In Conversation with Richard Ollerenshaw of Hillspeed Racing

With a new racing season just around the corner, teams are anxiously working on putting together their driver lineups for 2019. One such team is Hillspeed Racing, competing in the BRDC Formula 3 series in the UK. I spoke to Richard Ollerenshaw, Team Principal of Hillspeed on what they are looking for in a driver, what makes British F3 so special and how much competing at this level will cost.

Motorsport Prospects: Give us a bit of background about Hillspeed’s history.

Richard Ollerenshaw (GBR) Hillspeed

Richard Ollerenshaw: Hillspeed was established in 1970 by Morgan Ollerenshaw, father of current team principal Richard Ollerenshaw, to run in the British Saloon Car Championship – now known as the British Touring Car Championship. During the 1980s the team moved into single-seater racing competing in the British Formula Ford 2000 championships. The team retained its involvement in motorsport throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s while building a successful high-performance road car and historic car restoration business.

In 1996 Hillspeed returned to full time competition when the day-to-day management of the business was passed to Richard. The team enjoyed great success with back-to-back ARP Formula 3 Championship (now know as Club F3) titles in 2000 and 2001. The team expanded its operation into Formula Renault UK during its boom years, again enjoying a successful period until the championship ceased in 2011. Hillspeed made history with Alice Powell in the Formula Renault BARC series in 2010 when she became the first female winner of any motorsport category in the world. Since that time, Hillspeed has won multiple titles in Ginetta Junior and numerous races in the Ginetta G55 Supercup, the BRDC Formula 4 Championship and is now a front-runner in the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship.

MP: What is your background in racing?

RO: I became involved in the sport at the age of 14 when I worked part time for Hillspeed as an apprentice during the period that the team was involved in Formula Ford. At the age of 16 I attended the Jim Russell Race School at Donington Park where John Kirkpatrick (now a close and longstanding friend) was my instructor. Things didn’t proceed as quickly as I’d planned and my race debut was delayed a few years. Looking to make up for lost time I started in Formula 3 and enjoyed four years of successful racing full-time before stepping back to dovetail my roll as Hillspeed’s Team Principal and a period of driving the Safety Cars at various international events. It was a tough choice to make to step back from the driving but, looking back, it was certainly the correct one. Occasionally I still drive if there is work to be done on track and we don’t have one of our contracted drivers available.

MP: Hillspeed has a history in a number of categories in both single-seater and tin tops. Why are you focused on BRDC F3 now?

RO: Throughout Hillspeed’s history we’ve always wanted to compete with, and prove ourselves against, the very best competition, and in single-seaters in the UK it doesn’t get any bigger or better than BRDC British F3. The championship is exceptionally well run by Jonathan Palmer’s MSV organisation, we have a fantastic car in the Tatuus-Cosworth and it’s a very level playing field too. The championship offers no restrictions on testing so, as a team, we want to be in a position where we can meet any of our drivers’ requirements. This means being able to deliver testing to our drivers without it clashing with any obligations to other championships or drivers competing in other categories. Focusing on one championship allows us to deliver the best possible service to our drivers without any compromise. While British F3 continues to offers what it does at present, it will be our focus for the foreseeable future.

MP: What is the biggest transition for a driver from a formula like F1600 or F4 to the BRDC F3 car?

RO: The British F3 car is a significant step forward with braking performance and the aerodynamics, so these are the most notable differences for drivers stepping up from the junior formulae. The top speed is faster, but that’s not a big change for drivers to adjust to.

MP: How does BRDC F3 compare with the new Regional European F3 series and Formula Renault Eurocup as far as training young drivers?

RO: We believe that British F3 is the perfect step between Formula 4 and International Formula 3 (GP3 replacement). The British F3 car offers almost the same power to weight ratio as the Regional F3 car without the use of a turbo charged engine. The car package has been proven over the last three seasons for its reliability, its performance and its ability to provide drivers with everything they need to learn and fully develop.

With the British F3 championship having no testing restrictions, the drivers can rack up important seat time without the expensive testing costs found in other championships. It is about the amount of time a driver can spend in the seat. Both Regional F3 and Formula Renault Eurocup have strict testing restrictions, so they are not really for learning; they are for showcasing the skills that the drivers already have. I accept that you get the opportunity to learn the GP circuits in Formula Renault Eurocup, but the drivers at this level don’t struggle to learn the circuits and we have Silverstone GP and Spa on our calendar anyway.

Ultimately the British F3 Championship teaches the drivers all of the skills they need to build a career on, and it does this in a very cost-effective way.

MP: What is your opinion of the FIA driving pyramid? Are there too many development series?

RO: I feel the FIA had a period of time to address the single-seater market and haven’t quite delivered everything that was required. I’m not saying that this was easy, or that it was even possible, but what we have at the moment doesn’t provide a clear route from the bottom to the top. The entry level is clearly understood as being FIA F4, this championship provides what is required for drivers looking to switch from karts to cars at the age of 15.

It is the next level in Europe where there is currently confusion. There are two championships both using the same FIA sanctioned chassis and both meeting with the FIA’s Regional F3 regulations, however only one carries the FIA Regional F3 name. What adds further confusion is the championship currently being preferred by the drivers, is not the one with the FIA Regional F3 name, it is the Formula Renault Eurocup. With the championship having no mention of Formula 3 in its title, to the uninformed where does this championship fit?

The remainder of the levels are simple to understand, FIA Regional F3 drivers progressing to the FIA International F3 Championship, then onto FIA F2 and finally FIA F1.

