While most professional race car drivers start go-karting before their eighth birthday, Raoul Hyman, 23, didn’t enter his first championship until he was twelve. Despite his late start, he quickly found success and Hyman says his parents “always pushed me to pursue my dreams.” They even moved the whole family to the United Kingdom in 2011 because they “knew that that was best for me.” Their support paid off, with Hyman graduating to Formula 4, then Formula 3 and GP3 cars since he left go-karts back in 2013. He finished third in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship, won the F3 Asian Championship, and raced this year for Sauber Junior Team by Charouz Racing in the new FIA Formula 3 Championship. While competing he also earned a law degree from London’s City University Law School with two distinctions and an academic award.
When I first met Hyman in Barcelona-El Prat Airport, he was open and engaging. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Hyman about his journey through motorsport and he was gregarious and passionate.
You started karting when you were 12. What made you start?
I started quite late in relation to everybody else because most racers start around four years old. I haven’t got racers in the family but my family was pretty crazy on Formula 1 and since I was really young I wanted to be in motorsport. When I was 12—I was doing a bit of rental karting before that—the family saw that I was half-decent and they decided why not try out in a proper team. So I started in go-karts in South Africa, and the first year I was Rookie of the Year and I won the National Championship the next year, so we started to take it quite seriously.
What did you do to catch up to the more experienced kids?
I pretty much lived at the track that year and the next year. There was one track I went to 52 times in one year. I’d just be pounding around, learning as much as I could. The first lap was like “Whoa this is pretty quick,” and the lap after that was like, yeah, okay, I’m ready to be pushing it.
How did you develop your racing style?
My dad would stand next to the track, and he’d be like “Okay, brake here” and I’d try and hit that. He would send me out on slicks in the wet and that’s how I learned to drive in the wet. It was pretty insane. The first time I drove in the wet, we pulled up and the rims that we had wouldn’t fit the wet tires, and that’s why I had to go out on the slicks. But we figured out it was helping because I won my first race in the wet, it was like, “Ah let’s keep doing it and see what we can learn.” As it turned out, the first time I took pole in the Nationals was in the wet and that was the first race I won on a national level.
From a young age I tried to brake as late as possible—I barreled into the corner and worked the rest out as I went along—my driving style was always massively aggressive. But in the old F3 cars, it’s all about minimum speeds—you’re trying to keep that minimum speed up so you don’t want to brake too late. In the new F3, you need to brake late, rotate, and then get out of the corner, so your minimum speed isn’t as high but your entry and apex speeds are high. So you learn as you drive different cars what different cars need. If I can say I have a style, it’s not leaning in one direction but being adaptable.
Is there a big jump from the Formula 4 cars up to the Formula 3 cars?
The biggest thing is the downforce. You have to learn quickly that in a high-speed corner, sometimes you don’t know if you can go faster. You go through the corner and you’re like, “Right, that’s on the limit,” but then you go faster the next lap and it’s like “That’s still fine” because the faster you’re going the more downforce you’re getting. In 2015 in Formula 3 it had one ton of downforce, so you could easily drive it upside-down. The braking is very different in F3 because the brakes are so strong. The car just stops, it’s pretty insane. But it’s more the high speed corners where the amount of downforce that it had was pretty unreal. It was really physical in comparison, it’s a lot harder to drive in terms of physical strength.
In F3, do you have access to simulators? Are there other ways that you practice for an upcoming race?
Almost every team in F3 will have one. You can use their sim whenever you want, but you don’t want to do too many laps in a simulator because there are lots of little tricks that you can do on simulator that you can’t do in real life. You’d go in and all three drivers from the team were there, and because there’s nothing changing in the simulator it’s getting really competitive, but then all of a sudden people start falling into little habits that just don’t work.
In a sim the feedback through the steering wheel and the brakes is good but other than that you have nothing, just vision. The guys that can just do it on vision are very good in the simulator, but the guys who need everything else might struggle there—if you have an oversteer moment, you have to be able to see it and feel it in the steering wheel as opposed to feeling it in your hips, so that makes a big difference.
Also, we watch a lot of onboards and we look at a lot of data. During the year in Formula 3 we don’t have access to the onboard cameras so when we’re looking at the data, that’s all we see. You’re looking at all these lines and trying to work out where on the track you are. You get used to it the more you look at it, but when you’re starting out it’s like, “Oh wow, how do I align that with what I’m seeing and feeling on track.” That’s why it pays to be good with data.
How important is your training approach?
