With two campaigns under his belt at Carlin and Hitech, Kaylen Frederick might seem to be a known quantity in FIA F3. But as he tackles his third season with ART Grand Prix in 2023, there is the sense that he still has much to prove.
By Michael McClure
After being spotted in the paddock in Monza conversing with ART Grand Prix team management, Frederick was confirmed to be at the French team for two of the three days of post-season testing at Jerez in September, driving the car that Victor Martins took to the title not even a fortnight before.
In the four sessions he completed, Frederick finished second, first, fourth and ninth. He ended the test with the highest average finishing position – fourth – of any participating driver as well as the smallest average gap on 0.284.
As with any test, results are not gospel. In this case, they reflect both Frederick’s substantial F3 experience and top runners’ differing run plans, though outclassing both returning teammate Grégoire Saucy and highly rated rookie Nikola Tsolov in every session is a noteworthy statistic.
Frederick has made England his home since 2019, when he began competing in the British F3 Championship. By dint of racing for British teams, he has spent most of his time away from the track in England too – this year most regularly at the Hitech base in Silverstone.
“Last year, I never actually made it back to the US. This year I’ve gone back twice already, though, so it’s been a little bit easier [without] the travel restrictions. Normally, I don’t really go back too much unless there’s a big gap,” he tells Feeder Series from the F3 paddock at Zandvoort, the second round of a triple-header.
Home, for Frederick, has always been Potomac, Maryland, a suburb to the northwest of the American capital of Washington, D.C. Though the District of Columbia metro area serves nearly 10 million residents, its motorsport scene is comparatively paltry, offering just a single racetrack in West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway, located to the west of the region.
It was there that Frederick first raced karts, but before that, he tried his hand on two wheels – more specifically on dirt bikes with encouragement from his parents, themselves onetime riders.
“They’ve always been enthusiastic about any form for racing, whether it was with bikes or cars. So I started dirt biking when I was younger and then started go-karting just for fun, and that’s sort of how it started,” he says. “Eventually, it got serious – did some more national races, international ones, and then eventually moved up into cars. The next thing you know, you’re here in F3, so it just levels up, gets more and more extreme as you keep going along with it.”
Motorsport is, after all, a hobby at its core, albeit a very expensive and dangerous one. For Frederick, the risk of dirt biking became too much fairly quickly. Other pastimes like outdoor exploration, video games, and working out have taken over as Frederick’s career progressed.
“Just in case you injure yourself,” he explains, “it’s just not really worth it. We did it for probably two, maybe three years, started when I was probably about five, but I don’t really do it anymore. I wish I could!”
From the US to the UK
As karting replaced dirt biking and ski racing, Frederick moved through the American karting ranks in the SuperKarts USA and Rotax Max Challenge national championships. Rather than move to Europe and jump into an F4 series, however, Frederick stepped up to single-seaters in the US, racing in the F1600 Championship Series and taking seventh in his first season in 2016.
Two years in USF2000 followed. He initially continued with Team Pelfrey, finishing a solid fourth in his rookie season with five podiums. But a second year in the series with Pabst Racing did not bring the desired improvements, and he finished sixth, behind all three of his teammates – two of whom he’d beaten in 2017 – and still without a win to his name.
Unlike those on the Road to Indy, Frederick’s ultimate goal was F1, so after a two-round cameo in Euroformula Open, he switched permanently to racing in Europe, more specifically to British F3, for 2019. He won on his first weekend in the reverse-grid race at Oulton Park and took another win later that year at Spa, his favourite track. Carlin teammate Clément Novalak won the drivers’ title.
In 2020, Frederick’s decision paid off handsomely. Remaining with Carlin, Frederick took nine wins, eight of 17 pole positions, and 12 fastest laps from 24 races. An F3 seat in mainland Europe with the team beckoned, and the split schedules of F2 and F3 in 2021 meant that he and his competitors would have the full attention of the F1 world each race weekend.
“It’s definitely a lot more intense and competitive over here [in Europe]. Everyone’s got a different aim of F1 over here, versus in the US, you’re mainly looking at IndyCar, so it’s a bit different with the ovals and all that stuff, different teams,” Frederick says.
It helps you develop a lot as a driver, which is good – which is why we came over here in the first placeKaylen Frederick on moving to Europe
“In the US, I think a lot of people just end up doing it as a hobby a bit longer. [In Europe], a lot of people start at a younger age, and they get into more serious stuff earlier on, so it just gets more competitive, basically. It helps you develop a lot as a driver, which is good – which is why we came over here in the first place. You can just see it in the championships, when you’ve got like 30 cars in a field as massive [as F3’s] and all 30 drivers are pretty decent as well.”
The best path to F3
Crossing the Atlantic and entering the relatively cheaper American racing scene has become a popular back-up option for those Europe-based racers who realise that the door to F1 will not open for them.
Fewer, though, follow what Frederick has done and go from being established quantities on the Road to Indy over to Europe. Since 2017 – when Frederick contested his first full season of USF2000 – only six others have made the transition with reasonable permanence: F3 rival Jak Crawford, FRECA’s Eduardo Barrichello, e-sports star and ex–F3 driver Igor Fraga, DTM racer Dev Gore, and W Series racers Bruna Tomaselli and Sabré Cook.
“Once you get past the USF 2000 or Indy Pro 2000 type categories, you probably would need to come over here if you want to go to F1,” Frederick says. “At some point, you need to get on these tracks. Once you get to F3 and F2, there’s such minimal running that you won’t really have the opportunity to learn them very well, so before [you] get into F3, you want to be over here running on these tracks.
“I’d say ideally you want to be over here in FRECA or [an] F4 championship. You wouldn’t want to stay in the US; otherwise, that switch would be really difficult.”