It was a good intention of the FIA to use the Regional F3 title and this appears to work in the markets where driver demand will sustain only one championship.  However, in Europe is quite different as the market is populated not only with native European drivers but also drivers from the rest of the world. In addition to the newly created Regional F3 and Formula Renault Eurocup, there remain a number of established ‘original type’ Formula 3 championships. These ‘old school’ championships don’t want to be replaced by the FIA’s master plan and they are fighting hard to retain their driver appeal and continue to operate. All of this makes for a confused middle ground market in Europe.

As British F3 remains stable with no changes for 2019 (to either its racecar or its structure), it provides clarity that does not exist in the other championships. Many drivers are considering British F3 in 2019 because they do not want to gamble with their careers in selecting a championship that is unproven or a race car that is not already tried and tested.

MP: What kind of budget should a young driver be looking at to race in BRDC F3?

RO: Our 2019 Budget Proposal for a racing in the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship is £175,000 (ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS). This is a fully inclusive budget that covers all of the costs for participation in 24 races over eight race weekends and eight pre-race test days. This figure includes the use of the car, the team costs, the tyres (32 sets), race car insurance, driver coaching services, consumable parts etc, etc. Basically, you have nothing more to pay other than your personal costs and any accident damage or breakages.

If the driver wanted an additional testing program we would recommend between 8 to 12 days at £5,500 per day, again this is fully inclusive as per the race program, covering all costs.

The feedback that we get is that a combined package providing 24 races and 20 days of testing, all fully inclusive, is below the cost of a seat in USF2000 that offers only 15 races and limited testing opportunities. As a European comparison, British Formula 3 is more cost effective than both UK FIA F4 and German FIA F4.

Considering the British F3 racecar offers 230bhp, a complete aerodynamic package and better braking than USF2000 and all FIA F4 championship, the question is, why pay more to get less?

MP: Motorsport is expensive. At what point does budget trump talent?

RO: This question has been around as long as motorsport itself, but its becoming asked more in the current times. There is no real answer to the question. Ultimately a driver’s natural talent will shine through and nothing displays this more than one make controlled racing. What budgets do allow is the accelerated progression and development of a driver.

MP: You currently have a number of testing opportunities available. What are you looking for when you test a young driver?

RO: Hillspeed is very proud of the driver development programme we’ve created over the years, numerous international drivers have risen through our ranks and it’s fantastic to have been a part of so many impressive careers. You always look for raw talent, but equally a driver with full commitment and a willingness to learn can go a very long way in the sport. On a test day it is important to look beyond what the driver ultimately delivered but actually how the driver delivered it. Our testing packages really do help drivers to maximize their potential.

MP: British F3 has an illustrious history. What makes it so special? Why is it a good training ground for a young driver?

RO: The drivers who have competed in, and progressed through, British F3 over the decades is like a who’s who of motor racing – Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, Nelson Piquet, Jenson Button, to name just a few. All of those drivers won the British F3 title and went on to become F1 World Champion so the success of the championship speaks for itself.

The unique characteristics of the British circuits really are the ideal preparation for young drivers, plus we have the benefit of visiting Spa-Francorchamps each season so the mix of challenges is unparalleled in any other category at this level in my opinion.

The current British F3 may have evolved to its present format but all of the key items remain, a great car package, strong regulations, an excellent calendar and some of the very best teams at this level – it is the perfect training ground, history shows us that.

MP: Can a young driver jump from karts to BRDC F3? Should they? What would be good preparation for the move to BRDC F3? F1600? F4?

RO: Drivers can certainly progress straight from karts to British F3, as long as they have the right aptitude and correct structure around them, that is what we pride ourselves on providing at Hillspeed. Last year, our young German driver Jusuf Owega entered the championship with us coming straight from karting. He made a major impression, very nearly finishing on the podium several times against vastly more experienced drivers in only his maiden season. If the correct development and testing programmes are in place, a driver can certainly make the move straight from karting.

MP: All teams are looking for drivers at this point of the year. What should a young driver look at when choosing to run with a team? What should they look to avoid?

RO: I would say structure within the team. At Hillspeed the team is owned by my father and myself. We both have a successful background as drivers and engineers outside of the car. We have built Hillspeed to what we would want if we were choosing a team to drive for.

One of the most important things is for a driver to feel he has an environment in which he or she can grow and really deliver on their potential. It isn’t all about taking podiums or winning races from day one, it’s about nurturing talent and also working with a team to maximise potential. Again, I come back to the driver development we’re very proud of at Hillspeed, we have a long history of working with drivers who have gone on to achieve great things in the sport – people like British GT Champion Seb Morris, British Touring Car Independents Champion Tom Ingram, Blancpain Endurance Cup Pro-Am Champion Ahmad Al Harthy and Super GT race winner Sean Walkinshaw – so, for us, that’s something a young driver should look at very seriously when making a decision of where to race.

Hillspeed operates a strict equal Number One status for all of its drivers. A rookie driver is treated equally as a second or third year driver who may be chasing race victories and the outright title. There is no preferential treatment everyone gets the same high level of service. Many teams segregate the Rookie drivers as playing a supporting role to the more experienced drivers. This does not happen at Hillspeed.

MP: Hillspeed as worked with a lot of young drivers from outside the UK. How much of a transition is it for these drivers? How do you help a young driver acclimatize to what is often a foreign environment?

RO: For many years we’ve enjoyed working with talent from overseas, from right across the globe, and I think that has been another of the team’s biggest successes. Hillspeed can assist a driver with all aspects of transitioning to live and race in the UK. We provide a structured environment with our testing and development and also get the drivers involved at the team HQ so they can fully integrate with the team and feel part of the Hillspeed family. With the right support, which we provide, the transition is quite seamless.

 

You can check out the Motorsport Prospects listing for Hillspeed Racing here as well as the BRDC Formula 3 Championship here.

A big thank you to Richard for taking the time out to talk to Motorsport Prospects.

Author: Mark Boudreau