What could have been: The F1 test chance thwarted by logistics

A career that spanned touring cars and sportscars, including a class win at Le Mans, is nothing to be sniffed at for a driver whose budgetary constraints meant plans to move beyond Formula 3 were repeatedly frustrated. But for Warren Hughes there was a Formula 1 opportunity that frustratingly came and went amid circumstances beyond his control.

What could have been: The F1 test chance thwarted by logistics

Not too many drivers go from one-make national racing to getting a call up to test for Williams, but that was the situation facing Warren Hughes in 2000. Unfortunately, his big Formula 1 chance was thwarted by the most mundane of obstacles - a lack of flights.

The British Formula 3 stalwart had planned to step up to the International Formula 3000 championship for 1999 with the Portman-Arrows team, but when that went south, Hughes found himself racing in the MG-F Cup. Sure enough, he won it, and an impressive end-of-year F3 cameo at Thruxton - third with no testing, ahead of champion Marc Hynes - served as a timely reminder of what he could do.

After a successful shootout against Hynes, Hughes was signed by his 1995 F3 teammate and current Red Bull F1 boss Christian Horner to lead Arden’s Italian Formula 3000 assault in 2000. After an encouraging podium on debut at Vallelunga, he began to hit form, dominating at Imola and charging through the pack to win at Monza. He was riding high in the standings, and professionally too - with Jonathan Williams, son of Sir Frank, inviting him to do some straightline testing.

Hughes had already driven an F1 car for the moribund Lotus team in 1994, but this was an altogether more significant opportunity as the team had new manufacturer backing and was on its way back to the front after a spell in the doldrums that coincided with its short-lived Winfield colour-scheme.

“It was the first year of the BMW programme when they had Button and Ralf Schumacher,” says Hughes, who would go on to lead MG’s assault on the Le Mans 24 Hours and the British Touring Car Championship in subsequent seasons.

“They couldn’t do this test, so I did a test at the airfield where they do all the heritage shakedowns now, Keevil in Oxfordshire. I ended up doing some really interesting electronic diff work for them there, it was all top-secret stuff at the time and the test went well.”

Hughes won at Monza, passing Tomas Scheckter, before being handed the trophy by his 1979 world champion father!

Hughes won at Monza, passing Tomas Scheckter, before being handed the trophy by his 1979 world champion father!

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Next on Hughes’ F3000 schedule was Enna, but Williams wanted him for an official test at Valencia - “all the F1 teams were going to be there, it wasn’t just a private test” - the following day. That left him with a dilemma...

“To do the test at Valencia on the Monday morning, I had to be there Sunday night, but obviously I had a race at Enna on the Sunday,” he says. “Bearing in mind this was 2000, getting in and out of Sicily was difficult, there wasn’t a huge amount of flights at that time.

“I put it to Christian, ‘Look I’ve got this chance’ but up to that point we were still very much in with a shout of the championship. I said, ‘Is there any way I can either get out of Enna or miss the race at Enna to go and do this F1 test’ and he said, ‘No chance, you’re not going to miss the race’.

“At the time I didn’t have the connections or the money to get a private flight out of Sicily to get to Valencia, I had no way of getting there on the Sunday evening.”

Hughes was consoled by Williams offering to schedule another test for him, as International F3000 champion-elect Bruno Junqueira filled in for him. But, alas, the moment had passed and another date never materialised.

“That was the last chance I ever got, I never got another chance with Williams after that,” says Hughes, who would end the Italian F3000 season as runner-up to Ricardo Sperafico.

“After it was clear that nothing was going to come after that, I gave up all of the F1 ambitions. I’d thought it was always going to be a long shot, but when you get a call from Williams at that time, I thought, ‘Well maybe it’s not over!’

“A test driver role was very much a thing to have at the time, they were doing quite a lot of mileage and I thought that would be a really good gig, you never know.”

Hughes latterly focused on sportscars and touring cars for MG, and now is part of McLaren GT's roster of coaches

Hughes latterly focused on sportscars and touring cars for MG, and now is part of McLaren GT's roster of coaches

Photo by: Motorsport Images

shares
comments

Related video

Why Aston has taken a James Bond stunt driver under its wing
Previous article

Why Aston has taken a James Bond stunt driver under its wing

Next article

Brawn confident F1 drivers "will go for it" in Sprint events

Brawn confident F1 drivers "will go for it" in Sprint events
Load comments
The line Verstappen finally crossed in F1's first Jeddah race Prime

The line Verstappen finally crossed in F1's first Jeddah race

OPINION: Max Verstappen has made the 2021 Formula 1 championship. He’s taken the fight to the all-conquering Mercedes squad and its dominant champion, produced driving displays few can match. But he’s been on a controversial course too, and finally crossed a particular line in Jeddah

Why thrilling Jeddah F1 circuit needs to be safer Prime

Why thrilling Jeddah F1 circuit needs to be safer

OPINION: Saudi Arabia's new F1 circuit delivered a memorable first event, although not necessarily for all the right reasons. In the wake of the chaotic race, drivers voiced their concerns about the track but small changes could make significant improvements ahead of a return in four months.

The long-term F1 vision causing Haas’s short-term pain Prime

The long-term F1 vision causing Haas’s short-term pain

From ranking as one of the most impressive new teams to join the Formula 1 grid, Haas’s stock has plummeted along with its on-track performances over the past two seasons. Everything now hangs on whether its reforged alliance with Ferrari can deliver a better car – and whether its rookie drivers can set aside their quarrels. Oleg Karpov asks if any of these goals are achievable…

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Driver Ratings

An ill-tempered Saudi Grand Prix made Formula 1 more soap opera than sporting spectacle at times, but there were some strong performances up and down the field on the world championship's first visit to Jeddah

Formula 1
Dec 6, 2021
How the Jeddah F1 race became a one-sitting Netflix drama series Prime

How the Jeddah F1 race became a one-sitting Netflix drama series

The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a race packed full of incident as Formula 1 2021's title contenders repeatedly clashed on track. Lewis Hamilton won out over Max Verstappen to level the scores heading into next weekend's Abu Dhabi finale, as Jeddah turned F1 into a drama series

Formula 1
Dec 6, 2021
The impressive attitude that earned Albon his second F1 chance Prime

The impressive attitude that earned Albon his second F1 chance

Dropped by Red Bull last season, Alexander Albon has fought back into a Formula 1 seat with Williams. ALEX KALINAUCKAS explains what Albon has done to earn the place soon to be vacated by the highly rated George Russell

Formula 1
Dec 5, 2021
The factors that could negate Red Bull's practice gap to Mercedes Prime

The factors that could negate Red Bull's practice gap to Mercedes

Mercedes led the way in practice for Formula 1’s first race in Jeddah, where Red Bull was off the pace on both single-lap and long runs. But, if Max Verstappen can reverse the results on Saturday, factors familiar in motorsport’s main electric single-seater category could be decisive in another close battle with Lewis Hamilton...

Formula 1
Dec 4, 2021
Why Norris doesn’t expect Mr Nice Guy praise for much longer Prime

Why Norris doesn’t expect Mr Nice Guy praise for much longer

Earning praise from rivals has been a welcome sign that Lando Norris is becoming established among Formula 1's elite. But the McLaren driver is confident that his team's upward curve can put him in the mix to contend for titles in the future, when he's hoping the compliments will be replaced by being deemed an equal adversary

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2021