In this discussion of single-seater pathways, Frederick – polite and personable in conversation if a bit reserved – notably omits the GB3 Championship, the new name for British F3. The series is contested by British teams and drivers, mostly on British circuits, and the on-track package also differs significantly from FRECA, its mainland European counterpart.
“[In FRECA], you get on a similar Pirelli tyre and the car’s also more similar, versus the British F3, it’s a bit lighter. It is a Pirelli, but it’s a different type of tyre and the feel of the car is different to these heavier, more higher-powered cars, so it’s definitely a bit of a difference to get used to,” Frederick tells Feeder Series.
“Doing the FRECA route would probably prepare you a little bit better for this, but the route that we went with when FRECA first started up wasn’t quite looking like as good of an option at the time, so we went British F3.”
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. The Formula Regional European Championship was new in 2019, and for its first two years grid sizes never exceeded 15. The merger with Formula Renault Eurocup in 2021 to form FRECA, though, revitalised the series.
“If I was to put somebody through the current ladder of the championships, I would have probably put them through FRECA first before coming to this championship because of all those other factors. But I think you’ve got to adapt in different ways for any championship in a new car anyways. I wouldn’t say that it’s a massive disadvantage or anything, but it gives you a bit more of an edge if you can do FRECA before.”
Frederick finds his rhythm…
Frederick’s first F3 season was, by his own admission, somewhat of a write-off. The Carlin package cracked the points only once with a ninth-place finish in Race 1 at the Red Bull Ring, a result that itself came after several above him were penalised and knocked out of the top 10.
Later that day, his season would change entirely. Running fourth on Lap 12 in the second race, Frederick missed his braking point entering the Turn 3 hairpin and clattered into Juan Manuel Correa. The incident left him with a broken thumb that required surgery, ruling him out of not only the third race of the weekend but the following round at the Hungaroring as well.
Last year was just a messKaylen Frederick on COVID-19 and injury that derailed his 2021 season
Frederick picks up the story from there. “Then I got COVID right before Spa, so [I] missed basically a third of the season. It wasn’t great, and everything just wasn’t really smooth last year, so it’s been just a bit better to have a fresh start this year,” he says. “Last year was just a mess.”
Switching to Hitech for 2022 – his first team change since he came to Europe – Frederick had already bested his entire 2021 total with eighth in the first race of the season at Bahrain after starting 19th. He showed impressive consistency in the opening four rounds at Bahrain, Imola, Barcelona and Silverstone, scoring in six of the first eight races and finishing the remaining two just a few seconds away from the points-paying positions.
“Silverstone, we qualified pretty well. [We] could have been a little bit higher if we had done a couple things differently with the car,” Frederick explains. “For Race 1, it was good, and then we had some damage in Race 2 on the floor, so unfortunately, we just didn’t really have a lot of pace.”
In the sprint race, Frederick finished fifth, his best result yet at a circuit he views ‘sort of like a home track’. But while it was clear that Frederick had taken a big step forward from his 2021 form, he was still being outshone by his teammate and F3 rookie sensation Isack Hadjar. The Red Bull junior had won the opening race of the season after a penalty for rival Ollie Bearman, but his first win on the road came in that sprint race at Silverstone.
The next weekend at the Red Bull Ring, Hadjar put himself on pole position for the first time. Frederick lined up not far behind in fifth, but his weekend didn’t bring the success that Hadjar had.
“Qualifying was a bit of a mess with the red flags and stuff, but we were looking really good and still ended up P5, which wasn’t bad. Race 1 was good again, moving forward [from eighth to sixth], and then Race 2, we were looking … like we were on for great results until we got taken out at the very end, which was just unfortunate.
“I think the few races where we’ve been on form, they’ve been really good. The pace has been really good, just – even on those weekends – [we] haven’t had the best of luck to bring those results in.”
…and then falls out of step
It seemed like déjà vu: Once again, Frederick’s second race of the weekend at the Red Bull Ring ended with contact at Turn 3, and once again, he was taken out from what could have been his best finish that year – fifth. Luckily, the consequence of the collision with Roman Stanek was merely a race-ending puncture rather than physical injury.
That weekend, however, marked the last time Frederick scored points. ‘Rough rounds’ in the wet at the Hungaroring and Spa – where he was unable to race in 2021 – left him on the back foot entering Zandvoort.
When asked what went wrong, Frederick says, “Hungary, I’m not really sure, to be honest. It just was a bit of an off weekend, and then at Spa, with all three cars, we sort of messed up with the strategy a little bit, and so we all started pretty far in the back. [We were] on the back foot from that point forward, and we can’t really make up that many spots starting 26th. I think we were like 23rd, 26th, 29th, so it wasn’t a great weekend for us on the whole.”
After a middling weekend in Zandvoort, Frederick headed to Monza hoping for an improvement. For the first time in 2022, he qualified as the lead Hitech, in 14th – but his weekend unravelled in the races after minor touches with Ollie Bearman in Race 1 and Correa in Race 2 left him with damage, the former incident occurring while he fought for fifth.
Poor luck notwithstanding, Frederick’s slide from the upper to the lower midfield displayed itself much more starkly in the final standings: 27 points in the first half of the year, zero in the second. Many will remember Zane Maloney’s now famous turnaround that saw him to rise from 14th to runner-up after mid-season, but the Hitech driver’s similarly bifurcated season – albeit in the opposite order – went relatively unnoticed.
Quiet consistency has been a hallmark of Kaylen Frederick’s junior career thus far. But if he is to lift ART anywhere near the heights they achieved this past year, Frederick will have to be both consistent and conspicuous on track.
Header photo credit: Carlin Racing
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