How Douwe Dedecker is ‘going to fight’ for British F4 success as a rookie

After a tenacious and competitive karting career cut short by injury, Douwe Dedecker is getting ready for his first season of single-seater racing in the 2023 British F4 Championship. The Belgian driver tells Feeder Series the story of his career so far.

By Gerren Scapens

Before arriving at his current position, Dedecker travelled across Europe in search of the best karting opportunities to propel his career forward. It all began in Genk in Belgium, where he karted for GKS in the Rotax class at eight years old.

“My first year, I was already quite in the front,” he said. “I won the Belgium championship directly, and in my second year I won it again. I was also Rotax MicroMax European champion in Austria.

“From then on, it was actually getting too easy for me to get results, so then we went to [the] WSK European Championship [and] World Championship… all the best drivers over the whole world come to Italy, so there was a level a lot higher than before.”

Dedecker didn’t make the final of the WSK Champions Cup 60 Mini class that day in Adria, but his karting story did not stop there, as he made the next step up to KartRepublic for the OK Junior series.

Dedecker in car with race helmet on
Dedecker steps up to British F4 from karting this year | Credit: British F4

“My first year was really good. I could place myself always in the front in qualifying because I was always top five in heats, I was always top five in the finals, I was always around top ten, so that was really good.

“Then, my second year actually didn’t go as planned. We thought I would be winning championships, maybe even winning a European championship or a world championship,” he said. “But that didn’t work out.

He decided to spend a third year in the OK Junior category, switching to Ricky Flynn Motorsport, a team based in England and one of the most successful in junior karting.

“I tried my best, but the chassis of OTK and the Vortex engine just didn’t go together with me. We left again to KartRepublic but [to] OK.”

Injury setbacks

At this point, after a front-running partial season in senior karting in 2022, there was only one major karting competition that Dedecker had not entered, and that was the Karting World Championship, taking place at Sarno in September. But the experience was tainted by an injury he sustained in the fourth and final round of the Italian Karting Championship at the same venue a few weeks before.

“They renewed the track, but it made it worse, so it was really bumpy. I injured my ribs and had to retire on the Sunday morning while I was in [the] top three [of the overall standings].

“I wanted to drive the world championship race, so I came back to Sarno and started driving again. Directly from session one, I started to have the pain again. I kept on driving because I really wanted to. My team really wanted to do the world championship with me; they thought I could have a really big chance.”

The rib pain that Dedecker was experiencing proved to be too much for him to fight through, holding him back from completing what could have been a stellar run.

Friday morning before qualifying, we did P1 with two tenths off, but I came out crying of the pain

Dedecker on the injury that ended his karting career

“Friday morning before qualifying, we did P1 with two tenths off, but I came out crying of the pain. We said, ‘It’s maybe better to stop if he has so much pain’, so we stopped.

“I did still [do] qualifying, but I was P14 because I couldn’t handle it with my ribs. I just had to back off.”

Following visits to doctors all across Europe throughout the winter break, Dedecker was unable to recover from the rib problem that he was facing, which led him to make a career-defining decision.

“We tried to still keep driving and that didn’t work. I kept on feeling the pain. [It was] a moment to say goodbye to karting and choose formula cars.”

Moving to single-seaters

The opportunity then came for Dedecker to drive for Virtuosi Racing in British F4 for the 2023 season, the team’s second in the series. The prospect excited him instantly.

“It’s a new team, but quite an upcoming team. I think this year they could really do good results,” he said. “Of course, this is my first year, and in the UK, there is now a lot of second-year drivers or drivers that did already championship before this, so it’s going to be quite challenging.

Dedecker and a member of the Virtuosi team stood side by side
Dedecker will race with Virtuosi and is hoping their F2 success translates to F4 | Credit: British F4

Dedecker believes that Virtuosi’s ongoing success in Formula 2, which has included multiple race wins for Luca Ghiotto, Guanyu Zhou, Callum Ilott and Jack Doohan, can be replicated in British F4 after the team took their first win with Michael Shin last year.

“They are really good in Formula 2, so I think they’re also going to be really good in Formula 4 [in] the upcoming years,” he said.

“I hope that we can get the best results possible because they work really hard for it, and I think Virtuosi is such a great team,” he said. “They really deserve it to get a championship title also in F4.”

Goals for the season

Despite the natural desire that every driver has to win from the offset, Dedecker has a level-headed goal for his first season in single-seaters: to spend the season learning and progressing.

“What we said, with my manager and my dad, was actually to learn the most and get the best result as possible, but not over push myself. Of course, you want to win the championship, but we’re not really going there to win it because the chance to win it already in my first year is small.

