Conducted by Tom Evans
Argentina is a country full of rich sporting heritage from some of the best football players on the planet to gold medal-winning basketball teams at the Olympics. However, the world of motorsport in Argentina is equally as prominent, hosting events such as the Dakar rally in recent years as well as hosting one of the most famous stages in the World Rally Championship. But the world of Formula One is not left out either, with one of the most decorated drivers of all time Juan Manuel Fangio being from an Argentine background. Despite there being 25 drivers from the South American country, there hasn’t been one for the last 20 years. However, this could all change with the emergence of a new Argentine superstar.
From when he started racing at the age of nine, Franco Colapinto has been a star in the making. Fast forward to the present day and Franco has a legion of loyal supporters behind him on his way up the FIA single-seater ladder and for good reason. But how did his motorsport journey start, and could the pressure of a whole country being behind him affect his performances? Here's what the Argentine had to say: “I think it was quite clear from as soon as I jumped in a go-kart that I had a huge love for it. It’s like it was in my blood since I was born, and I continued to grow with that amazing passion for the sport. I’m proud because we made a lot of sacrifices to get to where we are today, but it worked out and now we’re living the dream really.”
“My goal since I started racing has always been to get to Formula One, just like any other driver who dreams of driving the fastest cars in the world. I never really think about the possibility of me being the first Argentine F1 driver in a long time for anything like that. I think it would be amazing for the country and all the fans to have a driver in F1, especially considering that the country is in a tough situation economically so it would be amazing to give something back.”
The Move to Cars
Like most young drivers on the road to Formula One, Franco embarked on a path up the FIA single-seater ladder. His car racing debut came in Spanish F4 in 2018, and a full-season campaign followed the following year. 11 wins and 13 podiums took him to the title, including impressive clear sweeps at both Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya rounds. The following year brought a full season of Formula Renault Eurocup finishing third, beating some notable names including Hadrien David, Paul Aron, and Geogire Saucy. 2020 also included a Toyota Racing Series campaign, in which he also finished third.
For 2021 Colapinto elected for a full season of the Formula Regional European Championship with MP Motorsport, beating the likes of 2022 champ Dino Beganovic, as well as the 2022 runner-up Gabriele Mini. However this wasn’t his only racing plan for that season also dipping his toes into the world of Endurance and GT Racing, including a full-time drive in the Asian and European Le Mans series, as well as part-time gigs in the FIA endurance world championship and GT World Challenge. When asked about his choice to compete in so many different series Colapinto explained: “Since we came to Europe we’ve been fighting with the budget, and without certain people like Bullet Sports Management we wouldn’t be where we are today. We did those championships whether it was GTs or LMP2 because they were the best opportunities presented to us, and we needed to maximise everything we could. Those opportunities were also crucial for my experience, which was very important.”
On the Big Stage
After Franco’s successful year in FRECA, a move up the FIA ladder was inevitable. FIA Formula 3 was the ideal step up and it’s the one that was chosen, as Colapinto was announced to be competing with a new VAR entry for 2022. Two sprint race wins and a further two podiums took the VAR driver to 9th in the championship, collecting 76 of VAR’s 91 points. This impressive rookie campaign was enough for Franco to be picked up by an F1 driver academy at the start of 2023, something which is a crucial part of any potential Formula One driver's career. “Joining the Williams Racing Driver Academy is the best opportunity presented to me in my life since I started racing. I’m so grateful to be with such a historic team like Williams Racing and one with such a great family, so I’m really enjoying the process.”
“I’m trying to learn as much as possible, and take as much from it as I can for use in F3 this year. It’s really useful and a massive amount of support for us, and of course it’s a step closer to Formula 1, so I’ve been able to learn how a team like Williams Racing operates and works.”
Formula 3 in 2023
“We’ll see how the first few races go,” says Colapinto on a potential title charge for the 2023 drivers title. “We’ll see where I end up by the end of the championship, but I’m really excited for the start of the season. The tests have been going really well and I’m really happy to be working with MP again they’re a great bunch of great people, smart as well.”
Qualifying at the first round of the championship might not have gone how envisioned, however, a reverse grid pole position did give Franco the opportunity to claim a podium at the first race of the season. A P10 in the feature race leaves him P6 in the standings heading into Formula 3’s first-ever visit to Albert Park.