It has been 16 years since Robert Kubica made his Formula One debut for BMW Sauber and 14 years since he took victory at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix. Since then, however, no other Pole has been in F1, but the next talent is already on the horizon: Kacper Sztuka, currently racing and winning in Italian F4. The 16-year-old talks to F1 Feeder Series about his career trajectory and the financial struggles currently threatening to cut short his promising career.
By Alexander Studenkov
Mentally challenging beginnings
“The first interest into motorsport was because of a movie: Cars”, Sztuka says with a glow in his eyes.
“That was the first thing to push me into motorsport. When I heard that V8, I fell in love. My dad [Łukasz Sztuka], who was also a rally driver in the past, he was doing WRC in Poland, took me to a karting track with [Spanish F4 driver] Tymoteusz Kucharczyk, and after just a few laps in rental karts I was having a lot of fun, going to the track over and over.
“Then we went to the Czech Republic for some races, as I live in the south of Poland and the tracks are very close. I was also driving in the same category as Roman Staněk, for example. I won a championship in Czechia and finished third in two other series, and that was my start.”
I had a very big crash in karting, which affected my career a lotKacper Sztuka
Asked about difficulties he faced throughout his time in karting, Sztuka gave an unexpected answer.
“I had a very big crash in karting, which affected my career a lot. I was nine years old. I flipped around six times in the kart, and for the next races, I was quite scared to fight with other karts. I started races from P1, but every time someone came up behind me, I would lose a lot of positions. I was afraid to get caught up in another incident.
“Having then had a bit of rest to rethink everything, I was getting more confident, step by step. After three or four years I completely forgot about the crash, and fighting wheel-to-wheel was no problem for me anymore.”
A learning year in F4
After progressing through the European karting ranks, Sztuka finally made his step into single-seater racing in 2021. He had just turned 15, making him eligible to race in the Italian F4 Championship. Going into the year with AS Motorsport did not carry with it high expectations, as the team had never previously scored any points in the Italian F4 Championship. When asked about his team choice, Sztuka replied:
“The reason I went with them is obvious, I think: it was one of the cheapest teams. We had the budget to do a few rounds with the biggest teams, but with AS Motorsport we could do all seven rounds. In the end it wasn’t such a bad season even though I didn’t score any points, as I finished seventh in the rookie classification. We had some good races, but that was of course not the result we wanted.
“But in my opinion, it was a good season for learning because I was the only driver in the team. My engineer was not very experienced, so I had to do all the setups on my own. Now I know the construction of the car very well. Having to manage the car by myself was for sure very helpful for me, and of course fighting in the midfield was a good experience, so now fighting at the front is very easy for me.”
My engineer was not very experienced, so I had to do all the setups on my own. Now I know the construction of the car very wellKacper Sztuka
Sztuka moved over to the Iron Lynx team, a close partner of the all-conquering Prema outfit, for the penultimate round at Mugello. By his reckoning, the switch helped him to develop as a driver.
“With Iron Lynx, I knew the team already because I did official testing with them in 2020. Just after the round at the Red Bull Ring, we contacted them just for me to see how things work in a big team. It was good for me to compare myself to others, for example to [Leonardo] Fornaroli, who won races with the team, so there was a lot of data to compare. I learned a lot with a team like Iron Lynx. The weekend was tricky, but it was a good experience and the right decision.”
The driver from Cieszyn made his choices consciously, seeing this year as the priority.
“To go to a big team in your rookie season is of course nice to a driver who has a budget. But I don’t have a budget, so it’s impossible to drive a full season for them. I learned in a cheap team in my rookie season and prepared as well as we could for this season, and as you have seen with the three podiums already, I think it worked out well.”
The start of a title assault?
Thus far, Sztuka’s 2022 campaign with US Racing has brought great successes. The Pole started the season off by taking a podium in the third ADAC F4 race at Spa, having battled with multiple Prema drivers to keep his position.
“It was tricky to score the podium because Prema was fast. They had 20 races in [F4] UAE, and that was our first race [weekend]; we started testing quite late. But I scored a podium. I like the track a lot, so I’m hoping for a good result later there in Italian F4”, Sztuka explained, referencing the upcoming round at Spa from 17–19 June.
The first weekend of his Italian F4 venture turned out to be even better, as after a second place in Race 2, Sztuka became a race winner, crossing the line first in Race 3 after a long duel with Rafael Câmara.
It was very tricky for me, but the win was very emotional after such a difficult race.Kacper Sztuka
“I retired from the first race due to problems with the car but finished second and first in Race 2 and 3, which was a very happy end for me and my father because finally we have seen that all we have done in my career has worked out well and that I’m able to win. That was a very happy evening for us after the third race.
“The best thing of this race was that I was able to keep Câmara behind me. It was very tricky because he was pushing quite a lot for almost 25 minutes, and he was catching on me so fast that I wasn’t thinking about the win but about second. He got behind me, I sorted out everything in my driving and was very consistent. It was very tricky for me, but the win was very emotional after such a difficult race.”
However, this year has not been all sunshine and rainbows for the 16-year-old. Driving on a budget poses its challenges, as shown by Sztuka’s announcement that he would miss the rest of the ADAC F4 season for monetary reasons. Sztuka explains his situation in more detail:
“The problem is not that we don’t have the budget for German F4 but that we still don’t have the budget for Italian F4. Our budget currently is for three, four rounds in Italian F4, and we have to find sponsors because it’s impossible for us to do it. I am sponsored by two small companies, which is helpful but of course not enough. We are only doing Italian F4. Spa was just a warm-up for Italian F4. Some other drivers had the whole UAE campaign and some testing; I only had a few testing days in the new car and one round before Imola, so because of the budget, I wasn’t able to fully prepare for the first round.
Our budget currently is for three, four rounds in Italian F4, and we have to find sponsors because it’s impossible for us to do itKacper Sztuka
“Alex [Dunne] is now in British F4, so he’s doing three championships in one year. Therefore, he’s got three times as many kilometres as me in the new car, which is of course very helpful. But I can do it, as we have seen in the first round, even without the other championships. But I think that the more you drive, the easier it is for the driver, which I currently cannot afford.”
The Polish driver has shown that he doesn’t shy away from taking on the other big names in the category, and he is looking to fight for the title.
“US Racing are for sure prepared to be winning the championship, and I am prepared to do that as well. Our target is to win the championship. Top three is a minimum, but I’ll do my best to win.”
Campaigning for Orlen’s support
Sztuka’s challenging financial situation, coupled with the announcement that he would not continue in ADAC F4, attracted the attention of a large contingent of active compatriots on social media, most notably on Twitter. This culminated in the creation of the #SztukaOrlenu campaign, advocating Polish oil giant Orlen, the main sponsor of Kubica, to start providing backing to Sztuka.
“I have seen it on Twitter. It is very nice for me to see the support from Polish fans”, Sztuka says.
“To be honest, there was a move from Orlen because of that action. A person from Orlen’s management has said that they will keep an eye on me. We have been in contact with Orlen last year, but we couldn’t find a way to arrange sponsorship. This year I hope we’ll find a way to work together.”
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Header photo credit: ACI Sport