Can-Am car. I’m going to say Bathurst.” Good choice, Mr Horsten!  “It’s just probably terrifying and dangerous. Very much so, but I thought it’d be fun. I should probably try that on a sim, to be honest. Bathurst in a Can-Am car.”

Bart will be making his British F3 debut at Oulton Park 1st/2nd August for Lanan Racing.  He can be found online and through all the usual social media channels. Overtake would like to thank Bart for his time.

 

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