HUGHES STEPS UP
Rising star chooses GP3 for next stage of his career. By Stephen Lickorish
For any young driver climbing the single-seater career ladder, choosing the correct next step is often a difficult decision.
Jake Hughes is one driver who faced that decision over the winter. He tested cars from several categories including GP3, Formula V8 3.5 and Formula 3 to get a feel for his options. But when it came down to choosing one he took it right back to basics.
“I only really considered GP3 and FV8 3.5,” says Hughes. “Someone asked me which championship I would rather be champion in – as that’s the aim, I’m not here to just play a part. The simple answer is I wanted to be champion in GP3. It has got the connection to F1 and the strength of the drivers this year would probably bring more kudos.”
So that’s the series the 21-year-old will be racing in this season. He has just joined DAMS, as the multichampionship winning GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 outfit enters the category for the first time.
Hughes considered a number of other teams with previous experience of GP3, including Arden and Koiranen GP in the post-season Abu Dhabi test, but opted for DAMS.
“DAMS’ record speaks for itself,” says Hughes. “I tested for several teams in Abu Dhabi, which had their pluses, but the plus of DAMS is they have so many clever people there who have experience of winning. It’s going to be difficult as it’s going to be the strongest grid GP3 has ever had. I like a challenge so it would be great to come out on top.”
One of the drivers Hughes will be up against this season is his good friend and Formula Renault nemesis Jack Aitken ( see sidebar). Hughes narrowly missed out on both the Eurocup and ALPS titles to Aitken last year when the pair were teammates at Koiranen and is looking to get revenge in 2016.
“Jack and I are really good mates,” says Hughes. “On top of that we massively respect each other as racing drivers. Even when one of us was quicker last year it was by no more than a tenth, it’s that close.”
Hughes ended up second in the ALPS points, just five behind Aitken, while he finished sixth in the Eurocup after a difficult end to both seasons having starred in the early stages.
“The main disappointment was the ALPS title as I lost it in the very last race,” he says. “We had a really great year and had lots of wins, podiums and poles. But we had some problems with the car at the end of the year, which might’ve cost me at least one of the championships.
“Anything could’ve happened so I’m not going to say I would’ve definitely won them without the problems, but I would’ve challenged. We had a big break in the summer and then it was really busy in September so we didn’t have the chance to sort the problem.”
Despite the frustration of missing out on both titles, Hughes is still confident for the year ahead: “It was disappointing that the finishing positions didn’t show what we did during the year but it doesn’t give me any doubts for this year. I know I have the pace as I was quick in everything I tested this winter. I had good team-mates too with good teams.
“Every single year I’ve had a good car I’ve been capable of winning the championship. I have no doubt I’ll be challenging this year too.”
Hughes has proved he can win championships in the past, as demonstrated in 2013 when he stormed to the inaugural BRDC Formula 4 title. He won by 45 points, beating drivers such as Seb Morris and Charlie Robertson.
That led to a move into Europe in the Formula Renault NEC series, but he had an “up and down” year as he got to grips with the car, while also making a brief foray into GT racing as a BMW junior driver.
Now Hughes is moving into the next stage of his career, and is excited about racing alongside F1.
“It’s mega to be racing on the same bill as F1,” he says. “Until now the biggest race weekend I’ve been part of was the DTM round at Brands Hatch in 2013 [when BRDC F4 formed part of its undercard]. At F1 races you get 80,000 to 200,000 fans and I know not everyone stays to watch the GP3 but it will be great.”
He’ll now be hoping for a successful year to prove his latest move up the single-seater ladder is the correct one. ■