Warren Hughes - A Name to Remember

 by Mark Cipolloni
August 7, 2000

"The evidence of a very special talent is overwhelming when you look beneath the skewed results given by a history of second rate F3 machinery. He's devastatingly fast, has an audacious ability to overtake, is great technically and bright. He'd be an instant sensation in a decent car in any category in the world, F1 or Champ Cars included."
DAVID TREMAYNE : Motor Sport Journalist - January 2000

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Warren Hughes Fact File

Name: Warren Hughes

Date of Birth: January 19th, 1969

Age: 31

Home Town: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England

Marital Status: Single 

Career Highlights

Beat F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve as a team-mate every time they raced.

Was 0.6s a lap quicker in the same F3 car as Ferrari F1 driver Rubens Barrichello - Twice.
Beat McLaren F1 driver David Coulthard in his very first race.
In a one-off guest event, blew-off ex-F1 star Jan Magnussen in a F3 season when the Dane won virtually every race.
Won as many races in the same car as Champ Car Champion Juan Pablo Montoya
Won more national FF1600 races in one season than any driver since triple World Champion Ayrton Senna
Been rated as the 'best I've ever worked with' by race engineer who worked with triple World Champion Nelson Piquet.
In his last F3 race, comprehensively blew away now F1 sensation Jenson Button
In F3 he raced and beat the likes of current CART Champ Car drivers Helio Castroneves, Gaulter Salles and Cristiano da Matta.
Career Summary

1987 Jim Russell Racing Drivers School - beat long-standing school lap record at Snetterton at the end of his one-week course. School managing director John Kirkpatrick raves about him as one of the very best he's seen.

1989 Made public race debut in Junior FF1600 with new team Sonic Racing half way through a year being dominated by David Coulthard and Kelvin Burt. Finished 3rd on debut, beating Coulthard. Set series of fastest laps and podiums in remainder of year.

1990 double Junior FF1600 Champion with JLR. 19 wins from 26 races. Statistically most dominant season in FF1600 since Ayrton Senna in 1981.

1991 Won from pole on debut in Formula Vauxhall Lotus, with team new to formula. Led championship until penultimate round when driveshaft failure off the line gave the win to Burt (in his second season). Tally of wins included devastating half-lap victory over Burt in the wet at Thruxton.

1992 F3 debut season. Wrong engine (Swindon Vauxhall) ruined season. Put a Mugen in for British GP support. Won from 9th on the grid in the rain. Was always substantially quicker than team-mate Pedro Diniz (then in his second season of F3) even though Pedro had a Mugen. Would sometimes try Pedro's Mugen car in FOTA tests and would often be quickest - ahead of Gil de Ferran , etc.  Tested alongside Rubens Barrichello at both Snetterton and Donington, in preparation for Rubens' Macau F3 race with his team. Warren was 0.6s quicker at both venues. They didn't race together though.

1993 F3 Arnold Racing. Brand-new team, as well as new to F3. Broke Thruxton lap record on his debut with the team's Dallara-Fiat. Also set stunning pole position time for the British GP support race and was leading before being punted aside by Oliver Gavin. Aside from team's inexperience, was thwarted by Fiat engine not having a lean qualifying facility. Would invariably top the FOTA tests where that wasn't a factor.  Completely overshadowed Jacques Villeneuve as team-mate in F3 Fuji and Macau event. At Fuji both qualified the new Ralt a long way down. But while Jacques could make little progress in the race and started hitting other cars in frustration, Warren came scything through the field and took a great 5th place, with race lap 0.7s quicker than Villeneuve's. At Macau Jacques went off just after Warren had passed him.

1994 Started with the disastrous Ralt F3 car before project was cancelled. Even so, he'd got the thing up to 3rd (from 16th on the grid!) at Brands Hatch and only dropped to 6th when trying to take 2nd from Jan Magnussen, before engine expired.  Made a one-off appearance for P1 Team Lotus in F3 at Thruxton and against a Paul Stewart / Jan Magnussen combination that was supposedly unbeatable, he was on a comfortable pole, without testing at the circuit. Was taken out at the first corner. After this and subsequent blistering testing pace for the team, boss Roly Vincini reckoned him "the best I've ever worked with" (including Nelson Piquet).  Finished the year in Japanese F3. Took a previously struggling team with new engine to front runner status in five/six races. Was fastest car/driver combination by the end of the year.

