The journey to the promised land of F1 is certainly a long one for Japanese-born Dougie Bolger. The 16-year-old Carlin star is currently racing in his first season in open-wheelers in the 2021 F4 British Championship. At the halfway break in the 10-round season, Dougie sat down with us for an exclusive interview.
By Tyler Foster
Dougie was born in Karuizawa, Japan in 2004 but moved to the UK in 2016. After racing in karts in both his native country and the UK, he was ranked Number 1 in Japan’s 2018 Kart Racer Rankings and 29th in the World Rankings. It was after this that he, in the second-half of 2020, began testing in Formula 4 machinery for the historic Carlin team. After successful testing in Pembrey, he was signed to the Carlin team for the following British F4 season.
Despite showing talent while karting in Japan, Dougie always knew that in order to compete at the very top, he would have to move to Europe.
“I remember talking with my dad and him saying to me that even if I become a champion in Japan, I might not be able to compete globally. There have been so many Japanese drivers that have come to Europe and struggled, so if I want to make myself stronger I might as well compete in a stronger environment.”
Move to UK
When asked about his decision to move to the UK, aged 12, he said “I initially came here for the karting side because it’s a lot more competitive in the UK, as that’s where racing began. One unique thing about this sport is that age is a limiting factor; there is not much time allowed. The longer you leave it, the less chance you have. The move gave me a great opportunity and if anything, I wish I had moved to the UK even earlier.”
For Dougie, his dream of reaching F1 comes from his hope of seeing more Japanese drivers at the top of the sport. He said, “considering how many Japanese F1 fans there are, there hasn’t been any extremely successful Japanese drivers that are well known to history, so why don’t I become one of them.”
When asked who his idol in motorsport was growing up, he said, “Honestly when I first started karting, I didn’t really have an idol, it was more about Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson. I loved to know about the knowledge of motorsport.”
The lifestyle of a junior driver isn’t always glamorous. For a 16-year-old in a foreign country dependence is not an option. “I’m basically homeless in the UK; I go to boarding school and when there is no school I have to live in a different Airbnb every week. I move around a lot and live on my own. I get really screwed up when there is no racing and I just turn into an old person with the same daily routine. When there is a break I just try to keep myself busy with sim work, training and homework.”
Dougie has been working with both long-time trainer, Simon Reynolds, at Formula to Perform (who has worked with drivers such as Stoffel Vandoorne, Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries) and alongside Kokoro Performance to maximise his potential. Kieren Clark, the Director of Kokoro Performance, said of Bolger at the start of the season, “physically, he is probably the most prepared 16-year-old I’ve ever seen!”
Coming into the season, mental and physical preparation were key for Bolger. After all he had to deal with the pressure of his first junior formula campaign in the same Carlin team that had developed previous championship winner Zane Maloney in 2019.
“I try not to overthink, I just try to learn and absorb what I can and then apply it, which is one of the strengths I’ve been told I have from karting. Taking each race by itself is the way to do it. I never set a target number of points at the beginning of the season. I just wanted to perform my best and get recognised as a good driver.”
After six out of ten rounds, Bolger currently sits in 13th out of 19 in the standings and 4th out of 9 in the Rookie standings. His best performance has been a couple of P4 finishes at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park in Round 3 and 4 respectively. Bolger has often outqualified his teammates but has been caught out on numerous occasions by interchangeable weather conditions. When asked about the factor weather has played he said, “It is very frustrating.”
“There was a lack of experience back then. We are definitely having a tough time in terms of weather this season, but these challenges always pay off in the future. So I’m happy to experience it now and get more opportunities to learn more.”
The Japanese youngster said that he felt the first half of the season had acted as the perfect trial. “It wasn’t the strongest start to the season but we always had the potential. This was a positive. Result wise, Round 4 at Oulton Park was a step forward and my strongest weekend so far. I felt really good about the performance itself and what I was able to achieve.”
Round by round
For the rest of the season, there are two returns to tracks previously raced in the first 5 rounds: Thruxton and Brands Hatch. In the second half of the campaign, the focus for Dougie is on achieving consistency.
“I think that consistency is key and I keep telling myself that. When I’m confident my pace is right up there. I think that I just need to keep chipping away. From the racing side, I am more comfortable after five rounds. I will continue to take the rest of the season round by round. The best thing will be scoring consistent points, whether it’s finishing 3rd or 4th.”
Japanese F1 Champion
Despite only being 16-years-old, the impact that Dougie Bolger is looking to have on Japanese motorsport is vast. When asked what the future holds for him, he said, “At the moment I have no plans for next year but we are working on it. I want to be racing and working my way up the stage, with my target being F1. Hopefully, I can make the Japanese motorsport fans excited and share with them the dream of a Japanese F1 World Champion.”
The 2021 F4 British Championship returns at Croft on 18th September with the first of three races across the weekend. The three following rounds will be at Silverstone, Donington and Brands Hatch.
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