Written By Juan Arroyo, Edited by Ishani Aziz
This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.
It’s been nearly seven years since a Venezuelan driver last featured in Formula 1. Pastor Maldonado made headlines in 2011 as the first from his country to feature in the championship since Johnny Cecotto in 1984. As polarising as his racecraft was, you couldn’t deny his speed. Maldonado did his country proud, but Venezuela has had virtually no presence in the F1 junior ranks following his retirement.
Alessandro Famularo is, thus, a refreshing sight for the nation of just under 29 million. Hailing from Maturín in the country’s northeastern region, Famularo was introduced to karts at a young age along with his brother, Anthony.
“I had just turned four when my dad gifted me a kart. It was practically a game for us to play initially. By the time I was five I had many laps under my belt and I fell in love with it. My dad loves it, my family in general loves it. I have a twin brother and we started together, so they put me in a national championship.”
Like many young drivers in Formula 3, his ultimate goal is to reach the pinnacle of motorsport; Formula 1. But when asked who he is beyond his professional ambitions he humbly replies:
“Alessandro is very passionate about this sport,” he says in an easygoing tone. “He’s a normal guy like anybody else. He’s someone who likes to learn and listen. I always want to innovate and improve, which is the most important thing in the sport.”
“I’m just a normal person that’s open to all the opportunities available.”
The Venezuelan ran in karts for eight years, competing in the United States and Europe before making the jump to Formula 4 with BHAITECH in 2018. As he explains, the move comes with the challenge of learning a completely new machine:
“You’re used to driving a very light car — karts don’t weigh anything. You’re going much faster, you’ve got less time to think. When you jump into a Formula, you have to learn the steps of braking, waiting, turning, and accelerating [again] so it’s hard in the beginning. The faster turns become harder because you’re not as confident”
“I started slowly adapting but I was very raw. I did four days of testing and then I did my first race. We didn’t know what we were doing, we were just adapting while the majority had 30-40 days of experience.”
Formula 4 machinery yields worlds more downforce than a go-kart, which in turn means more G-forces over a driver's body. In an interview with Desde La Chicana, Famularo mentions spending three hours each in simulators and gyms every day to adjust to the physicality of these new cars.
On the mental side, he notes being separated from his family for 6-7 months every year. With so much of his time dedicated to racing and travel, it prompts me to ask how he’s able to balance his education with motorsport.
“It’s very complicated because I’m studying in university right now. In fact, I just got back,” he chuckled. “It’s not so easy. I’m not used to being dedicated to studying like someone in school. I’ve got good grades, but time management is really difficult and it’s why I think many drivers don’t finish their studies.”
In terms of relationships on the grid, he says it’s strictly business between him and his competitors:
“We’re all fighting for the same thing. If I had spent the entire year in a championship and I was in competition with another driver, then I’d tell you there’s a rivalry. If you look at Formula 1, your rivalry is with your teammate in most cases. I get along well with most of the other [drivers], I don’t know all of them.”
“I think Checo was asked about that yesterday. ‘Do you have any friends in Formula 1?’ I don’t have friends but I share a lot with them and there’s mutual respect.”
Something that stands out to me — and any other person who looks at his resume — is his gap year. It’s very unusual for drivers in feeder series to disappear from competition. Every second of track time counts in the quest for a Formula 1 seat. Missing a few weeks isn’t unheard of, but fifteen months is a nightmare scenario for anyone vying for a drive at the very top.
“Théo [Pourchaire] is doing practice runs in F1. I did F4 with Theo, same category, one against the other. Many drivers advanced but, for reasons, I had to stop — I lost time.”
Though he doesn’t mention it explicitly, I suspect it was down to funding, an issue that prevents many careers in motorsport from taking off.
“Watching those that raced with you, regardless of whether they were ahead or behind, climbing up the ranks while you can’t, it’s difficult,” he says, alluding to the emotional toll of his hiatus.
