Oh Dear, how close they are in many senses, but how different is the Support Series’ world to that of Formula 1. In the latter, to interview a driver would require to pass a series of filters from press officers, Dircoms and an agenda full of meetings and PR events. Here in F2, I took Santino Ferrucci by surprise during Saturday’s dinner and he was happy to spend all the time I needed in order to go home with an interesting Q&A. However, it’s up to you to judge the result.
How do you rate your F2 race of today, compared to your GP3 career up to date?
In GP3 there were a lot of technical issues going on in the car, and when something happened to our performance we hadn’t time to react actually quick. Today, to get into the hardest junior category, just one step from Formula 1, would be such a difficult test for anybody. But to qualify 10th and then to finish 10th and score points in my first race, having never driven the car before… I’m really happy with that, and it really shows more of my true level. Last year I tested the GP3 car for Trident, but I’d never driven the F2 until yesterday.
How did the opportunity with Trident come about?
We talked after what happened at GP3 in Red Bull Ring, but I had made an agreement with the team to do one more race in GP3 to see if my performance was going to be better or not. At Silverstone we had a massive issue at qualifying and then a technical issue in the race. All was sorted for the second race on Sunday, but by then it was too late in the weekend.
What have your colleagues at DAMS told you this weekend? Have you chatted with them?
I’m still a good friend to everyone at DAMS. For me DAMS has been one of the best teams to be at as a Young driver. However, I’ve been struggling with the GP3 program there, not quite sure why, but then I’m still good friend to everyone there and they back me.
Today your substitute at the DAMS team in GP3, Vaxiviere, has also done very well.
Yeah, I think he has been in single-seaters for a while. GP3 is an incredibly competitive car, and to get into a car with that tyre for the first time… would be such a difficult test for anybody. It’s a big advantage to know the tyre; knowing the tyre is something that helps me in F2. DAMS has developed me as a driver and I have to be grateful to them because without them, right now I would not be able to jump into F2 and drive it at all.
Who do you think is the most difficult rival? One of your former team-mates at DAMS or your new one at Trident?
As far as team-mates go, we are not really rivals, because you are doing your best you can to help each other to get the car right. At Trident, I’ve known Nabil Jeffri for a while now, but I don’t really consider him to be a rival, but someone with whom I can share my thoughts.
Why did you choose to do European single seaters?
When I was doing karting, as a Young kid I wanted to reach Formula 1, and I was told by a good friend of mine that the only way I had to make it, was to move to go-karting in Europe. The level is very high and very different to America, where it’s more relaxed. A lot of karters have gone to European formulas, while in America you only have IndyCar. So I went for European single seaters instead of staying in America, because my goal was to make it into F1.
In the future, do you see yourself racing in America?
No, I don’t see myself in the future racing IndyCars… maybe Indy 500! I’d rather go to race NASCAR if anything. It’s funny to say, but that’s what I see more probable. If I went back to America, I would prepare to do NASCAR.
Wouldn’t you be afraid of the adaptation work it would require?
Not really. It’s very different for sure, but I have learned so much in Europe about adapting and being able to switch to different cars, carbon brakes, steel brakes, tyres, downforce levels… Obviously I would not be competitive just going in, let’s say through the first half of the season. But I’d expect to be able to do well. I have my years of experience in competition, and take Montoya for example: he came from F1 to NASCAR and now he’s at IndyCar. There you have an example of a person that can just get into anything and drive it.
Have you ever raced at home?
I did one race last year with a Lamborghini Super Trofeo at the Circuit of the Americas, in August. It had something to do with my sponsor, Truphone. I qualified on pole and won both of the races by quite a margin, which was nice. But this is the only proper experience I’ve had.
I have been both at Glen and Laguna Seca, actually, and both tracks are incredible! Watkins Glen is one of my favourite tracks in America. It’s very different as far as layout goes and very old school; there’s not much run-off, especially at the back zone of the track. You realize that you are in that famous track because when you’re driving there, it’s really good fun. They really test you as a driver.
Tomorrow Chase Carey asks you for advice about GP3 and F2. What would you recommend him?
I really have to say that he’s doing a great job, because he’s doing much for the competitors and for the fans. There’s a lot of improved aspects. For example, I can have more of my family and friends coming at every event. I feel that there are more fans in the paddock, even in the F1 paddock. It’s not as hard as it was a year ago or even the year before that. But the structure is turning to be more like in MotoGP, because Moto3 and Moto2 are proper stepping stones which support the main category. Right now, here it’s only F1. We’re not a whole family yet. F2 is becoming part of the F1 family slowly, but with GP3 obviously there are still a lot of steps to be made.
Should we understand that you would support a merge between F3 and GP3?
It’s just a tricky thing. Everyone is fighting for his career, for the last drive. It’s difficult to find sponsors in those categories because of the TV time that you get, and the demands that can be posed in terms of sponsorship. So a lot of drivers on the grid, and specially me, I have been fortunate to be racing with sponsors that have been supporting me since my karting years.
Next week you test the Haas VF-17. How have you been training for a high downforce ’17 car?
For me, the GP3 and the F2 car are physically harder, for arms, shoulders and the likes. The F1 car is much harder in the neck and in the mind. You have to understand that the F1 car is doing 15 seconds a lap faster, and there’s a lot more going on at the steering wheel, with brakes and all the systems. You have a team of 20 engineers behind you, telling you what to do, what changes to make. In an F1 car you are constantly doing things on the steering wheel while you have to drive the car on the limit. So what I do is a lot of neck, cardio and mental training. All that and preparing on the simulator. I did a whole day at Ferrari to learn the systems and the car, getting used to it.
To be honest, Santino owed us some minutes since Monza last year, where we tried to arrange a bit of his time following the F1 journalistic approach to drivers and teams. But then we understood that this is F2: take him now or let him go. However, my appreciation for Mr. Ferrucci grew exponentially during his two days of testing with the Haas F1 team last week. In a mid-day press conference, he admitted to have experienced the most difficult weekend of his life with the sudden change to a new category; and despite that, I could rob him as many minutes as I needed to compose a half-acceptable piece! But that day the biggest point for him was to have shared the same bit of track with a four-time world champion like Sebastian Vettel… and having overtaken him, regardless that it was a test session. There you have a passionate professional.