Zak O’Sullivan: Early points lead “more than we expected”

Zak O’Sullivan says seizing the upper hand early doors in the 2020 F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost title might was “more than we expected” after the opening three rounds at Donington Park.

The reigning Ginetta Junior Rookie champion made a strong start to life with serial title-winners Carlin, qualifying fourth on his debut weekend in single-seaters, before going on to match that result in an action-packed opening race.

O’Sullivan shone through in the reverse grid contest, cutting past both Fortec’s Rafael Villagomez at McLeans and then Casper Stevenson (Argenti) at Redgate en route to his first win in single seaters, before following that result up with another podium in third on Sunday afternoon.

Those results combined give O’Sullivan a useful 16-point advantage heading to the second round of the season at Brands Hatch (GP) this weekend [08-09 August].

“Not a bad start,” considered O’Sullivan.

“We were consistent all weekend, which is what we were looking for, and it was more than we expected, really, for the first round.”

“To be honest, I’m not really thinking about the championship at the moment, it’s only one round in. As we saw in race two, accidents happen and DNFs are easy to come by, and they really do hurt you badly.

“Obviously you want to try and avoid them as much as possible, but sometimes it’s pretty hard to do so.”

Reflecting on his first victory in Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series, O’Sullivan discussed both the moves that promoted him from the final rung on the podium to the winner’s circle.

“After Luke [Browning] went off, it gave me a bit of breathing space to go and catch his team mate [Villagomez],” he explained.

“I got a good run on him out of the Old Hairpin and then going into McLeans he left the door open, so I just went for it really!

“I managed to get the move done, and then as soon as I came out of Coppice it was trying to catch Casper as quickly as possible by the end of the race, which had been shortened due to the red flag.

“I got to him without four minutes to go and then into Turn 1, a late move, I think it was off camera but managed to get past him, and from thereon we had a lot of pace so I could pull away and stretch my legs a bit.”

Having some prior knowledge of Stevenson from their time spent in Ginetta Juniors together was a benefit, but O’Sullivan admitted the dice for the race lead at Redgate was among their first actual on-track battles.

“Obviously we raced each other last year. I didn’t actually have that much wheel-to-wheel combat with him through one way or another, we end up being separate for most of the year, so it was actually one of the first time I’ve actually had to race against him and we both came off pretty well, so I’m not complaining.”

He also admitted there was never any chance he’d settle for the runner-up spot, putting his full focus into the pass for the lead, and from thereon in it proved a simple task to bring the car home.

“I was pretty focused on the win, or more so passing the car in front of me than thinking about the win. I think it would have looked pretty silly if I’d tried to stay behind. I thought he was going to put up a lot more of a fight and defend a lot more, but luckily for me he didn’t put up too much of a fight and it was pretty plain sailing.”

British F4 heads next to Brands Hatch this weekend, with Ford’s rising stars set for an early test around the 2.4-mile GP circuit.

O’Sullivan is among the drivers with limited experience in the past, having raced to a brace of top-8 finishes there in Ginetta Juniors in 2019 but, with testing notably limited due to noise restrictions, believes free practice on Friday will be crucial to put himself in a strong position for qualifying the following day.

“It’s quite a cool track. Although I raced there last year, there were a lot of safety cars, I haven’t had many racing laps and, as everyone probably knows, you can’t really test there, so it’s a tricky one.

“I think most people there are going without much experience, so it’s one of the ones where everyone’s got to work it out through free practice and get on to it before qualifying, so I guess we’ll see where we’re at come the end of Friday and make a judgement from there.”

O’Sullivan also stressed the importance of getting that 20-minute qualifying session spot on, pointing to how close the times were at Donington Park between top spot and the third row.

“To be honest, I think we were slightly further up than we initially thought we were going to be. Judging by pre-season testing, we weren’t that high up in the times at the end of the day.

“So it was quite a nice surprise, although I qualified fourth, the gap to pole was less than two tenths and that whole top five was separated by two tenths. It’s so close, a mistake here or there or getting the lap slightly better would have put any of us on pole, so that’s great.

“It’s so close, and you’ve really got to maximise qualifying and make sure you do a good job.”