Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Interview
FIA F3 Hungaroring

The Williams F1 juniors vying to become its next British stars

Zak O’Sullivan and Luke Browning are two of Britain’s most promising Formula 1 hopefuls, a point underlined by both winning the prestigious Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award. The Williams junior pair have taken diverging routes to reach this point, but each is determined to grasp the opportunity to impress in Formula 3

Second placed Luke Browning, Hitech Pulse-Eight and race winner Zak O'Sullivan, Prema Racing in parc ferme

Zak O’Sullivan and Luke Browning are old rivals. The compatriots have plenty of history, with tensions first coming to a head in the 2020 British Formula 4 finale. As COVID lockdowns left circuits without spectators, O’Sullivan and Browning headed to Brands Hatch tied. By the final race, Browning had a 16-point lead, but his route to sealing the crown was far from straightforward.

O’Sullivan took the lead at the start before both went off on oil. O’Sullivan managed to rejoin without losing a place, but Browning spun back to 10th, putting O’Sullivan on the cusp of glory. Then the Great British weather intervened. Torrential downpours caused the race to be red-flagged and there wasn't time to restart. With less than 75% of the race completed, only half points were awarded, turning the advantage back in Browning's favour. He won by just four points, prompting elation from a disbelieving Fortec driver and despair from his Carlin rival.

Insight: The standout moments of the series that launched Norris as it reaches 250 races

Their paths diverged after that fateful day in Kent, with Browning opting for an ADAC F4 campaign in 2021 while O’Sullivan took the GB3 crown. Browning then emulated him the following season, as O’Sullivan ran his rookie Formula 3 campaign with Carlin, finishing 11th with two podiums and 54 points.

But the pair are now back on the same grid and their history is water under the bridge, with the fierce fighting of old forgotten as members of the Williams Driver Academy forging separate paths in F3. O’Sullivan, 18, is now in his second season having moved to Prema as 21-year-old Browning completes his first with Hitech.

Though O’Sullivan sees Browning as an old rival “to a degree,” he says: “I'm sure we’ve put any previous altercations behind us”.

In conversation with Autosport at Silverstone, Browning concurs: “Not this year. I think I was ahead of him in the championship until the last round, but equally, he’s in his second year with a team that has been very successful, so I expect him to do well this year. I don’t doubt how good a driver he is so I expect him to do well.

“We’ll see at the end of the year. But of course, I want to beat everyone at the end of the day and he's one of the names, that's fine.”

Browning beat O'Sullivan to the 2020 Formula 4 title after drama at the final round, but both play down their rivalry

Browning beat O'Sullivan to the 2020 Formula 4 title after drama at the final round, but both play down their rivalry

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Heading into this weekend's seventh round of the championship in Hungary, O’Sullivan sits seventh in the standings, just three points behind third place. He has three wins to his name, coming in the Melbourne and Barcelona sprint races and the Spielberg feature. But with two non-scoring rounds so far in Bahrain and Silverstone, he admits his start to the season is “not what [he] had wanted”, explaining that he has had to “iron out” some issues which he and the team are working on.

“There's a few things popped up in my driving that perhaps I didn't anticipate with adaption, but we’ve been working on it behind the scenes quite hard trying to work out, trying to look at the bigger picture and understand what's going on,” he tells Autosport at Silverstone. “Hopefully we get there.”

He adds: “I think it's quite clear qualifying hasn't been that great this year, we’ve been starting out of position in quite a few rounds with the pace we have in the races. So it's just about understanding that really and making sure we can limit any damage potentially and also capitalise in qualifying.”

"You saw last year, the way it went in the end with people who were nowhere at this point coming to the top at the end. Obviously feature race points are everyone's focus" Zak O'Sullivan

O’Sullivan agrees that being with a traditionally stronger outfit like Prema can give him a confidence boost, but is trying not to look too hard at the standings given how quickly they can fluctuate across the season with huge points hauls available at every round.

“I think we can go into every weekend knowing we have the pace to at least be in the top two rows in qualifying and in the race as well, we've always seemed to have good pace,” he says. “So it does make your life slightly easier, especially in the races. We're able to always make progress, which is nice to see, so I think it does give you confidence.

“F3 is one of those things. The feature race is so almost overpowered in how many points you can score. One good feature race result, especially a win obviously, propels you up the standings.

“I'm sure everyone will have their ups and downs throughout the year. You saw last year, the way it went in the end with people who were nowhere at this point coming to the top at the end. So yeah, it’s one of those championships. Obviously feature race points are everyone's focus, as is mine.”

O’Sullivan has also had to adjust to more of a leadership role this season, with team-mates Paul Aron and Dino Beganovic both F3 rookies, though they have been with Prema for two and three years respectively. He says it has “been a bit of a learning curve for me jumping in” to the Italian squad but adds: “They’re both on the pace, so in terms of dynamic between feedback and leading the team, it's nothing really too different”.

Second-year F3 racer O'Sullivan has won three times to date in 2023, including a feature success in Austria

Second-year F3 racer O'Sullivan has won three times to date in 2023, including a feature success in Austria

Photo by: Williams

Meanwhile, F3 rookie Browning has experienced “lots of ups and downs” so far with a best result of second to O’Sullivan in the Barcelona sprint. He blames most of his struggles on a lack of consistency in qualifying, including having been blocked on flying laps several times and making “rookie mistakes”. But he recognises that the Hitech-run car has been “so fast,” and points to charging from 16th to fifth in Bahrain as evidence of his pace.

