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.
“I think every engine has different characteristics,” the Norfolk ace contended, “and this year the battle is heating up between Merc and VW in all formulas. I think it's going to be hard for us to begin with to learn the ratios and so forth at new tracks, but I think so far we've done a phenomenal job, and in testing at Silverstone even [Adriano] Buzaid at T-Sport was fast as well.
“I think that proves for itself that the engine's quick enough. It will just be a learning process with it, but I don't see that hindering us at all; if anything I can only see it as a benefit. Testing has been pretty good so far; in the first test I did with the new engine I was P2, which was quite good. Until you get to the first race, you never know what's going on with other teams and stuff like that, but I think as a team on the whole Carlin are in pretty good shape so I'm looking forward to it.
“Obviously T-Sport will be up there; last year they were gunning for the championship pretty much all the way through. Buzaid and [Wayne] Boyd are both quite experienced guys – new to F3, but they've done their stuff in other formulas and proved their worth – so I see them as quite a big competitor.
“Then you've got JTR with the Mygale – the whole works effort there; a small team, but with a whole factory behind them. I think they'll be strong, and then there's Hitech with [Walter] Grubmuller going into their third year; they have a reputation as well and are a strong team. I think it's going to be a tough year, definitely.
“Obviously you come here to win every time, don't you, but to be honest I haven't really thought about it; I just go out there and try and do my own programme. When you get to the first race you then set your sights on the trophy, and so far I'm quite confident. We've been going through our own little development thing step-by-step, and we're looking strong.”TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE