After the spectacle that was the Thruxton round, the F4 British Championship once again makes its way to the quiet Cheshire woodland ahead of the fourth round of the season at Oulton Park.
Last year, this proved to be a real turning point for eventual champion Jamie Caroline. It marked the end of his dominant run and the start of the fight to catch him. A battle which saw drivers such as Linus Lundqvist and Logan Sargeant develop into fine young talents, while it was Oscar Piastri who eventually took the runners-up spot, even pushing Caroline to the final round.
This year, the story is much different. Only five points separate points leader Ayrton Simmons and Double R’s hotshot Kiern Jewiss. Meanwhile, despite being just over 50 points back, both Jack Doohan and Seb Priaulx have started to come of age as they attempt to close down the lead gap.
Simmons comes into the weekend, as he has with all rounds this season, with great experience, though in this case, not necessarily great success. In the last two years he’s failed to collect a top five finish and after (perhaps quite fortunately) picking up a triple podium at Thruxton will know that building a sizable gap early in the season will be valuable as Jewiss and fellow rivals will only improve as the year goes on.
Of course Jewiss and Priaulx are no strangers to the track either, with the latter picking up a double win during his Ginetta Junior races last year. He’ll be one to watch this weekend as he knows that a poor weekend in the next few rounds could destroy his championship challenge.
Further rookie success for Jewiss was also coupled with the first two of his six back-to-back podium stretch last season ensuring it could be another on-track battle between the Junior rivals.
Doohan meanwhile will be aware of his increasing lead in the F4 rookie standings. The TRS Arden driver has had one over on his Red Bull Junior Teammate so far this season, even collected the prize for becoming the first rookie to win an outright F4 race.
Dennis Hauger though did record the pole position time at Thruxton but appeared to struggle with the wheel-to-wheel action. Oulton Park on the other hand is narrower and doesn’t have as many long straights. Pole here will be vital for the drivers, especially in the knowledge that defending will be easier even when on worn tyres.
Despite the hot weather, tyres will almost certainly not play as major part this weekend, but the narrow track may almost certainly make damage and safety cars a more prominent factor. Experienced midfield runners such as Patrik Pasma and Jamie Sharp could come into their own. Sharp himself has put a high expectation to perform in front of his local sponsors.
Experience may not be enough be help these drivers though with Paavo Tonteri on very high form after his double podium last time out at Thruxton.
Elsewhere, it will be a maiden visit to the track for Hampus Ericsson, Manuel Sulaiman and Lucca Allen. Despite all three having part campaigns last season it will be the last true test of these drivers in race conditions before they have a step up on 2018’s rookie class. Interestingly, while the British F4 series has remained consistent with 14 cars this season, last year marked the least attended round of the season, again with 14.
While the score sheet will not show it, Sebastian Alverez had surprised many at Thruxton, running in competition with the top five and providing he’s not lost any of his confidence, and could yet throw up a surprising result. That will certainly help his battle at the back, one that Josh Skelton is starting to edge away from. While he remains 25 points behind Pasma, Skelton has now pulled out a 13 point gap to Ericsson and thus the battle at the back.
Last but certainly not least is Johnathan Hoggard. He too comes into the weekend with no prior experience but will be looking for revenge after twice being knocked out contention at Thruxton. The Fortec driver even briefly led the opening event, but is also acutely aware that any undesirable result will spell the end for his already frail championship charge this season.
In testing yesterday, it was Jewiss and Double R teammate Tonteri leading the proceedings, with Jewiss setting a time of 1min 22.537 in the afternoon. The pair had also locked out first row during the morning with Jewiss now looking the man-to-beat going into qualifying.
The top five for both the morning and the afternoon were the same with the only change being that Hauger beat Pasma in the later (and thus overall) times. What this meant though was that Simmons was resigned to fifth, despite his work to go fastest at Croft earlier in the week.