The challenge of regaining career momentum after a year on the sidelines

OPINION: After winning the 2019 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award, it has been a tricky past 18 months for Johnathan Hoggard. But now the Jenzer Motorsport FIA Formula 3 driver reckons he’s back on track

The challenge of regaining career momentum after a year on the sidelines

It’s been an interesting time. Winning the 2019 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award was quite high profile, with a lot of teams contacting me, and then I was offered a free drive in the 2020 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, which I was looking forward to.

We were looking to do a dual programme with GTs and single-seaters, so we’d have plenty of options available and then concentrate on whichever one we wanted to go into. I did one round of the Porsche Sprint Challenge in Malaysia and was getting ready for round one of the Carrera Cup Asia and then the pandemic hit. I wasn’t able to travel, and everyone was in lockdown.

After winning the Award, racing at the Daytona 24 Hours, and being ready for the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, I was building on everything, and my name was coming up quite a lot. Teams were getting in contact, it was helpful with finding sponsorship, and then it all kind of came crashing down.

I wasn’t being forgotten about, but it was getting quite late on in the year and I was ready to do the Carrera Cup Asia season, but it never got going, so I was doing some testing, including in the FIA Formula 3 Championship, and then had my Red Bull Racing F1 test in October. It was disappointing and very frustrating to go from everything going really well to then stopping and not being able to do the sort of driving that I was planning.

The Red Bull Racing F1 test for winning the Award was really nice to enjoy. It kind of got my name out there again and showed I’m still here. I really enjoyed it. It was a fair bit of track time – I had the whole day just to go out whenever I wanted. We waited for the track to dry up in the morning, and then did all of our running in the afternoon.

PLUS: How an Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award winner starred on his F1 debut 

There was no pressure, it was just a case of enjoying the day. I wanted to do as well as I could because it’s not every day you get to drive an F1 car. Hopefully it shows that, even though I’ve had a bit of time out, I’m still on the pace.

Johnathan Hoggard, Red Bull Racing RB8

Johnathan Hoggard, Red Bull Racing RB8

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

I did half a day on the simulator beforehand, just to get used to everything. But I felt very relaxed. I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m driving a Formula 1 car; this is quite stressful’. There were no complaints from the team. It was just like a normal test day, to be honest, they all thought I did a good job, or they said so! It was a great day to enjoy and any day you get in a car is good.

To drive a faster car with more downforce helps when you drive something slower, as you’re more precise because you can think a lot quicker. Everything slows down a bit more because, when you’re thinking as fast as an F1 car goes, you naturally are able to cope with it a bit better.

We were struggling to get the budget together for this season. We looked across the whole of motorsport to see what we could do but unfortunately never made the progress we wanted to. Then a really good opportunity came up in FIA F3 when I got the call from Jenzer Motorsport and my sponsor, Travel Planet, which came together really quickly, even though I missed round one in Barcelona.

I had experience from the post-season tests at Barcelona and Jerez in 2020, so it was a case of trying to remember that and build on it as best I could in the limited time I had. It was only one or two weeks from knowing I was doing Paul Ricard to actually being at the circuit!

It was tough, especially not knowing the track and only having 45 minutes of practice and going straight to qualifying. Now I’m trying to build on each round as I go, taking it as it comes, trying to make the best of this opportunity.

Looking to the end of the season, I think we can be in the mix. I need to sort out qualifying, because that’s been the weak point for the past two rounds. The racing has been fairly good, especially at the Red Bull Ring, where I managed to get 10th place in race two.

If I manage to qualify a lot higher, then the goal of being in the points-paying positions isn’t too far away. I can make up places and, if any drama kicks off, I’ll be in the right place to capitalise on it.

It was good to make progress from Paul Ricard to the Red Bull Ring. And now hopefully I can make progress again, heading to Budapest this weekend. The Hungaroring is a tricky circuit and I’ve never been there before. It will be tough and there’s plenty of work to be done to be able to perform better, but it should be an enjoyable experience.

Johnathan Hoggard, Jenzer Motorsport

Johnathan Hoggard, Jenzer Motorsport

Photo by: Drew Gibson / Motorsport Images

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