Ahead of the opening round of the 2022 FIA Formula 2 championship in Bahrain, we sat down with Jake Hughes - who gears up to spearhead Van Amersfoort Racing’s debut season in the series - to reflect on his story so far and look ahead to an intriguing season of racing.
Jake’s journey to the starting grid of the biggest junior motorsport championship on the planet is a unique one. A fashionably late starter, Jake didn’t begin karting until the age of 16 - the age when most karters step up into fully-fledged car racing.
On that basis, it’s natural to assume the Birmingham-born driver would find himself at a significant handicap relative to the more experienced racers around him when he too graduated from karting. Quite the opposite in fact - in just his first year of single-seater racing, Jake stormed the revered BRDC Formula 4 Championship to take the title with four wins and 10 podiums.
“A life in motorsport was certainly never the plan - especially early on,” Jake said. “It was only after I went karting for a friend’s birthday that I realised I was quite good and could perhaps make something of it.
“It was always going to be a challenge setting out so late compared to everyone else but I like to think that nothing is ever impossible and it was definitely worth giving it a go at least. My brief time in karting meant I got up to speed pretty quickly so the next challenge was working out what the next step would be.
“Winning F4 in the UK was a great experience and it really helped as we looked to see what opportunities were available abroad.”
Stepping onto the international stage, Jake claimed victories in various Formula Renault championships - finishing runner-up in the 2015 Formula Renault 2.0 Alps series.
Jake’s impressive performances across Europe soon led him to the GP3 Series. In his first campaign, he racked up two wins and four podiums with DAMS.
The following year, in 2017, Jake tackled the FIA F3 European Championship with Hitech GP, scoring a hatful of podiums including a victory at the Nurburgring before moving to the 2018 GP3 Championship with ART where he recorded one win and three podiums.
Jake also ran a part-time programme in the 2018 Asian F3 Championship, competing in three of the five rounds. Jake dominated the championship winning every race he competed in but fell just two points short of the title due to his other racing commitments.
The 2018 season also marked Jake’s second bite at the revered Macau Grand Prix, finishing a respectable fourth in the qualifying race and fifth in the main race.
In 2019 & 2020, Jake led HWA RACELAB’s efforts in FIA Formula 3. Collecting three wins and four podiums across their two seasons together, Jake took top-ten championship results in both years.
“I really enjoyed my time in GP3 and FIA F3,” Jake recalls. “It’s such a frenzied series to race in, so much can happen in such a short space of time and that makes it really exciting to be a part of.”
Stepping away from FIA F3 in 2021, Jake embarked on an exciting new challenge - joining the ROKiT Venturi Racing team as their official reserve driver. In 2022, he makes the step up to the reigning World Champions, Mercedes-EQ Formula E, as reserve and development driver alongside his FIA F2 commitments.
“I’ve long looked at Formula E as a really exciting future for motorsport so to have the opportunity to be involved first-hand with the reigning World Champions is very much a pinch-me moment.
“Being there on race weekends, it’s fascinating to see the operation take place and the experience is invaluable as I can learn from some of the most successful and experienced people in the paddock.”
One team member in particular has taken Jake under his wing, Mercedes-EQ Team Manager and fellow MB Partners driver Gary Paffett.
“I’ve developed a really close relationship with Gary,” Jake says. “Having someone of his calibre and standing as a mentor is really valuable. He has some brilliant stories and experiences and by taking his advice on board, I can already see improvements in my own processes and abilities.
“Gary has been there and done it all and there isn’t much that he hasn’t succeeded in. In an important year for myself, I couldn’t ask for a better guide.”
The season ahead for Jake is an exciting prospect. After a handful of appearances in FIA F2, he will line up on the grid for his first full-time campaign. Selected by Van Amersfoort Racing to lead their inaugural season in the championship, Jake will kick his season off in Bahrain later in March.
“I’ve not been this excited for a new season for a long time,” Jake muses. “I’m raring to get started and I know the team are too. The racing in FIA F2 is second to none and it’s fiercely competitive. VAR are one of the most successful teams in junior motorsport and I can see first-hand their determination to succeed here.
“It’ll be a case of finding our feet and seeing where we stack up but I’m confident we can hit the ground running and make our mark.”
Jake’s campaign gets underway at Bahrain International Circuit on the weekend of 18-20 March, with all sessions live on Sky Sports F1 throughout the weekend.
Lead and middle image courtesy of Van Amersfoort Racing - Final image courtesy of Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team.