A year in karting at the highest level will set you back $200,000 (around £174,000). Higher up the ladder, Formula 2 drivers pay up to $3 million each season. In total, families fork over around $7 million for a chance of making it to the big leagues.
Most families can’t afford these fees, leading to the overwhelming need for sponsorship. The abundance of stickers you see on the cars aren’t there by choice, rather out of necessity.
Sergio Pérez is one of the best examples of sponsorship supporting a career. Wherever the Mexican goes, Mexican brands follow. Telmex, Claro, Telcel, and Inter are only some of the companies that back him financially in the sport.
Unfortunately, getting giants like these to bankroll your career is not as easy as it seems. Pérez’ case is not the norm but the exception. Most drivers settle for the family company as their main sponsor. Those that can’t rely on this backbone to support their career have a tough time getting anywhere in motorsport.
Formula 1 is the common goal for many but without funding, it simply becomes unattainable. Alessandro speaks on his own experience:
“This isn’t something that just happened to me. It happens to thousands of drivers who work for the same dream and go down the same path. Many have to quit [racing] forever.”
When asked how challenging it must be to climb through the ranks as a Latin American, Famularo owes the nature of these challenges to the culture of motorsport in the region.
“What’s sports culture like in Venezuela? It’s not Formula 1. It’s baseball, maybe football — and it’s the same in countries like Mexico and Brazil.”
Venezuela’s motorsport structure has been lacklustre for years, not to mention the current economic climate of the country which makes investing in motorsport unthinkable for most national brands.
It’s a different story on the other side of the pond, however.
“In Europe, people live for this — it’s football and Formula 1. France, England, and Germany kill for it, so I think more doors are open to get a very big sponsor being a driver from any of those countries.”
The 19-year-old was finally able to get back on track at the final round of the Formula 3 championship in Monza, racing for the first time in over a year with Charouz. More than anything, Famularo considers that weekend a learning experience.
“I had to learn again. I hadn’t touched a car in 15 months. The first thing is adapting to the car, which is really fast.”
“I learned a lot because I had another driver who’d been doing this for a whole season as a reference,” he says, referring to Francesco Pizzi, who was with Charouz at every round in 2022. “I observed and I got a few techniques to adapt more quickly. Every car has its tricks, so to say.”
Alessandro is appreciative of the machinery and its capabilities, remarking on his weekend with Charzouz: “It was a really nice experience, that car is crazy,” he adds.
Famularo qualified 26th and finished 23rd in both races at Monza before going on to participate in post-season testing at Jerez. He confirmed next year was “100% Formula 3,” adding that he was in talks with a number of teams and sponsors but there was no deal in place yet.
Maybe the most interesting fact about the Venezuelan’s career — and one that’s been repeatedly mentioned by local media — is that he’s been trained by the one and only; Juan Pablo Montoya.
“Juan Pablo was there for my last 4 races (2018) and that’s when I scored points. I struggled in the rest of them because I was new and I didn’t have a guide. My brother and I were pretty much the only rookies without a coach, so Juan Pablo was the push I needed.”
As for the Colombian’s most valuable lessons, Famularo talks about learning how to be aggressive while having a firm understanding of the car itself.
“It’s obvious, his aggressiveness as a driver. If you’re a fan of his, you know that’s what characterises him.”
Alessandro concluded by kindly providing some words of encouragement for the young karting drivers in his home country:
“There’s a lot of things because karting in Venezuela was big years ago. Right now, it’s in a very low [state]. They’re restarting it, they’re improving it, but it’s complicated. For Venezuela to get up to Europe’s level, it’s impossible.”
“But I’d tell them to keep practising. Getting better and knowing you can measure yourself against others, be it in Venezuela, China or anywhere opens the door for you to race in places like Europe.”
“There’s talent in Venezuela, really, there’s a lot of talent in Venezuela. A lot of people left to compete in the US and Europe about seven or eight years ago and they did well.”
“More than financial support,” adding to finish up, “you need a lot of faith.” With that, our quick chat comes to a close.