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Opinion

How Williams junior O'Sullivan is gearing up for his Aston Martin F1 test

The Williams junior driver has had a tricky rookie season in FIA Formula 3 but still has a lot to look forward to - including a maiden Formula 1 test for winning the 2021 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award

Zak O'Sullivan, Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award winner, with the Aston Martin AMR21 and his cheque

How to rate my first season in the FIA Formula 3 Championship is a tricky one. It’s something I haven’t really experienced before. There was a lot of learning. As a team, we struggled a bit to get on top of the car, all year. So, in that sense, there were some difficulties, but I think from my side I learned quite a bit. I was really having to maximise any opportunity with the car; I was strong at some rounds and that really helped me develop.

It was a pretty interesting experience, because all previous years I’ve been in a car capable of winning races and championships. I had a lot of success with Carlin in British F4 and in GB3.

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With Carlin in F3 this year, we had some good weekends, Silverstone being a highlight where I think a bit of track knowledge helped me out – we had pole and finished second. In Hungary, where I was fourth, we made the right call on tyres and took an opportunity where others maybe didn’t. So, it’s been a unique year, but one that I’ve enjoyed through the highs and the lows.

In previous years, I could more or less fully focus on my driving and what I had to do, whereas this year it was working on my driving on one side but, almost even more so, trying to work with the team to improve the car. I really enjoyed that element, trying to work out the areas where we were lacking. So, although I didn’t get the results I would have wanted, I think it gave me another side of it, where I had to look elsewhere and see what we could improve on and be quite observant of what other teams were doing.

It was pretty cool driving the Dallara F3 car. It’s a really nice car to drive. I think it’s the right power-to-downforce ratio, especially in qualifying. The car’s got really good aero at high speeds, which you certainly feel. You have to set the car up differently for the race. You automatically run less downforce, so the tyre degradation is higher. That took a bit of getting used to, especially in the early races in Bahrain where you were driving on sandpaper.

Over one lap, the car is fun to drive; in the race it’s slightly different. Also, switching tyre compounds from round to round was quite tricky, trying to work out where the tyre needed to be in the right window. Some rounds, you’d be perfectly in the window and the qualifying lap would be there. Other times it wouldn’t.

Later this month, I will get to drive a Formula 1 car for winning the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award. It will be my first time and quite an awkward one: I’ll be driving the Aston Martin F1 car but I’m a Williams Academy driver. I’ve seen some of the emails between the Williams and Aston Martin comms teams, which have been quite amusing. I’m sure my neck will not stand up for the whole day, but I’m looking forward to it anyway.

Learning the vagaries of the Pirelli tyres - with compounds changing at each event - and getting them in the right window for a race stint was a key part of O'Sullivan's 2022 learning curve

Learning the vagaries of the Pirelli tyres - with compounds changing at each event - and getting them in the right window for a race stint was a key part of O'Sullivan's 2022 learning curve

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

I did a seat-fit at Aston Martin last month and did some sim stuff. They were a bit limited on what they could show me because of the Williams link. They can’t send me too much stuff to prepare in advance, so I will get given the driver manual on the morning. But I’ll be one of an elite few who have driven a turbo-hybrid F1 car, so that will be pretty cool.

I’ve been super-involved with Williams, more so than I ever predicted. I’ve been to two of the races as race support, and done a lot in the simulator. I didn’t expect to be that involved, which is really refreshing. It’s interesting because some of the issues they are facing in F1 are very similar to what I’ve been dealing with this year.

Initially, F2 was the plan for next year but something changed last-minute so now it’s F3 again

Being a part of the BRDC SuperStars programme is awesome. Having two big British names backing me in the BRDC and Williams is amazing. The BRDC is so influential with Silverstone and keeping British motorsport at its peak. Andy Meyrick is always available on the phone. He’s been through most of the steps, issues and problems you can have throughout your career. So, it’s nice to have someone to lean on if you really need it.

Also in the programme, a few of the drivers race in F3. Even some of the drivers higher up, you can often text them. I did that just before the Autosport Award tests last year, trying to get any info I could from Tom Gamble, who had won it before.

Now the season is over, I’ll be relaxing and switching off a bit. Initially, F2 was the plan for next year but something changed last-minute so now it’s F3 again.

I’ve just finished the three-day test with Prema and I really enjoyed my time. It was a new environment: many of the things are quite similar, but it’s no secret that Prema is very strong in F3. The pace was quite strong, but the focus was on getting to know all the team members - new personnel for me - and some new languages as well. So it was a bit of a learning curve.

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O'Sullivan will have a maiden F1 test as part of his prize for winning the 2021 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award

O'Sullivan will have a maiden F1 test as part of his prize for winning the 2021 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award

Photo by: Williams

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