Another struggle he has experienced is his limited experience of many circuits on the calendar, having moved into F3 from a British championship rather than a European F4 series or Formula Regional European Championship like many of his contemporaries.

“It came together quite late for me, I'm pretty open about that, so no testing coming into the start of the season,” he tells Autosport. “I've never been to some of the circuits - I've never driven at Imola, I've never driven at Barcelona.

“There's a lot of these European circuits that I’d never had the opportunity to drive around having been based in the UK. Going up against drivers who’ve done two years in FRECA and two years in F4 on these circuits, it’s a task to catch up, of course. But equally, Hitech are doing a great job of getting me as well prepared as possible, I think that's shown in our pace.

“But I do think we've been incredibly unlucky this year. Looking at Spielberg, we had some issues. We got a little bit late for qualifying and then having one of my only laps blocked and then hitting safety mode on my other lap, it's just that sort of thing in qualifying. And then yeah, getting hit twice in race one and race two, it's tough.

“Equally, I'm not upset with where I am. I'd like to obviously push forward for the rest of the season. I think we have the pace to end in the top three at the end of the year, but this takes consistency, and I don't doubt how much hard work it's going to take. I think the main thing is just learning these lessons.”

That coming together “quite late” which Browning mentions greatly underplays just how late his seat being announced really was. He “didn’t know where I was gonna be” in the early months of 2023 and it wasn’t until 1 March that his Hitech drive was revealed, two weeks after pre-season testing and just two days before the Bahrain season-opener.

Browning credits his ability to secure that seat to the British Racing Drivers’ Club, naming BRDC SuperStars director Andy Meyrick and former BRDC president Derek Warwick as two of those who helped him the most, saying they “really made a big difference to my career”. He also says he is “very thankful” for the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award, which Browning won last year after O’Sullivan came out on top in 2021.

Browning has been learning on the fly after his late deal meant he missed all of testing

Browning has been learning on the fly after his late deal meant he missed all of testing

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“To be honest, I think that quite possibly changed my life,” says Browning. “Personally, I'm very thankful to everyone around me and the teams that have helped me get to this point. There's a lot of people that the names fly by, but they're all part of the construction of me, to this point.

“I think motorsport is all about connections and who you know. I instantly got phone calls from F1 teams, and that is what changes it for you. This opportunity is only available if someone makes a call and they vouch for you, and I think that’s ultimately what Derek and a few other people and a few of the other judges did, even Ollie [Oakes], the [Hitech] team owner. This is what I think ended up getting me on the driver programmes and what gave me a realistic opportunity of getting to Formula 1.

“It’s proven back from [David] Coulthard and the inaugural award how it changes your life. Look at [George] Russell - he was doing BRDC F4 with Lanan Racing and then was instantly picked up by Mercedes. This is purely down to British motorsport and how they support young drivers and I’m forever thankful.”

"It’d be really nice to go and hit it hard next year. But equally, we're full-focus on this year, and it still could turn around to a point that we go well, ‘we've done a good enough job this year’" Luke Browning

Though their present racing careers look slightly different, both are aiming to follow in the footsteps of fellow AMABA winners Lando Norris and George Russell, who were snapped up by McLaren and Mercedes’ young driver programmes at a young age and were supported all the way to F1. O’Sullivan signed up to the Williams academy in early 2022, with Browning joining him in April this year, alongside F3 contemporaries Oliver Gray (Carlin) and MP Motorsport’s Franco Colapinto. Three-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick, also a two-time AMABA finalist, is also on the programme.

Come the end of the year, both Browning and O’Sullivan will have tested modern F1 machinery, too, as their prizes for winning the award. O’Sullivan completed his test in Aston Martin’s AMR21 in October and had a “great experience,” while Browning’s will come later this year in the AMR22 – something he is “counting down the days” to, adding that it’s going to be “surreal”.

Looking ahead, Browning is aiming for a top-five finish this season, but is unsure of his plans beyond that.

“We'll see how the end of the season goes,” he says. “I think the goal is to be in the top five, and you know, if I end up in the top three, does it make sense to do another year? Possibly not.

“It depends how you finish, but I don't discount that if I do get the opportunity to hop in an F1 car at '26 that I don't want to have raced only twice at a track that people have raced five or six times at.

Both Williams juniors are eyeing a strong finish to the campaign that would lead them to a move into F2

Both Williams juniors are eyeing a strong finish to the campaign that would lead them to a move into F2

Photo by: Williams

“The preparation and testing and everything, it’d be really nice to go and hit it hard next year. But equally, we're full-focus on this year, and it still could turn around to a point that we go well, ‘we've done a good enough job this year’.”

O’Sullivan, meanwhile, hopes to graduate to F2, but adds it’s a case of “see what happens, essentially”.

Wherever they end up, whether that’s F1 or elsewhere, the two talented youngsters are sure to have an impact on the future of British motorsport for years to come.

Browning joined O'Sullivan on the podium in Barcelona where they finished 1-2 in the sprint race

Browning joined O'Sullivan on the podium in Barcelona where they finished 1-2 in the sprint race

Photo by: Williams

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article F3 Silverstone: Goethe takes maiden series win in safety car interrupted race
Next article F3 Hungary: Mini beats Bortoleto to sprint win after late restart

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe