Conducted by Fatima Ahmed, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Matias Zagazeta is an eighteen-year-old driver born and raised in Limu, Peru. Throughout the interview, Matias spoke candidly about his journey from karts to single-seaters, leaving home at a young age during the Covid pandemic and his mental health.
Fatima: What made you fall in love with motorsport? How did your parents help finance your career?
Matias: Ever since I can remember I have always loved racing, the main thing that got me into racing was the first Cars Movie, and I have a slight memory or images that pop up in my head of how excited I was watching the racing in the movie, I was only 3 years old and I think that was the main factor that ignited this passion for racing, later I would find NASCAR races on the TV and it would remind me of the movie and also I found out about Formula 1 on the TV, I would be 5 years old with boxes and boxes full of small cars! I would play with them every day for years but never thought about racing myself but this was until I jumped in a rental kart for the first time ever and I fell in love, I started to go every time I could and this went on for maybe a year or two until I was introduced to the real professional karts where I fell in love with the sport and competing, I was 7 years old at the time but I had to wait until I was 8 to participate in my first ever race. It has been a tough journey, not only for me but for my parents too.
As we know motorsport is very expensive but I am extremely lucky to have a family that supports me no matter what, I feel like my parents have grown together with me and my career, as I feel every time I have made a step up in my career my parents put even more effort to help fund my racing and that has also helped them in many ways so we all keep growing together, we know the steps in the future will become bigger and I’m sure we will find someone with the same ambition as us that would want to join our race like WIN Internet and SUMTEC (my two current sponsors) that have helped me a lot through this first year working together with SUMTEC and second year with WIN who supported me from my second year in F4 and had a lot of success together. I will keep on doing my best and I am sure we will find ways to achieve our goals and dreams of one day getting to the top categories of motorsport.
Fatima: By the time you were twelve, you were already a three-time national karting champion. Being that successful at an early age can cause a child to become egotistical or create a desire for perfection. How did you manage to keep yourself level-headed and not allow karting to consume your life?
Matias: I started racing when I was 8 years old on a local track called Santa Rosa where I had the first taste of the MINI X30 engine and in a GOLD chassis. It was incredible and I was in love with racing, I would participate in the National and Regional championships in Peru, and I remember perfectly how I would pray the nights before my races so I would get on the podium and just after a couple of races I got my first podium during a summer race (January, February in Peru) so starting my first full year in racing as I had started in October 2011. I went on to win the National championship four times in the next years in two different categories, MINI and Junior. I think I have always been very humble since I was very young and I would always thank the people that I worked with and that supported me because my mentality was that without them it was impossible for me to achieve those results so I stuck with that mentality ever since I got my first podium and I loved it because it made other happy to be around me. I think this or racing in general has made me the person I am today and instead of consuming my life it has made me enjoy it a lot more!
Fatima: Last year you finished runner-up in the F4 British Championship, taking four victories. However, this year (through no fault of your own) you have found yourself a lot further down during the Formula Regional Championship. How do you cope with going from winning races to struggling to get points in the span of a year? What psychological tactics do you put in place?
Matias: It is always difficult in this sport, of course, there are many factors behind it but it is always important to stay mentally stable to try and achieve the best results possible. Going from winning races and finishing constantly for podiums to then struggling to get points is extremely tough mentally as you start questioning and wondering what is wrong. If you should continue or not, what are the causes, consequences and many other thoughts that eventually consume you through a season, we have worked very hard in past seasons to make sure this doesn’t happen and I approach every weekend with a positive mentality and strong work ethic as the beauty of this sport is that every race weekend is a brand new opportunity and you never know what can happen until the checkered flag drops so you have to keep going and push through all the negativity and use it as fuel for you and perform at your best every time.
Fatima: Other than the speed of the car, what are some of the other differences between a Formula 4 car vs a Formula Regional car? Is it a big change getting used to the differences in the car?
Matias: It was a big change going from the old British F4 car which was a mygale with a ford eco boost engine to the Formula Regional, now the modern F4 cars are different to the F4 car I used to drive as they have changed everything in the car including the tyres as now they use Pirelli too, but going from the Hankook to the Pirelli was another adapting process added to adapting to the car and every single track was new as well. Testing was very difficult as I only had half a day of experience in the Formula regional car on a track back in the UK before going on an intense programme in November testing at different new tracks for different teams and with that also different philosophies so I struggled a lot to adapt during that month, I had a small break and then one final test in December with G4 racing which was very positive so we decided to join them for this 2022 season. It has been a challenge as still every race weekend is learning a new track like in spa but it helps a lot to have some testing the day before the official practices, now I feel fully confident with the car but we keep on learning to make sure that 2023 is a big surprise year just as we did from 2020 to 2021.
Fatima: Other than Motorsport, what other sports are you interested in and how do you spend your time off?
Matias: I love football! When I was 6 years old I was playing back home all the time before I found out about karting and that topped it all. It was a good decision as I have to admit I am not the best at football! I still love watching it, especially when I lived in the UK as everything is around football so I support Arsenal thanks to my manager that got me into the Premier League! I also enjoy tennis as my dad is a huge fan and he enjoys tennis a lot, so also when I was small I would watch the classic matches together with my dad. I still like to play football or play tennis every now and then
Fatima: You’ve travelled around the world. Which country do you enjoy visiting the most and why?
Matias: I have to say I love Europe in general, of course ever since karting there is a lot of travelling but it is mostly track to the restaurant to the hotel and you don't have time to visit, but I’ve had the opportunity to visit many places and I have to say I really like both Italy and Spain as it is a somewhat similar vibe to what I have back at home in Peru so I always feel happy. Spain of course because of the language and beautiful cities like Madrid or Barcelona and with Italy it is just a beautiful country that has it all, food, amazing views and of course fashion which I really like!