1995 Back to British F3, with Mitsubishi engines and Alan Docking. Steadily developed the combination into a winner. Won two of the last three races dominantly. Juan Pablo Montoya took this project over the following season and looked far less convincing with it.

1996 Touring Cars with Ford. Stand-in after losing out on permanent seat in a driver shoot-out, in bizarre decision, to Steve Robertson. Big accident in Germany and an uncompetitive car tended to overshadow positive things like despite no saloon or front wheel drive experience instantly out qualified team-mate, highly rated touring car star Roland Asch. Was also around 1.5s quicker than the guy he replaced - Thierry Boutsen.  Dick Bennetts raved about his technical feedback.

1997 Took another brand-new team, Portman Racing, which had been struggling down the back with Darren Turner, to F3 credibility. Qualified on second row at Spa on first visit there.

1998 Produced probably the best two drives seen in the championship all year - British GP support, finished 2nd from 10th starting position and closing on leader when race stopped early. And final at Silverstone - clawed from 19th to 4th plus fastest lap after first lap incident. Renault engine used substantially down on power to dominant Mugen in second half of the year.

1999 Deprived of much awaited season in F3000 after team failed to honor contract. Instead competed in MGF Cup, totally dominating this one-make sportscar championship and recording highest number of wins and championship points seen in the category. Finished 1999 season with one-off British F3 outing with Alan Docking Racing. Finished 3rd with no testing or experience in the car, overtaking eventual champion Marc Hynes and new Williams F1 driver Jenson Button along the way.

To be honest, I had never heard of him before.  When a reader sent me a note about how good he heard this certain driver was it got my curiosity up.  I decided to do a little research, and the further I dug the more impressed I became of the driver who 1979 F1 Grand Prix Champion Jody Scheckter recently called "a somebody who is a nobody."  That nobody is Warren Hughes, and he has his sights set on Champ Cars.

There are a lot of very good race car drivers who, for one reason or another, never get the recognition they deserve or the chance at a good ride in the big leagues.  More times than not that reason is money, or the lack thereof.  

Warren Hughes is 31 years old.  Already considered too old to start a F1 career.  Deep in his heart he knows he's not too old, but realistically he recognizes the chances of landing a Champ Car ride are far better.

Whether he gets that chance or not remains to be seen, but it won't be because he doesn't have the talent.

His record speaks for itself
As you can tell by reading the summary of Warren's career at the right, you will see he has had the uncanny bad luck of usually picking the wrong team at the wrong time.  However, what must not go unrecognized is the fact he has always managed to beat his teammate in equal cars, many of them racing stars today, sometimes rather convincingly.

Hughes has raced F3 and other lower class series much of his career, but has beaten every teammate he has ever had, and that includes current F1 drivers Jacques Villeneuve, Rubens Barrichello and Pedro Diniz.  This year, for the first time in his career, he has decided to step up the racing ladder to see if he can make it to the top.

He secured a seat in this years Italian Formula 3000 Championship with the British based team Arden Racing. In March Hughes was invited to Italy prior to the season by the team to drive in a head to head shoot out for the seat with the 1999 Formula 3 Champion Marc Hynes. Although he had never driven a Formula 3000 car before or on either of the two Italian circuits, Hughes approached the test high with confidence after comprehensively beating Hynes in the last round of the 1999 British Formula 3 Championship at Thruxton.   At the Ferrari test track Mugello, Hughes proved to be quicker than Hynes by nearly half a second over the two day test and then by almost a second at the next test at Vallelunga three days later.  In fact Hughes set the fastest time of all the drivers testing at the circuit that day which included all the leading teams competing in the championship. 

Arden Racing boss and former Formula 3 racer, Christian Horner said " Both drivers were very impressive but Warren proved to be ultimately quicker than Marc and we are looking forward to running Warren, we think he'll do a great job in Italy and give us a good shot at the championship" (Editor's note: he currently leads the championship). 

Warren is partnered in the Italian series by young Russian driver Viktor Maslov, who brings with him sponsorship for the team from the Russian oil company Lukoil. " For once I find myself in a situation where what mattered was my driving ability and not the amount of money I could bring to the team" said Warren.

