|Jack Hawksworth was only treating the 2010 Formula Renault UK Winter Series – his first foray into car racing off the back of a tremendously successful karting career on both British and international shores – as an opportunity to pick up some experience ahead of the main championship in 2011. After storming to pole position first time out, he has had to re-appraise his objectives somewhat.|
Competing for Mark Burdett Motorsport, Jack headed to Snetterton in Norfolk for the Winter Series curtain-raiser with literally only a handful of days’ testing under his belt before the weekend – and bracing himself for a bold step into the unknown.
“Things had gone ok in testing, so I knew we weren’t going to be terrible, but at the same time I knew there would be drivers there with a full season or even two or three seasons in car racing already behind them,” reflected the highly-rated young Bradford star.
“I obviously wasn’t going to have the same depth of experience as them, but the team has a lot of experience; Robbie Kerr is the driver coach – and as a former British F3 Champion and leading sportscar driver, he knows what it takes to make a car go quick, so it’s interesting to listen to what he has to say – and my engineer Andy Miller is ex-F1 and as such has experience from right at the top level, so I’m learning from the best and I was confident we wouldn’t be too far away.
“The conditions were very changeable in practice, which made it really hard to establish a decent baseline or gauge exactly where we were relative to the rest of the field. We only put one set of new tyres on all day, and we were probably in the top five or six when you took that into account, so I knew we were close enough and I was aiming for more of the same in qualifying.”
In the event, Jack did rather better than that, and on a damp-but-drying circuit, he left his rivals and observers alike absolutely stunned. Never far from the top of the timing screens throughout, after intelligently cooling his tyres at precisely the right point in preparation for one last push, the 19-year-old blitzed the field to claim the top spot on the starting grid.
What’s more, second place for race two ably demonstrated that his searing turn-of-speed was no one-lap wonder and that his pace was consistent. Indeed, he had been on course to go even quicker still on his final effort when he came upon traffic, but no matter – the job was done.
“It was unbelievable,” he confessed. “I had never expected to take pole position in my first car meeting! I was just there to learn, to be honest. We were all a little bit surprised, I think, and everyone in the team was really chuffed – it was the best start we could possibly have wished for going into our first race together.”
Having conceded prior to the weekend that whilst it would be one thing to set a fast time over a single lap, being able to go wheel-to-wheel up against 24 fellow competitors in a race situation would be quite another, the Cullingworth-based speed demon approached the opening encounter feeling excited and apprehensive in equal measure. He need not have worried – right from the moment the starting lights went out, he looked every inch the seasoned pro.
“I was nervous sat on the grid before the first race, because everything was absolutely brand new to me,” he acknowledged. “My main goal was still to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid and to just finish the race, so I could get the laps under my belt and learn a little bit about car racing along the way.
“The start was difficult – we’d only had time to do two practice starts beforehand, and we had a little bit of a clutch problem too in that race – but I still came out of the first corner in second place. I then drove very cautiously to begin with – I was nowhere near aggressive enough – but after a while I began to settle into a rhythm behind the leader.
“I was comfortable staying with him and had a bit of a gap back to third, and then the safety car came out. I didn’t get the best re-start and lost the leader a bit, and then on the next lap, as I came out of the first corner Ollie Millroy was quite close behind me. I had a quick look in my mirror, but that momentary lapse in concentration caused me to out-brake myself into the following corner, which allowed Millroy and the guy in fourth to out-drag me along the straight.
“In hindsight, I should have defended a lot harder, but for my first race I just wanted to keep out-of-trouble – I didn’t have the same mindset that I normally do. I achieved my objective of finishing the race and gaining experience, though, and our pace was really encouraging, as well – lap time-wise we were right up there. There was nothing in it between me and the top three, and I felt really comfortable in what I was doing. I wasn’t pushing over-the-limit – I felt well within myself.
“I was then lying fourth again in race two when I got into Josh Hill’s slipstream. I was tucked right up behind him lining myself up to overtake, when he seemed to have some kind of mechanical problem because his car suddenly slowed. I had nowhere to go, and although I immediately jinked out, I just clipped my front wing on his rear wing.
“That dislodged my wing, leaving it hanging off and scraping the ground for the rest of the race, which meant I had no downforce – and without aero in these cars, you just can’t go round the corners. The wing was damaged more on the left-hand side, which affected me round right-hand corners – and Snetterton is predominantly made up of right-hand corners! That was my race over effectively, because it was so difficult after that with no grip at the front of the car at all. I was losing three seconds a lap – it was just impossible.”
Taking the chequered flag a perhaps aptly unlucky 13th, there is nonetheless no doubt at all that Jack had raised more than a few eyebrows along the way. A superb weekend during which his had featured amongst the very leading names right from the word ‘go’, the Kartmasters and Margutti Trophy winner now has his sights firmly focussed on the resumption of action at Pembrey in South Wales – and this time, on securing the kind of result to match his outstanding raw pace and potential.
“Even after the second race I wasn’t that disappointed, because I knew I had done a lot better than people had been expecting me to in my first car outing, and I’m very proud of what I achieved,” he concluded of a weekend that he left sitting a strong sixth in the championship table, a mere two points shy of fourth and top-placed car racing ‘rookie’.
“I was over-the-moon and I would have been ecstatic with that kind of performance back at the start of the week! We definitely made an impact, and I think we’ll be a lot stronger again at Pembrey. I’ve got more experience of the racing side of things now, and I know the kind of mindset I need to adopt – I’ll be a lot more aggressive there and able to attack far more.
“At Snetterton, the result wasn’t as important as making it to the chequered flag, but Pembrey will be a different story. I’ll still be learning, of course – but I’ll also be going for a result. Having exceeded my expectations this weekend, I’m confident now that I’ll be bang on the pace in Wales – and it will be a lot more difficult for anyone to overtake me there, too! Next time, I’ll really be racing!”
Burdett himself was certainly struck by his protégé’s composed performance in Norfolk, and as the Yorkshire hotshot gears himself up to shine even brighter still in Wales, his team principal warned his rivals that they haven’t seen the best of Jack Hawksworth yet by a long shot.
“Jack is doing a fantastic job!” he enthused. “He’s on a very steep learning curve, but he’s getting there step-by-step. From day one, he has worked well with his engineer Andy and the rest of the team. Andy has a wealth of experience from F1, GP2 and F3 that Jack needs to draw upon – and they have a lot of respect for each other. Jack has a good little team behind him, with the chemistry all working very well.
“He still has a lot to learn about the racing, which he will admit to himself, but he has a very professional approach and is learning and improving every time and making great progress. If you look at the grid, he’s the only driver out there without any experience in cars who’s up at the front of the field – the other rookies are all down towards the rear of the order, whilst the rest all have a great deal of experience.
“We’re all very pleased with him. Whilst the more experienced drivers out there don’t have that much more room for improvement within themselves, Jack will just keep on getting better and better and better. It’s all about hard work, and he is nowhere near his peak yet – there is plenty more still to come.”