Fatima: During your time off and when the season ends, how do you manage to maintain the physical condition a driver would need for when the season starts?
Matias: It is always difficult of course when we jump back into the car after a long time as you use different muscles while driving that you simply can't work at the gym, but the best way I think is karting as it keeps your mind and reflexes sharp and of course, everything happens faster in a KZ so coordination is also key, very physical too so this is for me the best way to prepare together with gym workouts. It is also key to work on your mind, this is something many people ignore but this is the most powerful tool we have so it is key to work on that as well.
Fatima: During your British Formula 4 campaign you left home. Obviously, there is that feeling of isolation and loneliness, how did that affect your performance throughout the year and was there ever a moment you felt you should just move back home?
Matias: It was a very big change for me, especially in 2020 with the pandemic too, going into a new country, meeting new people and going to a new school to then having a global pandemic and being trapped in a country thousands of kilometres away from family was always going to be tough but thankfully I could return home for a month or two before heading back to the UK to continue with preparations as the season had been postponed and pushed to the last months of the year so it was a tough first season in single-seaters. It was difficult of course as I didn’t have much time to make friends at this new place so it was a period of extreme loneliness but I eventually got used to it but it definitely made things harder and of course, the thought of going back home was there basically every day but unfortunately it wasn’t possible and to be honest I am very happy that I stayed as it led to a great 2021 campaign!
Fatima: When living in England did you manage to immerse yourself into the English culture? I saw you support Arsenal right? Why would you support such a rubbish team? Chelsea all the way.
Matias: It was very difficult at first as the culture in South America, in general, is like polar opposites to the English culture but thankfully I was in an International school so I could meet people from everywhere around the world which was great and meet other amazing people from South America too! But it was hard of course being alone living in England and being from Peru every time you go out as you can imagine people were saying comments that I couldn’t understand how it was normal for them to say and I didn’t really feel welcome for the first year or more but then going back to school and having some people to talk with helped a lot.
Yes, I do support Arsenal! Hahahah. I love watching football and ever since I went to watch them at the Emirates stadium in a game against Newcastle where they won 4-0 I just fell in love with the team and stuck with them since! But before that I had stopped watching football for a long time until I eventually went to live in the UK and I was choosing between Arsenal and Chelsea but a friend convinced me that Arsenal had a better future and went to see games for both teams and I eventually stuck with Arsenal, but after that Chelsea went on to win the Champions League and Arsenal finishing 8th so you can imagine how I felt after that hahaha. This season is ours I hope!
Fatima: How are you settling into the Formula Regional championship? Is it easier or harder to compete across the globe rather than in one country like the UK?
Matias: I feel like I’ve settled in now even though the results aren’t anywhere near the ones we expected but I feel more confident with the car each time. Still learning the new tracks but the good news is that the tracks we have got left I have been at least once so it is not a big change now, especially in Barcelona our home race as I have been there a couple of times now and I am feeling very confident for that weekend. It was easier, of course, to just get in the car and drive 3 hours to the race track on most occasions (except for Knockhill in Scotland) but I actually enjoy travelling and visiting new countries as we do now.
Fatima: What was it like driving on the historic and iconic Circuit De Monaco?
Matias: I think that has to be up there with the best experiences I have had in my career. Monaco as we know is a very historic track and to race there and on an F1 race weekend was just absolutely incredible, something that was only a dream but became a reality and hopefully I can race there again, just in bigger and faster machinery! It was incredible the feeling of driving around the track in Qualifying as you try to get as close to the walls as you can and you have to be so precise with every move but it was so enjoyable and brings a smile to my face even just by thinking about it.
Fatima: What’s your favourite circuit to drive on? If you could race on any F1 track, which one would you pick?
Matias: After being in Spa for the first time ever this weekend and driving on it I have to say this is my favourite race track, the feeling of going up Eau rouge of the compression going up and then the feeling of “floating” when you reach the top is amazing and the racing is just incredible as you have got plenty of opportunities. It is a complete track with slow speed medium speed and high-speed corners combined with very big straights and iconic corners so it has it all!
Fatima: How do you cope with Jet-Lag and making sure you're mentally and physically ready for race weekend?
Matias: I am currently living in Barcelona so it has been another adapting phase but I am used to changing locations now, and here in Barcelona I feel a lot more welcome as it is a city full of people from all around the world and I have found many Peruvians living here so that is amazing. Living in Barcelona also helps of course as it is the same time difference everywhere so that is not an issue, we make sure to get the correct amount of sleep and hydration during or before the race weekends and work together with my fitness trainer and psychologist to train the mind and body to make sure we are ready for our next events.
Fatima: Can you tell me anything about your plans for the future?
Matias: At the moment things are uncertain and we are starting to explore but there is nothing yet so all I can do is focus on the present and do the best I can on track so I can get noticed as I feel there is a lot I can give and achieve some memorable results, but moving forwards to the future as an ultimate goal it would be of course to compete in any of the highest categories of motorsport around the world, if it is Formula 1, Formula E, Indycar, Endurance racing like the new exciting series of LMH or LMDH I would be more than happy knowing that I can make a living of racing at a very high level and I will keep on working and give my best every time to eventually accomplish my dreams!
Although this year's results aren’t representative of his talent. Based on his karting career and his 2021 F4 campaign, I’m in no doubt that within the next few years Matias Zagazeta will be a name many will be familiar with.