Written by Sasha Macmillen
Argentina has never been a country famed for its racing talent, especially in the modern age. Juan Manuel Fangio, a five-time world champion in the 1950s is the standout, with Carlos Reutemann also winning 12 grands prix. However, we haven't seen a single Argentine since 2001, with Gastón Mazzacane proving little in 21 race starts. However, F3's sprint race winner in Imola, Franco Colapinto gives the South American nation plenty of reason to dream of a return to Formula One.
Colapinto was born in 2003 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and began karting at the age of nine. He won the Argentinian championship in 2016 and 2018, later making the jump into car racing in 2019. First came 11 victories in the F4 Spanish championship of 2019, and a championship won by almost 100 points. The COVID-stricken year of 2020 didn't stop Colapinto, and he finished 3rd in both the Toyota Racing Series and Formula Renault Eurocup, two highly-regarded competitions in the feeder series world.
In both these series he dominated his teammates, securing results that it would seem the team's capabilities didn't account for. In the Toyota Racing Series, notable names included Yuki Tsunoda, now F1 driver, and Liam Lawson, current F2 championship contender. The Argentine's talent shone through in these single-seater series, not to mention his endeavours in endurance racing.
2021 saw Franco Colapinto compete as part of the G-Drive Racing team, that finished 7th in the LMP2 class of the famous Le Mans 24 hours. He was the youngest on a grid of 186 drivers. Akin to this, he also participated in the Asian and European Le Mans series, proving his skill when it comes to endurance racing. He scored three podiums in four races of the Asian Le Mans Series, enough for P3 in the championship, as well as winning at Circuit Paul Ricard in the European edition of the series.
Alongside his LMP2 class racing, Franco also competed in the Formula Regional European Championship, finishing P6 in the championship overall, after picking up two wins and four podiums in total. Once again he thoroughly outperformed his teammates in every sense, with his best teammate only managing a quarter of Colapinto's points.
Colapinto has proved his worth when it comes to his endurance racing capabilities, and at the still tender age of 18, he certainly has the privilege of time to decide his next steps in racing. However, the Argentine's dream is to reach Formula One, and competing in Formula Three is definitely the step you want to take.
He joined the returning Van Amersfoort Racing team for 2022, and his F3 debut saw him take pole position at the Bahrain International Circuit. A difficult sprint race debut was followed by a P3 finish on track in his feature race debut, only for a track limits penalty dropping him down to P5. A disappointing qualifying in Imola with P12 still saw him start on reverse-grid pole, and he duly presented a masterclass in tyre and race management, overtaking Caio Collet on the final lap to take his first victory in Formula Three, in only his third race.
His fourth race, the Imola feature, included a gamble on the wet tyres that saw him shoot up to second from P12 on the grid, but he overshot his grid slot and his race was ruined as a result of the incurring penalties. Turning 19 next month, he's certainly showing the normal mistakes that you would expect, but there's no doubt that the Argentine has natural pace and talent. Two rounds in to this Formula 3 season, he sits P6 in the championship, on 22 points, yet is a mere 14 points off the championship leader, Arthur Leclerc. F3 is as close as ever, with thrilling racing and cars able to follow each other closely serve up great battles.
At the moment, Colapinto is independent, and not affiliated with any driver academy. Whilst he's yet to run into funding issues thus far, and his financial backing unknown, it will be interesting to see whether he's snapped up by an academy in the near future, whilst he's available.
For a country that hasn't hosted a Formula One grand prix since 1998 and has largely been forgotten in the racing world, Franco Colapinto serves as a beacon of hope to Argentine fans, who so desperately wait for a return to the pinnacle of motorsport. Only time will tell if Franco Colapinto really is Argentina's racing gem.