You can get caught up in overdoing it a bit, a lot of the drivers now just like training. Guys will spend like four hours in the gym, but you don’t need to, you’d be more than prepared with an hour and a half. I find that in the gym if you compare me to one of those ultra-fit guys they’ll outclass me, but they get out the car and they’re dead and I’m not. Maybe I’m just more relaxed in the car and it takes less energy out of me to drive. With training, you have to know what works for yourself, where you need to be working at different points. For instance, when I did the GP3 test, my cardio was very good but strength-wise I didn’t have it. I got to the end of the last day and on the last run I was like, “If I have a snap of oversteer I’m going to be in trouble here.” That’s the hardest part—I couldn’t catch it because I’d just used all your strength to turn. There’s the snap oversteer and you have to turn the steering wheel back and then still get the car turned, and that’s when the fit guys are actually making a difference in terms of lap time.
What was the key to winning the 2018 F3 Asian Championship?
It’s ironic, I think that was one of the hardest years in terms of how much I had to improve on the driving side. I was with Hitech that year and they did a really good job to help me out. We were talking about driving techniques earlier, and with this car it was so difficult for me to get the time out of it. I was having to think so much about how I needed to be driving it because if you were pushing, instead of braking later, you were trying to see where you’re upshifting to get a better exit speed. It was so counterintuitive—usually when you’re pushing you brake later or you get off the brake earlier, but here you were always trying to set up an exit but not to go overboard by going in too slowly.
What was the biggest challenge in the 2019 F3 season?
I think this was probably the most difficult year I’ve had. I’ve never struggled as I have this year. The level of the championship was very high in terms of teams and every team had a decent driver. There were so many things that you had to get right over a weekend.
We came in as a new team, that was the most difficult thing. It was a new car for everybody. The engineering background was good but we started at a difficult place because we bought the entry off the previous team and got old cars from them. So we had to start on the gearboxes and differentials of that old car and that didn’t help us because we got the cars quite late and the mechanics didn’t have enough time to put them together. We started on the back foot and it was just so hard to catch up. We also had a lot of stuff go wrong. I wasn’t perfect, and we were unlucky at times as well. In Monza, I was at the back of the field in qualifying because a red flag came out when I was on a lap that would have put me in the top ten.
In F3, this year at least, you need everything to work perfectly just to be in the top ten. In the last round for instance, we finally got the car to a point where we were happier in terms of what the balance was and we were in the top ten, just because it was a normal weekend. We didn’t need perfection to get there.
When you’re not racing, how do you spend your time at the F1 race weekends? Do you have time to watch the other races or do you mostly spend time working with the team?
We always watched the F2. That’s a requirement almost, because the cars are more similar to our cars than F1 is, so if you have a chance to watch F2 you can watch the lines, the curb usage—F1 uses a lot more curb than F2 does. We watch F1 when we can, but otherwise we’re doing data and other stuff. We always watch the qualifying and the race, and the practices, if we can, we do for sure.
Did you always plan to pursue education alongside racing?
There was never an option for me to stop, my dad and my mom said that if my grades were good enough I stay racing, if not then yeah…that’s it. [laughs] It wasn’t easy to keep up, because if you can imagine I was spending that much time at the track, I was missing all that time from school. The deal was that I would do all of the work that I would miss on the day beforehand. But when that all starts piling up it becomes pretty challenging. And the higher I got, the more intense it got.
What was it like balancing racing with your coursework?
It was pretty hectic. For my final exams, there’s a one month exam period, but somehow I ended up with my four final exams in the course of 8 days. Wednesday night was the first exam, I got home by 7:30 and then I had to start studying again since the next exam was the next day. I slept at four in the morning, woke up at five and carried on studying until the exam at 10. Then I ran to the train station, got on a plane, and had my first GP3 race weekend in Barcelona. Then I got back and had my other two exams on the Wednesday and Thursday. I had eight days, four exams, and a race weekend. It’s not the easiest thing in the world but it’s what you’ve got to do, otherwise you stop racing.
Do you think your commitment to education impacted your driving—does it take time away or help you maintain a healthy perspective?
I actually think it helps. At times it doesn’t help—that race weekend in Barcelona I was sleeping in between the sessions because I was dead. But if it’s a decent balance, it’s good. I was one of those guys that would sit down and try and do my reading and I couldn’t unless I had a deadline that day. But it became easier and that really helped me in terms of concentration, focus levels, and memory at the track.
That’s another thing with law, the amount of memorizing was insane. For instance, on that Wednesday I’d had to memorize 40 pages of cases and statutes, and then for that Thursday was like 45 pages. So I do think it helps in terms of concentration, discipline, and time management.
Do you plan on pursuing a career in law at any point?
The short answer is no. The reason I did law was not specifically to become a lawyer. The plan is to go into business because having a law degree means that you understand the law and it makes you stand out a bit more than someone who has a business degree. Also I figure I can learn how to run a business by going into a business: you get a job, you start watching, you learn as you go.
You can’t be racing forever, so even if I was to carry on in the industry once I’m done with my career in racing, say if I wanted to open a team, you still need to be able to run a business. It will help to not have to learn it from scratch when I want to do that.