Of course, the chance is there – and of course, I’m going to fight for that

Dedecker on his goals to fight for the British F4 championship in 2023

“You need to be really good to directly win it in your first year. Of course, the chance is there – and of course, I’m going to fight for that. What we want to see this year is the best result as possible, always pushing myself to the limit, giving myself 100% and try to be the best driver of my team.”

Pre-season testing

The big question when someone moves away from karting and into single-seaters is whether they can adapt to unfamiliar machinery, and pre-season testing has helped the 15-year-old get over that traditional bump.

“It was quite a lot different between karting. Everything is different – how you need to brake, the lines, everything – but I really think it’s a lot more fun than karting for sure.

“Silverstone, I did the official test with the British F4. I wasn’t really in the front, still struggled to have some speed. [In] the third session, I was P5 in the rain, so I was quite good because normally the rain isn’t my thing.

Blue car on track
Dedecker drove the British F4 car at the Silverstone pre-season test | Credit: Jakob Ebrey

“[In] the last session, I went off because I was over-pushing, pushing more than where the limit was. In the dry I wasn’t really fast in Silverstone, so we really needed to work on that.

Following the pre-season test at Silverstone, Dedecker also got the opportunity to drive the British F4 car at Brands Hatch.

“We started already better than Silverstone. We were not so off the pace. It was really good,” he said. “We were just missing a bit. I ended the day with three and a half tenths off the pole-sitter, and I was already missing three tenths in Turn 1 because that’s a quite challenging corner. .

“I think we can see improvement every week, and that’s the most important [thing] right now. I hope that I have the pace when the season starts, but I really think I’m going to.”

Tough competition

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Dedecker was drawn to the championship by the competitive racing that the tracks on the British F4 calendar tend to generate. 

“There are some challenging tracks ahead. I saw Thruxton is quite a challenging track,” he said. “The driving is really hard, so you really need to fight for your position.

The driving is really hard, so you really need to fight for your position

Dedecker on the competitive nature of British F4

“It’s not just driving around getting the results, not just driving away by five seconds, because this is really not happening in the British F4 and that I really like.

“That’s actually one of the [reasons] we chose British F4 – because the tracks are really small and the drivers are really good.”

A track that he is particularly excited to race on is Silverstone. “I’m actually seeing ahead for Silverstone because it’s quite iconic to drive on it, because also the F1 drives on it and the circuit just has so much accommodation,” he said.

Reaching for the stars

While most drivers would simply say they want to be in F1 in the future, Dedecker has a much more in-depth and down-to-earth answer to the question of his ultimate goals.

“Nine of ten people are going to say, ‘I want to be an F1 driver’, and that’s why the chance is so small. It would be lovely if I would drive F1 and it would also be my dream, but of course, the chance is super small. But for that chance, I’m going to fight and do my best to reach that.”

“If people see that you’re fighting for that chance, and you can’t reach F1, they’re going to put you somewhere else where you also can be a successful driver and earn a lot of money and being really successful with autosport,” he said. “My dream is becoming a successful driver with an autosport career and just earning my money with that and just having fun with driving.”

Beyond formula racing

The potential to move outside of the formula racing ladder is something that intrigues Dedecker when he looks ahead in his career. He takes inspiration from fellow Belgian drivers Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, who have won the past three GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup titles as teammates.

“I really like [the] Le Mans series; I think they’re very competitive. I also think some GT series like DTM are quite fun. I know some Belgian people who are driving with Audi factory teams or Mercedes factory teams. We know a lot of people, so I definitely think we still have some time to reach that point.”

For now, Dedecker is focused on achieving the best performances possible in Formula 4 to leave open the possibility of progressing up the feeder series ladder into Formula 3 and eventually Formula 2.

Blue and pink car on track
Dedecker will run with a BWT livery following his personal sponsorship agreement in 2020 | Credit: Jakob Ebrey

“This year we want to first do a full season of F4 and see how that goes, [then] maybe F3 if we have the chance for that. If I’m not quite good enough for F3, I want to change to GT cars. If I’m really good at that, I want to go through to F2 if you have the budget for that or if you’re getting sponsored.”

In 2020, the Belgian driver revealed a personal sponsorship agreement with water treatment systems manufacturing giant BWT, a well-known name in motorsport because of their affiliation with the Alpine F1 Team.

“With BWT, we know a lot of people and they help us with the budget. I hope we can continue our partnership in the future, and I hope I can still do my thing in a couple years.”

Header photo credit: British F4

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