Zak O’Sullivan came agonisingly close to winning the British F4 championship in almost-unbelievable circumstances at Brands Hatch (November 13-15), missing out by just four points when only half points were awarded in a red-flagged season finale.
Heading into the final race 16 markers behind his title rival Luke Browning (Fortec) and needing a huge swing to take victory, the 15-year-old found himself in a championship-winning position when Browning span down to last at Clearways on the opening lap. O’Sullivan, who slid down to fourth from first at the same corner, quickly fought his way back into the lead within a handful of laps and with Browning down in 10th, he had the title within his grasp. But with conditions worsening and all cars on dry weather tyres, the race was stopped on safety grounds with around 10 minutes and 30 seconds left on the clock – around five minutes short of the 75 per cent distance needed for full points to be awarded. In this situation, the race director has the option of deploying the safety car or red-flagging the race, and chose the second option.
It meant the Carlin driver only picked up 12.5 points instead of the regulation 25, handing Browning the title despite the 18-year-old taking only half a point for 10th. This led to even more drama and confusion in the pitlane after the end of the race, with O’Sullivan celebrating what he thought was a title win, before being told by race officials that it had gone to his rival.
It brought a tumultuous final day to a close, where O’Sullivan had closed the gap on Browning in the second race, finishing second to his third, only to fall back to fourth when he was penalised post-race for overtaking team-mate Christian Mansell under yellow flags.
This followed a close encounter in Saturday first race when O’Sullivan finished second behind Browning, having shadowed him throughout but never quite getting close enough to attempt an overtake. It brought to an end a stunning first season in single-seaters for O’Sullivan, who beat current McLaren Formula One driver Lando Norris’s record of eight wins in his first year of F4.
O’Sullivan, from Withington, near Cirencester, said: “I came into the weekend knowing all I had to do was beat Luke and in many ways, that’s what I did. Without the penalty in race two, I would have been much closer in the points to Luke heading into the finale. Then in that race, I managed to dodge the oil at the start and I had things under control. I’m not really sure why it was red flagged, it didn’t really feel like the conditions were getting any worse. I was surprised the race director didn’t send out the safety car, as he could have run it for a few laps before deciding whether he needed to red flag it. But as far as I’m concerned I won the championship on track and I will go home happy tonight.”