Two wins and counting
So far he has two wins and leads in the championship.  Hughes dominated Round 3 of the Italian F3000 Championship at Imola by claiming pole position and dominating the race to take his first victory in the championship. Racing at the Imola circuit in northern Italy, home of the San Marino Grand Prix for the first time, Hughes immediately made his mark on the weekend by setting the fastest qualifying times in both sessions on Saturday. " We spent some time at Snetterton in Norfolk before coming here " said Warren after qualifying, " and we improved the car a lot, it made a big difference here today ". 

Having never raced the circuit before could have been a huge disadvantage to Hughes but as well as preparing the car at Snetterton Warren studied video recordings from Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari from the recent Grand Prix and footage of the FIA F3000 race. "To be quick around Imola you have to attack the circuit and especially the curbs on the corners" said Warren, " and studying the videos prepared me mentally for what I had to do to be quick. "

A perfect getaway from the green lights gave Hughes an immediate advantage over his rivals that he was never to relinquish over the 21 laps. " Once I'd made a good start to get a clear run to the first corner I knew that I only had to keep focused and not make a mistake and no one could get near to me" said Warren afterwards. At the end of the 21 laps Warren had demolished the opposition and finished over ten seconds ahead of the second placed car, such a dominant performance has not been seen in the championship to date. To underline his supremacy over the weekend Warren also set the fastest lap of the race three tenths of a second quicker than anyone else, but that does not tell the full story of his speed as eleven of the twenty one laps he completed during the race were faster than any other driver could manage all weekend!

Warren Hughes drove the race of his life to win the fourth round of the Italian F3000 Championship at Monza and take the lead in the championship for the first time this season. 

Starting from the fourth row of the grid in eighth place Hughes was to have his work cut out in his Arden Team Russia car over the 18 laps of the Autodromo di Monza, the historic home of the Italian Grand Prix and one of the worlds theatre's of motorsport where the worlds great drivers have become legends. 

At the start it was immediately obvious that Warren's speed would soon take him to the front of the field as by the end of lap one he was already in fourth place. 

On lap four he slipped ahead of Gianluca Calcagni into third and set about closing the gap to the leading pair. By lap eight the gap had gone and Warren made his move past Rodrigo Sperifico under braking into the Ascari chicane. Ahead of him now lay only Tomas Scheckter, son of the 1979 Formula 1 World Champion Jody Scheckter, in his first race. The pace of Hughes in his Arden Team Russia Lola was unrelenting and Scheckter was helpless to fend of his attack and a lap later through the Lesmo corners as Hughes swept into the lead, astounding the Italian race fans around the circuit. 

Now in front Hughes controlled the race but never let the pace slacken as he confirmed his dominance by setting the fastest lap of the race almost half a second quicker than anyone else. Warren crossed the finish line three seconds ahead of Scheckter to the obvious delight of his Arden Team Russia mechanics and engineers and a small group of English fans in the grandstand opposite. 

The Italian crowd had been treated to a masterly display of motor racing and applause of appreciation sounded out around the circuit as he took his victory lap. ' To win here at Monza is really special and to win two races in succession at two such historic circuits as Imola and Monza is fantastic' said an elated Hughes afterwards, ' Everyone in the team has done a fantastic job this weekend, I'm absolutely delighted'. 

Jody Scheckter eats his words
The rather funny thing about Warren's win at Monza, was not so much about the racing as it was about what was said by Jody Scheckter before the race.  Jody had secured a one-off F3000 drive for his son Tomas Scheckter who has been tearing up the British F3 championship.  A couple of months prior, when Jody heard that Marc Hynes would have to compete head-to-head for a F3000 ride against Warren Hughes, Scheckter stated "it's a pity Marc Hynes, the British F3 champion, has to take part in a shoot-out against somebody who is a nobody."   Those words must have stung Hughes who then went out an easily beat Hynes for the ride.

In the Monza race Tomas Scheckter had done well, qualifying 4th ahead of Hughes who would start 8th.  When the green dropped Hughes proceeded to move up, pass Scheckter for the lead, and set fastest race lap in securing the win.  After the win he got up on the podium and who was handing out trophies?  None other than Jody Scheckter.  As Jody handed Warren his trophy, he said with a wry smile, " I guess I ought to be a bit more careful about what I say in the future."

We think if Warren Hughes gets a chance at driving a Champ Car, people will have a lot of things to say about him in the future.

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