He may have only competed in ten races in the Cooper Tires British F3 International Series to-date, but Oliver Oakes made enough of an impression on the regular contenders over the second half of 2008 to send out a solid warning for 2009 – when, he acknowledges, there will be 'no excuses'.
The former World Karting Champion graduated to British F3 with all-new outfit Eurotek Motorsport last year off the back of a reasonably strong campaign in the Formula Renault Eurocup. Having played himself in with the benefit of a low-pressure environment at Eurotek – albeit setting pole position for the Donington Park finale – Oakes is hitting the big time this season after being snapped up by the crack Carlin Motorsport squad. With the curtain-raiser taking place at Oulton Park this Easter weekend, he is well aware that the goalposts have shifted significantly.
“It was a fun year with Eurotek,” he told Crash.net Radio
. “We only did a few races, but they made leaps and bounds throughout the year. [The lack of pressure] was the big thing being with a new team; you need that to build your confidence I think in a new category.
“To be honest, it sounds silly but I don't think I learned that much last year. Being in a new team, there wasn't a big influence on me and I was left to do what I wanted to do. The biggest thing obviously was getting used to the F3 car, but then there's a new aero kit this year so it doesn't help you that much. There's nothing you don't learn in other formulas as well, but it's racing, you know – you learn every time you go out.
“It was a fun year, I have to admit, and taking pole with them at the end of it was quite a big deal, obviously with it being both a new team and the last pole of the year. It's a bit sad really, when you go with something all the way through a programme and then you've got to leave, but I think we proved a point.
“Carlin is different. Obviously the thing with Eurotek is that they're a great bunch of guys and the reputation of John Gentry, the chief engineer, speaks for itself – but in terms of a team they all were very new to Formula 3. F3 has been going all these years, and unfortunately that does tend to hinder you a little bit on the experience front.
“The big thing with Carlin is obviously just experience – they've been there, done it and the realms of data are absolutely unbelievable. It's nice to be here – everything's very professional and it's a nice environment. Last year was fun for me, but Carlin's reputation speaks for itself, so there are no excuses this year.”
That may be so, but with team-mates of the calibre of early championship favourite Max Chilton, Henry Arundel and Daniel Ricciardo, the 21-year-old well knows that it is going to be a hard-fought campaign indeed – and that is only to look at the intra-team squabble.
What's more, Carlin has switched engine-suppliers in 2009 from Mercedes-Benz to Volkswagen – a move that could either help or hinder the squad in equal measure. It is set to be a challenging season, Oakes confesses, but he is confident that he is in encouraging shape.