By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Jak Crawford has been relentless in 2020
The 15-year-old Texas native is one of only a handful of Americans competing throughout Europe in junior formula categories, with aspirations of someday starting on the grid in Formula 1.
A member of the Red Bull Junior Team and driving for Dutch outfit Van Amersfoort Racing, Crawford has found success in his first year on the other side of the Atlantic. In ADAC Formula 4, he has amassed two wins, nine podiums and three poles through 15 races, and sits second in the championship. He has also put together a respectable campaign in Italian F4, where he has one victory, four podiums and one pole through nine races, and is eighth in the title standings despite missing six races due to rescheduling conflicts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. There are still six races remaining in both championships.
“I expected the competition to be quite high this year and it certainly has been,” Crawford told Motorsports Tribune. “The races never are easy and you are always being pushed to your limits every weekend. I had high hopes for this year after testing went well and I have been able to back it up in the race weekends being one of the fastest drivers every weekend. Compared to my USA racing last year (in USF2000), I thought qualifying would be one of my weaker points and in fact it’s been my strongest so far. A lot of the credit goes to my team for making me a better driver in the off season.”
Despite a heavy crossover of drivers between the German and Italian series, Crawford is one of only four to have the distinction of winning in both. However, each has presented their own blend of unique challenges.
“Due to coronavirus, Germany and Italy could not get their calendars separated, so we are missing two events in Italy and won’t compete for a championship in Italy,” he said. “Red Bull and VAR wanted us to run a full Germany series. We didn’t go to all the tests in Italy either, so I would say Italy is a little more of a challenge for that reason.
“The grids in Germany are smaller but the overall talent is maybe better. They are a little different series rules-wise. Italy has 30 cars per race sometimes and it can get interesting, even in qualifying. German races often have no red flags or safety cars where the grids are smaller. A lot of teams and drivers are quick this year so we always have competition when switching from championship to championship. We have seen all cars from both series come into one weekend and it was the weekend I took my first win of the season, so we can run up front in either series.”
I love the @redbullring as it was the 1st place I tested in Europe and now the home of my 1st win with @redbull. It was a few races in the making but we finally got it. Maybe the next 1 will come sooner but proud to be the first American ever to win a race in @CIFormula4 pic.twitter.com/gF9bR6JanD
— jakcrawfordracing (@jakcrawfordrac1) September 14, 2020
There was also one unforeseen obstacle early on that potentially prevented a pair of victories on Crawford’s debut weekend at Lausitzring in ADAC F4.
“I had a double pole in my first race weekend racing in Europe,” he said. “We found out I didn’t really know how to do a proper standing start and I couldn’t turn my pole positions into wins for that reason. A few races later, we had to change out my shoes to make it work because my feet are so big. Red Bull shipped me several Puma racing shoes and we settled on an old model a few sizes too small but it allows me to have better starts. Those are the kinds of things you only learn through experience. I would like to have a couple of those standing starts back and I would have a couple more wins.”
Overall, though, Crawford’s results are undoubtedly the expectation Dr. Helmut Marko, motorsports advisor for Red Bull, had in mind when announcing him as part of the program back in February. Although the situation could create nerves in some drivers, Crawford seems to be thriving in it.
“It has been good,” he said. “Some maybe think there is pressure, but it gives confidence in some sort of way knowing someone like Dr. Marko sees a potential F1 driver in you. He tells me what he wants me to improve. He wants for me what I want for myself, so I always want his opinion. The actual race training part is the job of the team we race with, in this case VAR. They do the real track work with us.”
Obviously, being under the Red Bull umbrella has its perks, and it goes well beyond just sponsorship.
“The biggest advantage to racing with Red Bull is that you know your target is an F1 seat,” Crawford added. “Dr. Marko tells you the goals to meet and you know in the end he controls four big seats. If you meet the targets along the way, you know where you might end up some day.”
However, one of the biggest challenges for any driver is trying to out-duel fellow academy drivers to rise through the ranks. In the case for Crawford, the difficulty is practically doubled because one of them also happens to be his teammate at VAR in Jonny Edgar. Additionally, the 16-year-old Brit sits atop the ADAC F4 championship, just 28 points ahead of Crawford (240-212).
“I have known Jonny since I was nine and we even raced on the same cadet karting team in the States,” he said. “Jonny and I sim together at VAR and we practice making moves on each other. It is harder against your own teammate because he knows your strengths and weaknesses, and can exploit them more. We are dividing up the points at the top in the German championship.”
While there is still unfinished business remaining this year, the run of success thus far was enough to warrant a recent – and upcoming – Formula 3 test.
“I tested FIA F3 in Barcelona at the official test and I am testing in Jerez at the official test next week,” Crawford said. “Beyond that it is not my place to say any more than that. Considering I had never been in anything but a F4 or USF2000 car before, I think I did a good job in the FIA F3 car.”
I am having a blast for the first time ever on this track in Barcelona and also new in anything other than a USF2000 or F4 car. But we are here for business as well and I am learning a lot with @HitechGP. Thanks again to @redbull for this opportunity today and tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/f6bSZi4obM
— jakcrawfordracing (@jakcrawfordrac1) October 5, 2020
The initial test outing in Barcelona was promising as Crawford ended the day seventh out of 29 drivers in the final session, which was prematurely ended by a late red flag.
It’s a significant step up as the Dallara F3 chassis has a higher amount of downforce and stronger braking ability than an F4 car. Additionally, the F3 car is equipped with a 3.4 liter V6 power unit that produces 380 horsepower (compared to an estimated 160 in ADAC F4).
While progressing up the ladder is the goal, Crawford will continue to take the process in stride.
“For me, I just need to take it one year at a time and really focus on whatever car I’m driving and improve the whole season,” he said. “Obviously, next year if I do get the chance to advance into FIA F3 then I will have to learn new things. The earlier you are on the pace at the beginning of the season the more the others are catching up while you are still improving and staying ahead. So, for me the earlier I learn how to apply the right driving skills necessary the more I can improve in the little details which ultimately put you at the top. It is also down to the team I’d say pushing and motivating you, and also that they are teaching you the right things correctly.”