Jake Hughes is keen to show his credentials as a racing driver by taking top spot in the 2022 Formula 2 championship.
Hughes, who has signed for F2 debutants Van Amersfoort, will take part in his first full season in the championship after four outings in the last two years with HWA Racelab.
“Admittedly, before I was contracted by Van Amersfoort, F2 wasn’t really on my radar,” Hughes told Total Motorsport. “It’s only because this has come about out of nowhere that I’ve jumped at this opportunity.
“F1 has always been a goal of mine. I no doubt have the confidence in my ability that I would be more than good enough to race in F1.
“But it’s not really been looking likely to happen for a number of years. The only way it can happen realistically is if I win the championship this year and that’s my goal.
“I don’t really waste any energy worrying about what might be, what ifs or about my age or what if I don’t win the championship and things like that, a lot of it is not in my control.
“I can only do the best job I can, which I know when I perform at my level, it’s an extremely high level.
“If that [level] is to win the championship or finish top three or whatever, and if I get those kind of results and F1 doesn’t happen, then no harm, no foul, I know I’m good enough. I don’t think the team would be disappointed it gave me the opportunity.
“F1 is still my goal but it’s very difficult. So I don’t lose any sleep over it. I’m in a good position this year to hopefully try and push for something special.”
Hughes didn’t have a full-time racing programme in 2021, instead becoming Venturi’s and subsequently Mercedes’ simulator driver in Formula E and F1.
In the races he did compete in, he finished fourth in the opening F2 race at Sochi which led to the first discussions about a full-time seat in the championship with Van Amersfoort, who are an icon in junior single-seater racing.
Too late to become an F1 driver?
At 27 years old, Hughes played down being overlooked by F1 teams due to his age, as the sport saw an influx of young drivers in recent years.
“Apart from karting, when I was basically the youngest, I’ve always been an old driver in the eyes of other people,” said Hughes.
“In Formula 4 I was already 20 years old in my first year. By the time I was In GP3, I was 23, so I’ve always carried this and obviously not having the finances to get into this level of Formula 2 any earlier, it’s inevitable that I’m a bit older.
“If you speak about Formula 1, there’s probably many other reasons that would disadvantage me getting into F1, again, financial being the big one. I’m a big believer that if you show the results, you should be rewarded for it.
“My only kind of concern is, this year I work hard and deliver the best performance I can and if we achieve what I’d like to think we could do together and push for something special, I see no reason as to say well, I shouldn’t get these things just because I’m slightly older, whether that’s Formula 1 or any other championship in the world. I don’t see the logic of that.
“But inevitably, the perception in this sport is quite a big one, it’s quite powerful. If I get some standout results this year and people want to ignore that, there’s nothing I can do about that. That’s the sport we’re in.”
The pros and cons of driver academies
In the current single-seater era, many young drivers have joined driver academies. Red Bull have led the way with the success of driver academies over the last decade, with other manufacturers attempting to strengthen the quality of their junior drivers.
Despite becoming British Formula 4 champion in 2013 and Formula Renault 2.0 Alps runner-up in 2015, Hughes has never been part of an academy and he revealed the only possible opportunity he had was after his British F4 title.
“There’s a couple ways to look at that [driver academies],” explained Hughes. “A lot of drivers these days quite often come through already from karting, which I didn’t have a very long or even big in the limelight, karting career.
“When I came up to do my first year of cars and won [British] Formula 4 in 2013 I think that would have been the only time it would have been possible for me to jump onto an F1 junior programme.
“I think at that moment, though, I was still very new to racing. I probably pushed myself in terms of getting in the face of people and let’s say giving them choice but to know who I was and nothing really came up off the back of that.
“Then you’re into Formula Renault and GP3 and I had good results and won races everywhere I went. But, I never really had the chance through maybe the drive or the team I was with or whatever, to really go and push and win the championship.”
The British driver spent five years seasons in GP3 and F3, and he believes financial restrictions partially hindered him from progressing his career.
Hughes, who is a big Aston Villa fan, is hoping to storm his way into contention for an F1 seat in a similar fashion to Steven Gerrard guiding Villa towards a place in European football.
He admits being part of a driver academy would likely have paved the way to a full-time F2 seat much earlier than 2022.
“For someone like me with the financial situation, being a little bit older already starting from karting, I think to get an F1 junior programme I would have had to get that standout result of another championship,” added Hughes. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
“To get to F2 was never going to be possible financially unless something happened like an F1 junior programme or some big sponsors . So I haven’t really been in full control of my past.
“In many ways it’s made me the driver I am so I’m extremely looking forward to driving in F2 this year. But that being said, I mean F1 junior programmes are very helpful. I think the guys on them would tell you that they take a lot from it.”