Luke Browning wins 2020 title on dramatic Finals Day at Brands Hatch
Luke Browning arrived at the 1.19-mile circuit level on points with chief rival Zak O’Sullivan, their battle atop the standings reflected in an equally thrilling dice for the Teams Cup honours between their Fortec and Carlin outfits respectively.
It would be Browning that won the all-important qualifying shootout to take pole position, but with O’Sullivan for company on the front row for races one and three, the stage was set for a thrilling end to the campaign in front of an ITV4 audience.
Browning struck first, soaking up race-long pressure from O’Sullivan to win the opening race of the weekend by half a second and open up a slender 7-point advantage at the championship summit.
Although O’Sullivan finished second on the road ahead of Browning in the partially-reversed grid encounter on Sunday morning, a post-race penalty for passing team-mate Christian Mansell under yellow flags dropped him back behind Browning and the Australian, increasing the deficit to 16 markers.
That set the stage for a one-race shootout for the crown, and it certainly lived up to the billing.
O’Sullivan made the best start, rocketing around the outside of Browning into Paddock Hill Bend on the opening lap, the Fortec racer then slipping to third behind JHR’s James Hedley at Druids.
All three leaders ran wide, however, on oil at Clearways at the end of the first tour, with Browning spinning to the rear of the field, and O’Sullivan skating through the gravel before re-joining fourth.
He duly set about recovering lost ground and re-took the lead from Mansell down the main straight at the end of lap eight, with Browning climbing back to the foot of the top ten; as it stood, the title would be heading to O’Sullivan – but the most dramatic twist was still to come.
With the race approaching half-distance, a heavy rain shower soaked the circuit, bringing out the red flags on safety grounds with the entire field on slick-shod tyres.
Given the confinements of the TV schedule, and the dwindling daylight hours, the decision was taken to call the race result, and as the regulations state a minimum of 75% race distance must be completed to qualify a race for full points, half points were duly awarded.
That, crucially, tipped the scales back in Browning’s favour and secured him Britain’s FIA Formula 4 title by a narrow four-point margin.
O’Sullivan’s Carlin team will take some comfort, however, in winning both the Rookie and Teams titles, adding to the Farnham-based outfit’s strong record in recent years.
Alongside a captivating conclusion to the 2020 title fight, a whole host of feel-good stories brought down the curtain on another superb year for Ford’s rising stars.
Alex Connor (Arden) made it three different winners across as many races, notching up a third visit to the top step of the podium in the second race.
A bold move to the inside at Paddock gave the Brit the inside line over team-mate Frederick Lubin, and he duly extended his advantage to some 0.9 seconds by the chequered flag.
His efforts went a long way to cementing fourth overall in the standings, behind Argenti’s Casper Stevenson, the Argenti racer salvaging a double points finish from an off weekend to round out the campaign.
JHR’s Abbi Pulling added yet another podium finish to her CV, taking the final spot on the rostrum in that rain-soaked finale.
Pulling also became the latest recipient of the prestigious JTR Award, recognising her efforts, professionalism and attitude during her debut season in single seaters.
Team-mate Hedley had speed, if not luck, on his side – an oversteer moment whilst running side-by-side with Fortec’s Roberto Faria on the run through Paddock ended in contact, with both cars turned around, an incident for which Hedley was later penalised 10 seconds.
Fifth in race two proved to be the highlight, before that oil slick curtailed his podium challenge in the season finale, but the BRDC Rising Star has every reason to hold his head high after a promising maiden campaign.
Ditto Mansell, the latest Aussie rising star to grace the series bagging a sublime podium hat-trick – plus the Rookie title – to end the year on a high note.
Brands Hatch has been a happy hunting ground for him; the last visit in August yielded his maiden win, and the 15 year-old looked at home running at the front this time around too.
His results – third, third again and then second – also enabled him to leapfrog Arden’s Roman Bilinski for seventh outright in the standings at the last.
Bilinski added another hat-trick of points finishes to his tally, his efforts helping Arden leapfrog JHR for third spot in the Teams’ standings.
Despite missing out on the Rookie title to Mansell, the final ‘Red Arrow’ – Frederick Lubin – showcased how far he’s come in his debut season, claiming another three top-six finishes to seize ninth outright.
Argenti’s Reema Juffali and the final Carlin challenger of Matias Zagazeta both added another ninth-placed finish apiece to their tallies, the latter also taking a brace of Rookie podiums as the curtain fell on 2020.
With another action-packed season consigned to the history books, the F4 British Championship now looks ahead to the start of the 2021 campaign, back at Brands Hatch on 03-04 April.
Luke Browning said:
“I can’t describe the emotions I’m going through – it’s incredible to win the British Formula 4 title, and I’m absolutely ecstatic. It’s been a challenging year, the level of competition has been superb, so to come out on top is very satisfying.
“I thought I’d lost it, in that final race. There was some oil down on the last corner, and I had to floor it to keep the car from beaching in the gravel, otherwise I knew my race would have been over. From that point, I was just trying to recover as high as I could to try and get where I needed to be to take the title.
“When the rain came down and the race was red-flagged, I thought that was it. I felt like I was at the bottom of the world, I went back to the awning thinking I’d finished runner-up, but then one of the guys came back and told me it was half points, and that we’d done it.
“I can’t begin to explain the emotions I went through in that moment, but it’s been a day – and a season – I’ll always keep close to me, and a huge thanks to the entire team at Fortec Motorsport.
“They’ve prepared a fantastic car for me, week in, week out, and brought me on so much as a driver across the year. If you’re looking for a winning environment, it doesn’t get much better than this!”