Competing in French and Spanish F4, 16-year-old Hugh Barter has a packed 42-race calendar. The young Australian still found time to talk to F1 Feeder Series about his schedule, teammate Nikola Tsolov and hopes for the future.
By Perceval Wolff
A month after the chequered flag was waved for the final time in French F4, champion Esteban Masson was testing in FRECA. Same for his rivals Macéo Capietto, Daniël Ligier and Owen Tangavelou who all finished in the top 5. Vice-Champion Hugh Barter was the only top 5-driver not to test a Formula Regional car during the winter. It was obvious to the Australian he would need to race in F4 one more year.
Doing two F4 championships at the same time was about the same price as FRECA and it allows me to get much more seat timeHugh Barter
“For the majority of last year, our plan was to do FRECA in 2022” admits Hugh Barter. “But in the last two rounds, we decided it was a better idea to stick to F4 and do two championships in the same year. I hadn’t scored any pole position in 2021, and it was vital for me to improve in this exercise. When you watch FRECA, the polesitter is the one who wins the race. Doing two F4 championships at the same time was about the same price as FRECA, and it allows me to get much more seat time.”
Dominating French F4
So far, Hugh Barter has been absolutely flying in French F4 with 5 feature race wins in 9 races and 5 pole positions (out of 6). Not bad for a driver who wanted to improve in qualifying. With a 67 point lead over Red Bull Junior, Souta Arao, Hugh Barter is crushing the championship, but it comes as little surprise to the Australian.
“Well, that was the idea at the start of the season”, he says laughing. “Coming into the championship, the goal was to purely maximise my performance as much as I could. My only regrets this year are the bad start in Race 3 at Pau which cost me the win. I couldn’t catch the fastest lap in the final race at Nogaro either. And of course in Magny-Cours, the reversed-grid Race 2 was pretty troubled. But otherwise, the season has been perfect”.
Despite this strong lead, Hugh Barter is still far from succeeding to Esteban Masson in the records. “When we decided to do another year of French F4 we always knew we wouldn’t score points in the Spa and Valencia rounds”, explains Barter. Indeed, having raced at Spa and Valencia in his Spanish F4 campaign he is ineligible to score points in French F4 at the same circuits.
“We always knew this would be part of it,” explains Barter philosophically. “Mathematically, if the guy in second scores maximum points this weekend at Spa, I will lead the championship by only two points… Anyway, we won’t know for sure what will happen. All I have to do is to focus on scoring as many points as I can, it’s the only thing I can do, and I managed to do it pretty well so far. Whatever happens, happens.”
Second in Spain
In Spain, Hugh Barter had to discover a new championship, a new culture, a new car (Tatuus instead of Mygale), and new tracks. The Australian reclaimed second position in the standings during the last round in Spa with three podiums, but still a sizeable haul of points off championship leader. “Undoubtedly, it has been a more challenging season so far. It’s a bit disappointing because the pace is definitely there, and I’m a lot more confident coming into the next rounds.”
“Round 1 at Portimão was quite successful with the first victory. But I probably could have scored more points if I hadn’t made a few mistakes in Race 2 and 3. Jerez was a bit of a trouble and we lacked a bit of raw pace. In Valencia, the pace was back and I was driving really well, unfortunately there were two really small but so crucial mistakes, that cost us so many points”.
I was five-tenths behind [Tsolov] in the first quali session. I knew exactly what to do and how to beat him in the second session and grabbed poleHugh Barter
Barter’s younger teammate, Nikola Tsolov, is dominating Spanish F4, leading the championship by 118 points after winning the last 11 races. Barter is positive about his relationship with his Campos teammate. “We have been working together often, and we really learn from each other. I have the example of the qualifying session at Valencia where I was five tenths behind him in the first quali session. But after that, I knew exactly what to do and how to beat him in the second session and grabbed pole. At the moment, we are both doing pretty well, we did three 1-2 at Spa. The gap is reducing, we are both working really well, so let’s just see where it leads.”
