BRDC Formula 4 - Brands Hatch
With a win, third place podium and forth place finish to show for his three race work-out at a sunny Brands Hatch over the May 17/18th weekend, George Russell kept racking up the points to extend his lead in the 2014 BRDC Formula 4 championship which he had established with a brace of wins in the season's opening encounters at Silverstone in April.
Driving for the Lanan Racing team, the 16 year old entered the UK's premier junior single-seater series with over a dozen major Karting titles under his belt. Now, with a 50% win ratio and a 67% podium ratio at the quarter stage of the season, he already tops the F4 championship table with a lead of 21 points over South Africa's Raoul Hyman as the series heads next to Snetterton - Russell's 'back yard' - in June. That gives his opponents just over a month to think about how to put the brakes on the very racy teenager from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
Brands Hatch - practice and qualifying
Having taken victory in the final race of the 2013 BRDC Formula 4 Winter series at Brands Hatch, it was perhaps no surprise that HHC Motorsport's Comma-sponsored Will Palmer – son of former Formula 1 driver Jonathan and younger brother of 2014 GP2 series leader Jolyon, who is also sponsored by Comma and was on hand to coach and support Will – was quick to set the Saturday pace with a practice lap in 1m 27.107sec after just half a dozen tours of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Thinking there was more to come, Will then pushed a little too hard at Hawthorn's bend and 'went gardening', as they say, damaging the front wing and nosecone and losing part of his car's bodywork. End of the session for him, but his time nevertheless remained unbeaten.
Official qualifying intensified the action, with Palmer's HHC teammate Hyman and 16 year old rising Indian prodigy Arjun Maini for Lanan Racing, relegating Palmer to third fastest of the session for a second row Race 1 start alongside Russell. Chis Middlehurst for Mark Godwin Racing (MGR) and Sennan Fielding for HHC were next up on Row 3, with Mexican Diego Menchaca for Douglas Motorsports and Lanan Racing's Struan Moore from the island of Jersey filling Row 4. Fellow Brits Charlie Eastwood for Douglas and David Wagner for MGR topped out the top ten qualifiers on Row 5. Less than a second separated the first six rows, presaging close encounters for the first race of the weekend.
And so it proved to be, even if at the cost of wheel to wheel overtaking action up front, where there was no change in the starting order, Hyman pipping Maini by a mere 0.237 seconds for the win and the top four separated by less than 3.5 seconds. Fielding swapped places with Middlehurst to claim fifth a further second or so behind Russel, and Struan Moore also displaced Middlehurst for sixth place. Behind Middlehurst in seventh, Brazil's Gustavo Lima improved from fourteenth to finish eighth for Hillspeed ahead of Douglas Motorsport's Rodrigo Fonseca from Mexico who claimed ninth. The other big improver of the day was Lima's Hillspeed team-mate, Malaysia's Rahul Raj Mayer, who climbed from sixteenth on the grid to tenth at the chequered flag.
With the first four rows of the grid in Race 2 lining up in reverse order to the Race 1 results, Lima and Middlehurst headed Moore and Fielding to make up the front two rows. Russell and Palmer on Row 3 looked to make an intriguing race scenario, as did Maini and Hyman on Row 4. Thereafter, the grid was established in the finishing order from Race 1 with Fonseca and Mayer completing the top ten starters. This time, the contest soon developed into an eyeball-to-eyeball between the front row pair who scooted off to dispute the outcome over the 14 lap race. Neither of them blinked, and Middlehurst had to give best to Lima by less than five one hundredths of a second at the end - the closest ever finish to a BRDC Formula 4 contest. Behind them, Russell quickly grabbed a couple of places at the start to hold on to the third podium spot almost 5 seconds behind, and Maini similarly improved three places to claim forth at the expense of Fielding who dropped a grid place to finish fifth. Hyman motored from eighth at the start to sixth at the close, while Comma's man Palmer wobbled from sixth to ninth to seventh at the finish after a rather muddled sort of race. Moore fared even worse, slipping from third to eighth, while Menchaca carved a path to ninth from sixteenth on the grid ahead of team mate Fonseca in tenth.
The weekend's final encounter – with the grid established on drivers' fastest lap times from the two preceding races – produced a 'usual suspects' line-up, with hot-shoe Maini claiming pole with both fastest laps of the weekend so far. Thereafter, the top ten order went Hyman, Russell, Palmer, Fielding, Moore, Middlehurst, Menchaca, Lima and Sean Walkinshaw Racing's Jordan Albert, who had missed Race 1 and finished 18th in Race 2.
Came the race - and keeping a close watching brief on the battle ahead between Maini and Hyman - Russell slipped past the pair of them to take the lead in a classic Paddock Hill Bend manoeuvre on lap 2 and only looked under real pressure from Fielding in the final laps when the gap closed from nearly 2 seconds to just 0.415 in a thrilling finish. Hyman and Maini were left far in their wake to take third and fourth, with Middlehurst and Albert hot on their heels less than a second adrift in fifth and sixth. Palmer was the only other top ten starter to finish in the top ten (eighth at the chequered flag after fourth place on the grid) with Moore, Menchaca and Lima making way for Borelli in seventh, Mauro in ninth and Eastwood in tenth to replace them.
Comma is Technical Partner to BRDC Formula 4, and in addition to sponsoring Will Palmer in the 24 race series, supplies Comma brand lubricants, coolants and maintenance chemicals to all teams competing in the championship. All rounds of the BRDC F4 Championship are broadcast free-to-air on ITV 4 in an hour-long standalone show screened one week after each of the eight events in a prime-time Sunday evening slot. Coverage on ITV4 will also include a further weekday evening repeat.
For live race reports, championship details, driver interviews, news and inside information on the championship, teams and drivers, visit the excellent BRDC Formula 4 website at www.formula4.com