How PHM Racing (F4 UAE) does things different: ‘We want to develop mechanics the same way we do drivers’

This year’s Formula 4 grid will see a new name on the entry list with the birth of PHM Racing. The team is a non-profit looking to invest into drivers who may not have the means to enter motorsport themselves. Team owner Paul Mueller and team manager Roland Rehfeld sat down with F1 Feeder Series to discuss the new team.

By Charlie Parker

Motorsport is not cheap. It’s near impossible to get into single seaters if you don’t come from a rich background. There are some drivers that are seen as “pay” drivers, suggesting that they’re only in a seat because of their money and not their skill. 

PHM is looking to change this. Team owner Paul Mueller has years of experience as an entrepreneur in the tech industry and sold his company for a lot of money. At the same time, he also drove in F4 as a hobby and saw things that can be changed: “As an entrepreneur coming from the tech space, you get trained for disruption. You see things that you can disrupt because they’ve been done the same way over and over again,” Mueller explains. “Racing in particular and Formula 4 is a very romantic affair with people that really don’t want to live or work in the 21st century, that’s my point of view. The whole idea of how to organise a team is straight up from the 1980s. The amount of technology used is shockingly low, that’s where I was interested to see if it can be done better.”

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Driving in F4 as a hobby allowed Paul to meet some of the drivers and listening to their struggles was another catalyst in creating PHM Racing. Paul was shocked to find that after the step up from karting, drivers figuratively fall off a cliff. They go from testing thousands of laps at each track day in karting to having to find their own means of testing in F4. Next, they’re just expected to show up and deliver on race day. “And I’m thinking, this is not how a great driver is made. F4 is a unique opportunity to create a driver. Despite the increasing costs it’s still the cheapest series per kilometre and it’s the only one with no testing restrictions,” Mueller says. 

Credit: PHM Racing

“The question I had was: what if a driver had someone who takes care of them in a more comprehensive way, of all the aspects that make a young driver? If I want to create a great driver, I’d like to put them in any race I can, within a reasonable schedule, and I should test as much as I can fit into the schedule. 

“Of course, the next question is: how much would that cost? You look at the big teams and the cost is horrendous; we’re talking up to a million a year. The program we want to run with our drivers is 18 weekends, which I think is 54 races, with 25 test days. At an established team, this would cost close to a million.”

Selling his company allowed Mueller to take a step back and see, since he wanted to become a race driver when he was younger, whether there was any chance he could. The answer was a hard no. Only the richest of the rich can enter motorsport and it made Paul think: are ultra-high net worth individuals the only ones who are great at race driving? 

“I don’t think that’s true. That’s why my team is a charity. From my perspective, I do not need my team to generate a revenue. It’s not relevant to me or my life. The experience I get out of running the teams and seeing the drivers develop is more relevant. So, I’m supporting the team financially.

“Down the line we hope to establish a connection with our sponsors who we can offer a platform where they know, since this is a fully audited German non-profit, that every euro they spend on the team goes directly into driver development. My goal is to be able to offer the programme at an extremely low cost, and allow someone to progress through the ranks of F4 and eventually F3 and above. My dream is that one day a driver sits in an F1 car, coming through this system. That’s the motivation behind the team.”

Building for the long-term

But this isn’t just about the drivers, it’s about the team as a whole: “We’re the only team that offers long term contracts to mechanics and engineers because we believe the team is an asset and not just a cost point that I have to rent into every race. I want to create the best possible team.

Credit: PHM Racing

“Some of the team members were honestly confused when we told them this is a whole year affair. That they’re getting a full year German work contract. Social security, health insurance, everything. This is something we want to focus on as well. We want to develop mechanics the same way we do drivers. Contrary to popular belief, these engineers and mechanics don’t just pop out of the ground.”

For the role of team manager and to find drivers, Mueller hired Roland Rehfeld, who found success racing in GT throughout his career as well as competing in German F3 and Formula Renault. Rehfeld started off with a bang, because it was announced just an hour before this interview that PHM Racing will be running in F4 UAE with Nikita Bedrin, Jonas Ried and Taylor Barnard. 

Both Bedrin and Barnard found immense success in karting, with Bedrin having a good showing in single seaters in 2021, finishing the 2021 F4 UAE season with a podium and then winning the rookie championship in Italian F4 and ADAC F4.  

On the team, Rehfeld said: “We have a very good atmosphere in the team, everyone is keen and motivated. We have two WSK karting champions in the team. We have Jonas Ried, his dad comes from WEC and has his own team. The mixture of raw talent and raw speed gives us a good opportunity to play a role in the UAE series.

“Both Bedrin and Ried were running in UAE last season and it’s all about track knowledge. If you start straight away as a new team with rookies, it makes it a lot harder. You always need some benchmarks to create a database with drivers who already know what to do. But as there’s a new car, it’s also new for them. They can figure out the differences between the old car and the new one and give us a direction of a working strategy.”

But the UAE season isn’t just a learning experience. Mueller is looking for a competitive season: “We want to be successful and develop the team, which means we need drivers that, we believe, can fight for victories. We’ve chosen three drivers who, we believe, every single one of them has an opportunity to fight for podiums and victories. Having three experienced drivers can push the team forwards. That was the brief to Roland, get me some people who can win races.”

This is just the start for Mueller, Rehfeld and PHM Racing. The short-term goal is to get everything set up and adventure into the European section of F4 in the latter part of this year. But the team has big dreams and they are certainly ones to keep an eye on.

Header photo credit: PHM Racing

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