Sennan Fielding drove his heart out trying to win the F4 British Championship certified by FIA title in the final race at Brands Hatch, but fate decided otherwise for the JHR Developments driver.
Arriving at the Kent circuit with a 5-point lead for the Dronfield-based team in the Formula 4 series – and one of six possible drivers for the title – a wet qualifying did not suit Fielding who lost out to the larger teams with more drivers able to find a perfect damp track set-up.
Starting round 28 from 8th, on a drying track, Fielding was in his element and making up places. Up to 5th place by lap 2, this became 4th on lap 4, until lap 7 when the Chesterfield 21 year-old was chasing down Championship-rival Max Fewtrell for 2nd-place.
In a spectacular move at Paddock Hill Bend on the final lap of the race, Fielding made a dramatic last lap lunge to dive passed Fewtrell.
Finishing in 2nd-place extended Fielding’s Championship lead advantage to 8 points, and now there were only three drivers left in title contention.
“I put everything into that race after a tough qualifying, I got my head down and found where the grip was. It was a mega race”, smiled Fielding. “Given all the work that both JHR Developments and I have put in all year I know I have got to do everything I can this weekend”.
The partial reverse grid round 29 had Fielding line-up in grid slot 6th, he moved into 5th place at the start, and spent the whole race in a four car battle over 2nd-place.
Fielding was unable to get any closer to the front, being blocked for the whole race, he remained in 5th to the flag, less than a second separating him from the 2nd-placed car.
Unfortunately, his Championship rival, Fewtrell finished higher up, so this cut Fielding’s Championship lead down to just 3 points heading into the final race of the season.
To make things worse title-rival Fewtrell had pole position for round 30 with Fielding starting from 6th-place.
Nevertheless, once the Start lights went out, Fielding had only one objective - to catch race-leader, Fewtrell.
Trying so hard on the opening lap, Fielding ran wide skirting the grass at Graham Hill Bend so had a lot of work to do, but managed to pass Zane Goddard for 5th-place.
This was the start of a masterclass of ‘whites of the eyes’ overtake manoeuvres by Fielding into the banked Paddock Hill Bend, in ‘do or die’ efforts to chase after Fewtrell.
Another lap later and Fielding dived up the inside of Luis Leeds at Paddock Hill Bend to take 4th position.
Fielding made a brilliant move to pass James Pull on lap 4 grabbing 3rd-place and the scent of the race leaders in his nostrils.
However, his storming drive then came up against Ayrton Simmons, and despite vastly more experience than the rookie, Fielding could not find a way through.
Fighting his way through the field had taken the life out of Fielding’s tyres and his car was starting to slide visibly on the corners, making it harder and harder to attempt a challenge on Simmons.
In the end Fielding had to admit he was going to climb no further so ended up finishing 3rd.
Unchallenged, Fewtrell had gone on to win, scoring 25 points, thereby giving him 7 vital points advantage to take the title: Fielding, in his fourth season in single-seaters, was not going to be British F4 Champion, but runner-up.
However, Fielding had not lost the Championship at Brands Hatch, rather he had not won it there – he had lost his chance at the title back in June when he had six very low scoring races at Oulton park and Croft thanks to two lack-lustre engines that dropped him down the points table.
In the post-race TV interview Fielding really let his feelings be known.
“I can’t get my words out…”, he explained and then proved himself wrong.
“It’s been a tough year, I’m hugely disappointed. On the cool-down lap a few tears came out, I was just hoping for that lucky break”, Fielding admitted.
“I gave it my all from start to finish. I don’t think there was anything else I could have done. Every gap I could have gone for, I did! I tried my hardest but could not get on terms with Simmons – he raced fairly and cleanly”.
“The car wasn’t quite perfect but I gave it my all and there were a few moves that were a bit last minute, so I was running off the circuit because I was giving it my all: I just wanted to prove to people what I could do”.
“It’s disappointing for the team and myself, this was not how we wanted it to go. A massive thank you to everyone at JHR and Amigos for putting me on the grid. We have put in so much hard work, but we’ve done so well to develop the car throughout the season”.
“The team have done a phenomenal job to compete against mega-teams the likes of Carlin, Fortec and Arden, which just shows that JHR are a top team”.
“I felt confident coming into the weekend, but in qualifying we did not quite get the car we wanted, we knew it was going to be tough”.
“My engineer Paul I really want to thank for working long hours to get me 2nd in the Championship”.
“We have had rounds where the car had not been as good as we wanted it to be through no fault of our own. Early on in the year there were rounds where we did not score many points and it wasn’t my fault or the team’s fault. We just did not have a very quick power unit”.
“So it has been a great year for me and the team. Sometimes I don’t think the car had been quite dialled in, but I have only done two test days all year and we have literally been testing the car on the race weekends”.
“We came back in the second half of the season, everything felt so much better. We kicked off amazingly with a double win from a double pole at Snetterton”, concluded Fielding proudly.
JHR were very much in a David and Goliath battle with Fewtrell’s team, Carlin Motorsport.
One of the largest teams outside Formula 1 racing, Carlin compete in six single-seater categories around the world, whereas JHR are only on their second season in British single-seaters.
Carlin no doubt went testing at least once a week, and while the involvement of local entrepreneur, Steve Perez with his Amigos beer sponsorship helped, Fielding and JHR could only afford two tests during the whole season, as the team were on just 25% of Carlin’s budget.
In JHR boss Steven Hunter’s words, “With testing we could have wrapped-up the Championship a lot earlier…”
Nevertheless, JHR finished 3rd in the teams Championship ahead of two of the bigger league teams.
Unlike in previous years JHR were not fighting for the Ginetta Junior title in Brand Hatch’s final rounds, although Seb Perez had a great start to round 24 of the 2016 Simpson Race Products Ginetta Junior Championship when he took the lead for the opening two laps, before falling back to 3rd–place, the Chesterfield 17 year-old holding the position to the flag.
JHR teammate, Seb Priaulx, from 3rd on the grid spun to the back of the field, then slowly working his way back up to 9th-place.
In front of him, forming a JHR 3-car train were 14 year-old wonder kid Olli Cauldwell in 8th and Geri Nicosia finishing 7th.
The last Ginetta Junior race of season, Round 25, saw Perez from 3rd position run wide on the opening lap and dropping to 6th place, then this became 9th on lap 5, but he gained a place to finish 8th and Championship 10th.
In his last Ginetta Junior race now he is 17 years-old, Geri Nicosia from 7th gained two places to 5th at the start, on lap 5 he dropped back to 7th, but in his recovery drive he set the race fastest lap, finishing in 6th-place, and confirmed his 6th in the Championship.
Cauldwell started a place behind, but on lap 2 spun down to 11th-place, where he finished.
Even though he dropped back two place on the opening lap, Priaulx got his head down and steadily climbed through the field for 4th-place at the flag, making him 7th in the Championship, and 2nd in the Rookie Cup.