Zak O’Sullivan (16) Might Be Britain’s Next FIA F3 Star

For only 16 years old, Zak O’Sullivan is one of the most level headed drivers around. The current British F3 Championship leader has been doing excellent at every level on the feeder series ladder and has now set his sights on FIA F3. But he is open to any opportunity that will progress his career and to reach his ultimate goal: Formula 1.  ‘I try not to get too emotionally attached to any team, if I get offered a drive with a fast car I’d take it pretty quickly.’

By Adam Dickinson

After progressing through three series in three years, with two championship podiums as a rookie and now leading his debut campaign of British F3, you might expect Zak O’Sullivan to be a little awestruck.

On the contrary, talking to the 16-year old gives you the impression that he’s only just getting started, with his sights already set on a move up to FIA F3 next year and eventually a drive in a competitive F1 car.

And note that last part – competitive. He’s not just in motorsport for the ride, he’s here to win.

He stepped up to cars with the 2019 Ginetta Juniors season and finished runner-up behind second-year driver James Hedley, and then followed that up with another second place in last years’ British F4.

Losing by just four points to Luke Browning, who’d finished sixth the season prior, it looked as if O’Sullivan might’ve taken the crown when he crossed the line first (and nine places ahead of Browning) in a curtailed final race of the season.

A stewards’ decision to award half points scuppered that, but when O’Sullivan looks back on the day, it’s clear that it wasn’t quite the heartbreaking defeat that some Hollywood directors would cast it as:

“I thought I had got it for a couple of minutes but it is what it is, it’s one of those things. Obviously I was disappointed but I think it was more of a shock because I think we thought as a team that it’d go to 50 percent distance with full points.

Jakob Ebrey Photography

“But I’ve moved on now, even the Monday after the race weekend I was already at Carlin doing a British F3 seat fit so we just moved on, we’d already planned next year.”

And he’s certainly kept moving, picking up three wins in nine rounds so far and a further three podiums. Despite that, he says he has ‘no expectations’ from this season as long as he keeps learning – and he sounds like he means it.

That’s one of the great idiosyncrasies in his approach that becomes apparent as we talk – he’s got his fixed goals for progressing through to F1, but gives the feeling that as long as he’s done his best then he can let the rest get on with itself.

He is certainly not a robot though, as we talk he laughs at some of the quips (out of politeness or genuine amusement) and he’s got strong views on topics across motorsport. 

Having been at Silverstone watching the F1 last weekend he says he viewed the big incident as ‘pretty much 100 percent on Lewis’ and added that he probably wouldn’t have celebrated to full were he in that position.

He’s also got strong opinions on the state of play within junior motorsport and has the feeling that the merging of different series has driven up the price of seats making it more inaccessible than ever. As for this season’s new weekend format for FIA F2 and F3: ‘I don’t like it at all to be honest’. But he could be involved in that as early as next year, with making the jump a clear goal:

“I think step one is I need to win a championship in cars, so I’ve got two seconds so far, that’s not ideal. Then I’ve got to make some sort of progression, so the step-up next year will most likely be to FIA Formula 3, with what team or what combination I don’t know yet.

Jakob Ebrey Photography

“It’s so open, there’s so many different teams, so many variables but they’re expensive so it’s about managing all those factors to hopefully have a strong first year. And I think it’s important to make a big impact in your first year.”

Returning to the present, this weekend’s British F3 round at Spa-Francorchamps will mark the halfway point in the season and O’Sullivan heads to Belgium with a 47-point championship lead over second-placed Reece Ushijima.

Coincidentally that’s nearly the same as the deficit he had to Luke Browning at the halfway stage of last year’s British F4 championship (he was 50 points behind Browning) and the cushion this time round should be some comfort in an unfamiliar setting.

“Spa this weekend will be interesting, I’ve never been to the track so that’ll be a steep learning curve on Friday.

“My teammate Christian Mansell did a Euroformula race there, I think Ayrton Simmons did a race there in 2019 I think two others have raced F4 there in the past in other championships.

“So yeah I guess they’ll have a slight advantage on everyone to begin with but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t look like it’ll be too much of a struggle to get the hang of it.”

That last point is surprising given his earlier talk of his self-focussed approach to the season, but reveals another part of his character that would be easy to lose – he is genuinely interested in racing.

His knowledge of the other junior formulas would be an asset to any quiz team (although quite what quiz that’d be on remains to be seen), and he’s also got an interest in the technical side of the sport.

This school year he’s starting his A-levels and is taking physics, with a view that it could be a back-up option depending on how the next few years go on-track.

“I think it’s also quite crucial that if, by the time I get to 19, 20 it doesn’t look like it’s really going anywhere or we run out of funding there’s no point chasing a dream that isn’t going to happen.”

However, he’s not pulling any punches on his aspirations there either.

“There’s a lot of scope for jobs within motorsport, I’d probably try and get into an F1 of some sort in an engineering role which would be really cool I think. But yeah obviously that’s Plan B, the main goal is F1 at the moment. 

“I think I’ve always been a bit of a Ferrari fan, but if I’m driving for a team I’d want to drive for a team that was winning so whatever team that’ll be if I do get to F1 at the time, that’ll be the place to be. I try not to get too emotionally attached to any team, if I get offered a drive with a fast car I’d take it pretty quickly.”

If what we’ve seen so far in his short career is to go by then Ferrari and the rest of the grid should take note: Zak O’Sullivan has his sights set on you.

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