A new team entered the motorsport scene in January when PHM Racing entered the F4 UAE championship. An unknown entity, people didn’t know what to expect from the new German team owned by Paul Mueller and managed by Roland Rehfeld. They ended up finishing third in the teams’ championship, behind only the two Prema teams. Mueller and Rehfeld sat down with F1 Feeder Series to discuss how their team handled its maiden championship.
By Charlie Parker
PHM Racing scored three victories and a further four podiums in F4 UAE, creating a brilliant first campaign in the debut season of the brand new Tatuus T-421 cars. “The season in UAE was very good for us because we grew together as a team by facing so many different challenges,” says Rehfeld. “We always tried to take out the positives, even when in the moment it was very demanding and challenging. I think it was good for us to launch the programme there.”
The wins were split between Nikita Bedrin and Taylor Barnard as they showed why PHM put so much trust in them. They used the reverse grids to their advantage and claimed two wins in the first two weeks. The reverse grids would split up the dominant Premas and allow the ability of the two drivers to show.
By the end of the season, the whole team were on Prema’s radar, says Rehfeld: “We were able to shake up the establishment a little bit, especially Prema as by the end they started to take us more seriously. It’s always good when they start reporting you to race control, it’s the best compliment you can get.”
However, despite the wins and podiums, Rehfeld was happiest about the overall driving skill shown by his three drivers. A couple of races in particular come to mind, he says.
“We had several wins but the best race was when Taylor came from 16th to second place in the second round at Dubai. When you look at the video, it was very good. And for Nikita it’s when he came from 29th to sixth. We were very happy with the performance of the drivers and fortunately Jonas Ried came back to the performance that I know from him in the past. He was very into the old car and it was difficult for him to swap to the new car, but we made it and it’s encouraging for the future.”
Shocks and surprises
Team owner Mueller came into the season wanting to compete and looked for podiums, maybe even a race win. But even he was shocked by how the season went: “To finish third, as the best non-Prema team, was definitely a surprise. I wouldn’t have expected us to finish that strong given that we didn’t get to run the cars first. We beat teams that had more time to run with the cars. The first two weeks we were still trying to understand how to set-up the car. So, having had the teams get their head around it so quickly and having the drivers was amazing.”
By the last weekend, the difference between PHM and the fastest car on the grid was noticeably smaller. But to get there, the team had to work tirelessly over the five consecutive racing weekends and it was a new experience for Mueller: “For me, coming from a space where people at some point stop working, to see our mechanics basically work for the first two weeks nonstop… When the cars weren’t driving, they were taking it apart, putting it back together.”
Of course, as a brand new team not everything is going to go perfectly, both on and off the track. Ried managed to get through the season unscathed, being a classified finisher in every race. Bedrin and Barnard, however,combined for seven DNF/DNS classifications, which included cars colliding with them and an unfortunate clutch issue for Bedrin in the last weekend that changed the standings.
“We had a lot of teething problems,” says Mueller. “You sometimes would see the cars not start. That wasn’t because someone had made a mistake, it’s just a new car. It was annoying because Nikita finished one point behind third and 19 points behind second but we had a clutch failure in a race. It wasn’t a mechanical failure, there was a material issue. But Nikita had started so far at the front that he would have certainly scored points, maybe even a podium. And then in race four he went from 29th to sixth, so imagine if he had started from P10, it would have been very different and he would have finished second in the drivers’ championship.”
Eyes on F3 Regional
This is just the start for PHM Racing, with a very busy year ahead. “I think it is important for us to go, this is the first step of a long road,” says Mueller. “We have a lot of things we want to achieve. It’s nice for the team to win of course but building the structures we want has just begun. We were so focused on getting our heads around the car that we didn’t get to run all the processes and all the systems the way we want to just yet. But we’re working on it. The interesting thing will be when we can hit our stride in the European season.”
That European season involves a very packed Italian F4 season, as well as an entry into ADAC F4. As stated previously, it’s a long road and it involves developing drivers. Nikita Bedrin, Taylor Barnard and Jonas Ried will do ADAC F4 and Italian F4 and Victoria Blokhina joins the team for her first Italian F4 campaign, with Valentin Kluss joining the team in ADAC F4 once he turns 15.
But Mueller is thinking even further ahead: “We have acquired a bunch of F3 Regional cars which we’ll be testing this season with our drivers to bring them to the next level. We don’t look at this like other teams where we sell you a F4 championship, you buy another F4 championship with some testing here and there. We look at it as, in April or May, we’ll start changing the physical regime for full F3 standards.”
“So, we have fitness goals that are up to FIA F3 standards that they have to hit. We’ll do testing in the F3 Regional cars so they can get their heads around how the faster cars feel and handle, and we’ll compete in the F3 Asia series. So, if everything goes according to plan, the goal will be to take our drivers into F3 Regional and then find a way into F3, but it’s too early to talk about how we plan to do that.”
Mueller and Rehfeld understand that this is a fluid situation and that anything can change at any time, but there’s hope in the PHM Racing camp. Hope to try and bring change in motorsport. To prove talent trumps money. To increase coverage of feeder series racing. To show that it’s worth covering feeder series. To show that motorsport is, at its core, the most beautiful sport.
Header photo credit: PHM Racing
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