A two-fronted title challenge
Engaged in two battles at the same time, Hugh Barter sets ambitious goals for the end of the year: “As long as it is mathematically possible, I will do everything I can to win both titles. Even if it might be really hard, I will always be working towards that this season, that’s my goal”.
This is the sport I’ve chosen, this is the life I’ve chosen and I love itHugh Barter
With forty-two races in seven months with different cars and different teams, the Australian is not shy about putting the work in, “It’s definitely a very difficult calendar. Fortunately, none of the rounds clash, and none of the testing days either. But yeah, I would travel from Belgium to the south of Spain, and then go to the South East of France… there is a lot of travelling between events and tests, but this is the sport I’ve chosen, this is the life I’ve chosen and I love it, I begin every weekend with excitement. For sure, I’m pretty exhausted when I come back home but that’s part of the sport.”
Hugh Barter is the only driver to have raced with the two Gen2 F4 (from Mygale and Tatuus). “There are a lot of differences between the two cars, but the most noticeable difference is the tyre compounds, running on Pirelli in France and Hankook in Spain. “The Pirelli have definitely more grip in low-speed corners, you can really lean on the tyres and combine with brake and steering. While you can’t load up the Hankook tyres as much” reveals the young Australian.
“There are also some more minor differences on braking, but I think they’re roughly pretty similar and I’m not gonna say which one is the best because I have to stay neutral” he says laughing. “But the very important thing is that both cars are really nice to drive and it has been a major improvement from last year, definitely.”
FRECA or F3 in 2023?
It’s usually around the summer that teams try to see what lineup they could have for next year. Considering his experience (and his results) in F4, will Barter try to go directly to FIA F3 and skip FRECA?
“To be honest… we don’t know yet. Last year, we were planning during the whole year to do FRECA. And then we came to October and our mind changed. F3 is obviously something that has come to my mind but we have no idea for the moment. Anything can happen, but I won’t be able to say more about it until October! For the moment, it’s 50/50” reveals Barter.
As a Campos driver in Spanish F4, is the natural path to follow Campos in F3? “We keep all our options open. We take all the offers into consideration, whatever the team. I think keeping our options open is the best idea.”
Advance Australia fair
Barter’s fellow countrymen Oscar Piastri and Jack Doohan are some of the closest drivers to a full-time F1 seat. Barter talks about his relationship with them, “I probably know Jack a little bit better, as Oscar moved up to Europe when he was still in karting. I spoke to Oscar in Barcelona, on the F1 weekend, and it was good to see some insides on how he has progressed through his career and what it’s like in F1 for him. And then, Jack and I sometimes, we speak on the simulator and have fun there but yeah, it’s nice to see they’re doing so well.”
Despite the absence of any FIA-certified local championships and the distance to Europe it’s fair to say Australia is very well represented in the single-seater ladder, with Ricciardo, Piastri, Doohan and now Barter. How does he explain it?
Australia has always had a big culture of racingHugh Barter
“I’d like to simply answer Australia is just very competitive” he jokes. “But in a more serious way, Australia has always had a big culture of racing for sure. There is a big selection of the drivers in their teenage years. Only the most talented drivers can try to go to Europe and really have a shot. And they have to have enough money for it, which is not easy either.”
“My chance for me was to win the Richard Mille Young Talent Academy in France in the end of 2020. From there, I got the right to participate to the French series and I progressed more and more since. It was the best opportunity we could have had, it was the perfect chance to start my single-seater career”.
The 16-year-old driver is excited by the prospect of racing in his home country again as F3 and F2 recently announced an Australian round at Melbourne for 2023, “I really look forward to this” explains a delighted Barter. “I haven’t been back to Australia since March 2021, so it has been a while. And it would be pretty cool to come back here, not just to visit friends and family, but to race… and hopefully win! That would be an incredible feeling.”
Header Photo Credit: Hugh Barter Racing
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