Abbi Pulling impresses in British F4 debut despite accidents
In a hectic season opener, British F4 rookie Abbi Pulling impressed with a charge through the field in the second race, making up for the unfortunate collisions in the other races.
The delayed 2020 season of the F4 British Championship certified by FIA and powered by Ford EcoBoost went underway last weekend at Donington Park.
Featuring 15 entries from 8 nationalities and 5 elite junior formulae racing teams, the three races on the former F1 venue provided plenty of drama, with Alex Connor, Zak O'Sullivan and James Hedley sharing victories in the opening round.
Among the very competitive field, Saudi racer Reema Juffali was back to the championship for a sophomore campaign after her 2019 debut season - where she secured ten top-10 finishes. Juffali joined series newcomers Argenti Racing, together with teammates Casper Stevenson and Nicolás Pino.
Reema made headlines earlier this year when she became the first Saudi woman to compete on home soil, as she entered the Diriyah round of the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy in support of Formula E. With a second season in the British F4, she will be eyeing consistent top-10 finish.
Making the switch from karting, it was British racer Abbi Pulling: flying the banner of JHR Developments, the 16-year old lady was fast during pre season testing, showing very promising signs for her rookie campaign. Pulling was also among the most active drivers in eSports during lockdown, as she was one of the front-runners in the British F4 iRacing Trophy.
Pole position for the first out of 26 races was seized by reigning Ginetta Junior champion James Hedley, whose 1:08.084 lap around the National Circuit layout could not be topped.
However, JHR's Hedley could not keep Alex Connor at bay and the Arden driver made the winning move around the outside at McLeans - after starting from the fifth place on the grid - and checked out to win with a 1.6 seconds margin under the chequered flag. Fortec's Roberto Faria was third across the line.
Abbi Pulling qualified the #49 Mygale in an impressive sixth place and, showing great pace, was set to advance more positions. As she battled to enter the top-5, Pulling had a contact at the chicane which left her with front wing damage on the fifth lap of the race.
She was shown the orange-disk flag and had to come in for a nose change , leaving her in 15th and last position.
Reema Juffali was P14 after the first race.
Despite the mishap, Pulling's performances were surely convincing and she gave further proof in race 2: following the previous race result, the Brit took the start from the last spot on the grid, but stormed through the field and claimed an outstanding sixth place that secured her the first points of the season.
A crash on the opening lap eliminated from the race all the Saturday's podium finishers and brought out the red flag. With Alex Connor, Foberto Faria and James Hedley out, Casper Stevenson inherited the lead, ahead of Luke Browning and Rafael Villagomez. When Browning had an off at Old Hairpin, Zak O'Sullivan moved up into third place, before chasing down the leading pair. The Carlin driver, fourth on Saturday, managed to get ahead of Villagomez at Coppice and then completed his perfect comeback with a precise overtaking move at Redgate on Stevenson which gained him his first formula car victory.
Lubin was fourth, ahead of Mansell and Pulling, who passed Roman Bilinski at the last corner just before the chequered flag. Reema Juffali also enjoyed her best race of the weekend, as the Argenti driver clinched her first top-10 and point of the season.
The weekend finale saw James Hedley taking the lead at the first right-hander and the JHR Developments driver never looked back, securing victory ahead of Luke Browning and Zak O'Sullivan. Faria was fourth and preceded Zagazeta and Stevenson.
It was another unfortunate race for Pulling though: the young racer coached by W Series race winner Alice Powell started from sixth on the grid and again engaged in the fierce battles for the top-5 when one more contact at the chicane sent her into the tyre barriers.
Pulling escaped unhurt, but was out of the race - concluding her debut weekend in a disappointing way.
“The last race, unfortunately Abbi had contact going in through the chicane again, just clipped the tyres on the right-hand side which took her left-hand corner off and put her in the gravel." - explained Steven Hunter, Team Manager at JHR. But the Donington's results certainly do not reflect the 16-year old potential, who looks top-5 material - with podiums finishes not an impossible task.
"I genuinely think Abbi is showing pace that she could be one of the front runners in the Championship" - echoed Hunter.
“We had a positive qualifying. I knew that there was probably a bit more in it, but we were close on times, so we were happy with sixth." - said Pulling, summing up her first weekend in the British Formula 4 championship.
"The races came around, and I was more than competitive on the first few laps, I always had the legs on the people in front and I was always looking to move forward rather than defending and having to look in my mirrors."
“We’ve had a bit of bad luck; race one didn’t really go my way, we got involved in a bit of contact, I had to change my front wing. Race three again, same corner, we got unlucky and there wasn’t much I could do about it. The driver committed to a move and I was round the outside. Two can’t go into that corner and it didn’t end well for me. I kind of got the worst of it, both times."
“The positive to take from the weekend is we had the race pace and I was moving forward. It’s all just a learning experience and I think I’ve taken in a lot and will carry it into next weekend and try to improve in qualifying."
The series, in fact, now heads to Brands Hatch for its second triple header on 08-09 August.
"It’s Brands Hatch GP next weekend. I’m quite confident, I know that I can race, and I can race really well after this weekend. We’ve just got to get that qualifying right. I’m just going to fully commit, and I want to show people what I can do. I know that I can get on the podium, it’s just a matter of getting a bit of luck on my side as well.”