Conducted and Written by Tom Evans
Alongside series such as Super Formula, the FIA Formula 2 championship is renowned among feeder series fans as one of the toughest in the world, especially for rookies with a distinct lack of track time or experience in the Dallara F2 package. However, jumping into the championship mid-way through the season with less than a week's notice, and torrential rain on track is a completely different hill to climb. And yet this is exactly the challenge Josh Mason had to tackle as he visited Spa Francorchamps with PHM Racing for the tenth round of the 2023 season.
Divebomb caught up with Mason after Formula 2 visited Monza earlier this month for a chat on his hectic year so far, as well as how his racing career has unfolded up towards 2023.
A Late Start
The competitiveness of motorsport has only been getting more extreme in recent years, so it’s not unusual to find drivers who’ve been racing since before they were six or seven years old. Starting later than others poses some significant disadvantages, exactly something Mason came across in his early years of racing. “To start at 14 definitely had its challenges,” said Josh on the topic.
“My story of getting into racing is very different to a lot of people. When I was around 12 or 13 I had a medical issue, and at that time of my life I wanted to be a footballer. So due to my medical infringement at that time I took up sim racing, I did it with my dad actually. We went to this place called Let’s Race in Horley, and people were saying, you know, this kid is very good, has he done any karting?” The answer was no, but Mason soon entered his first karting event at Whilton Mill in the UK at 14 years old, starting his racing journey. “I think if you believe in yourself and, I think you've got some capability of doing it then it doesn’t matter what age you start.”
Just 18 months after his first karting event Mason’s first car racing weekend was on the horizon, in the form of British F3 with Lanan Motorsport. “Yeah so I jumped into British F3 after only 18 months of karting. The general consensus in the paddock was that either this guy has got a lot of money and is this a hobby for him, or he’s just completely crazy.”
“But the first year was really tough,” Mason commented. “Me, my team and my family were very much, you know, Josh, take it step by step and just keep looking forward. Obviously it's hard telling a 15 year old that,'' said Mason with a smile. “I would want to go out there and win every single race even though I didn't have the experience like everyone else. And when it obviously didn't happen, younger Josh Mason would get very upset about it as any teenager would be!”
New Horizons: Ice cream and race wins.
At the end of 2020 the change from British F3 to the Euroformula Open Championship was taken, a pivotal move in his career to date. “The whole experience and the whole mindset was completely different” said Mason on the transition. “You hear stories how the Dallara F320 is probably one of the best single seater junior race cars out there, it’s just so grippy. And going to these famous European tracks with such an amazing car was such a privilege.” Mason finished 2021 in 9th overall, however would best this in 2022 where he finished 5th. “In all honesty I’d say that mentally 2022 was actually much harder than 2021.”
“I was with Cryptotower that year, with 5 other cars in the team (Crypto Tower/Motopark). So if you qualify P4, on paper that's really good. Second row, not bad. But when you look at it it's actually just that you’re probably the fourth quickest in the team. So I had that whole mental battle for that year, but after my first race win at Hungary everything was up from there.”
“My engineer was actually ill that weekend, he had covid so I was panicking knowing that it was going to be a hard few days! Alex Garcia’s engineer Kai stepped in to help me that weekend, and on the Saturday evening when I was freaking out late in the evening he told me to relax and have an ice cream. And the next day I won race two by over seven seconds!”
A shock announcement and facing criticism.
“I actually dropped my phone immediately.” That was Josh’s reaction to the news that he would be racing Formula 2 for the first time at Spa earlier this year. The massively unexpected announcement came last minute, just inside the race week itself.
“I was in Germany at the time. And I get a phone call from my dad at like 11 pm. And he said to me, Look Josh, something just came through and I think you'll be interested. When he said that I'd be racing F2 that weekend I was absolutely shocked, I didn't sleep that entire night. The next couple of days were mental, I had to get all my stuff and upgrade my licence in such a short period of time.”
“Everything was thrown at me so fast. Thursday was the first time I’d seen the car up close, I felt like a schoolboy at times. I remember the team planting a massive book in front of me and telling me this was everything I had to learn before Free Practice on Friday.”
The pressure and scrutiny of racing such a prestigious series in front of thousands was yet another challenge for Mason to face on his debut weekend, and with so little track time it was bound to be a tough weekend on paper. “For me, the criticism didn’t really faze me at all. At the end of the day as an athlete that’s part of the job, you’re never able to please everyone.”
“Two people I’ve got to give credit to are Fred (Lubin) and Christian (Mansell). Both of them said to me before Friday whether online or in person to get myself off instagram for the whole weekend. People will always have their opinions on you, and I knew some would just presume oh this kid is just throwing money around and has a ridiculous budget. But if I had the money I’d have been racing full time this year, so if you look at it that way it’s slightly different. But yeah that whole weekend I was just focused on doing the best I possibly could.”
In the feature race at Spa Mason climbed eight places in treacherous conditions to record a P14 finish, ahead of two other cars on track. After having confirmed his race seat for Zandvoort after the summer break, and later the rest of the season. “Zandvoort was another tough one. I’d never driven there before so I only had that 45 minute practice session, which isn’t a lot of time but I think I adapted well. The feature race was the longest race I’d ever done (40 laps), and I actually really enjoyed it. The pace overall was actually really good.”
“Zandvoort to Monza was an easier transition” said Mason when questioned on the latest round. “At that point I know the car better, and I know the track really well, it’s one I enjoy as I’m quite strong around there. Having Roy as a teammate was super helpful, he’s always been super open to any questions I had. His experience in the championship and the car means he just knows how things are done. The biggest downside of the Monza weekend was the qualifying, as that was just a complete mess!” The rest of the weekend saw Mason finish P12 in the feature race, just a couple of positions from PHM Racing’s first points.
Looking to Yas Marina and beyond
“Heading to Yas Marina in November is going to be the same as before, another new track to learn. The fact that I'm more comfortable with the team and more comfortable with the car means I'm looking forward to going there.”
Looking ahead to 2024, on paper Mason’s future looks hard to predict. Here's what he had to say when asked if he has any plans in place. “The goal is to do Formula 2 next year. But until you put pen to paper you never know, at the end of the day the sport is all money based. We’re currently in the stage of finding sponsors and budget for next season, working super hard with that. So hopefully you’ll see me on the grid for 2024 full time.