By clinching both the Italian and ADAC F4 titles in his rookie season, Andrea Kimi Antonelli has burnished his reputation one of the brightest prospects of feeder series. However, unlike Spanish F4 champion Nikola Tsolov, who was also champion in his maiden campaign, the Italian will not head to FIA F3, but to FRECA this year. Feeder Series explains why this could turn out to be the best choice in the long term.
By Perceval Wolff
“The sooner the better” some will say. Following the successes encountered by Théo Pourchaire and Ollie Bearman in their rookie FIA F3 season just after coming from F4, more and more drivers are keen to jump the Formula Regional step of the feeder series ladder. However, this was not the choice of Andrea Kimi Antonelli, despite clinching two titles in ADAC F4 and Italian F4, with 21 wins in 35 races.
Like many F1 juniors, the Mercedes junior driver spent his winter racing in the most competitive winter series: the Formula Regional Middle-East Championship (FRMEC), where he has been battling with some drivers who have already been confirmed in F2 or in F3.
Following his first podiums and pole positions in Formula Regional Middle-East, Mercedes F1 Driver Program Advisor Gwen Lagrue explained on Twitter why they made the choice of placing Antonelli in FRECA, rather than in F3:
“Kimi gets up to speed quickly and we are not surprised [by his FRMEC performances]. We have been working with him since 2017. We have a very clear strategy for him. Let’s give him time to learn, to develop, to assert himself, there is no hurry”.
The FRECA challenge
In 2023, the rising star from Italy will enter FRECA, a championship that has always been hard for rookies. The Formula Regional machinery is not related to the F3 one, and is probably one of the most difficult cars to master. That is probably why some engineers often say that “if you can master the FRECA car, you can master any car”.
Drivers who discover the car often agree with this statement, such as FROC race-winner Louis Foster, who recently told Feeder Series: “This is probably the most difficult car to get out of a corner because it has so much wheelspin […] It is pretty difficult, but I am enjoying the challenge. It is another tool for my arsenal to use in the future”.
Unlike FIA F3, drivers in FRECA learn about how important qualifying is in a race weekend. With overtaking being much harder in comparison to F3, it forces drivers to focus on the one-lap effort. In a 36-car field, a weekend can be ruined by just two qualifying sessions. During races, the introduction of the push-to-pass system has also allowed drivers to develop their race intelligence, to determine at what moment they should use this precious device, which could be compared to ERS in F1.
FRECA and FIA F3 are two totally different worlds, and if the former doesn’t really prepare for the latter, it definitely does prepare for F2 and F1, where qualifying and race managements are much more prominent than in FIA F3, which could be more assimilated to instinct driving and pure speed. That is why FRECA and FIA F3 are both essential steps to prepare for high-level motorsport.
The pressure of the title favourite
Since the introduction of the Tatuus F.3-T318 back in 2019, never has a rookie been able to challenge for the drivers’ title in Formula Renault Eurocup, which was then renamed Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA) after the merge with FREC. Some rookies have managed to fight for top positions occasionally, such as Caio Collet in 2019, Alex Quinn in 2020 or Isack Hadjar in 2021, but never in the long run.
Paradoxically, Andrea Kimi Antonelli has quickly emerged as the main favourite for the FRECA title. The reputation he has gained thanks to his absolute domination in F4 last year and his impressive debuts in FRMEC have cemented him as the driver to beat in FRECA this year.
It should also be noted that most of last year’s front-runners are leaving the series, which automatically will give more space to rookies.
That is why, despite being a rookie, many in the paddock expect Antonelli to take the title in FRECA this year, or at least fight for it. In the last few years, Pourchaire and Bearman have managed to exceed the expectations by fighting for the title on their rookie F3 season. However, it is easier to impress when expectations are only to learn, before a title fight the next year.
It is much harder to impress when you are already expected to get the title, as Antonelli is in FRECA. For example, a driver like Théo Pourchaire had to face the pressure of being the title favourite for the first time in his career, only last year, for his sophomore F2 season. Antonelli will have to learn how to cope with this much earlier in his career.
That’s something that reigning FIA F3 champion Victor Martins recently talked about with Feeder Series: “If you don’t deliver that year […] it gives you a lot of pressure, and I take that as a challenge. I said to myself, ‘If I cannot face that challenge, I will not be able to go one day in Formula 1’ because I feel that F1 [pressure is] another level”.
If he had directly stepped up to FIA F3, this is not a pressure Antonelli would have felt. That’s why there are multiple reasons for placing the Italian star in FRECA: to challenge him, to make him grow and make him F2, and then get him F1-ready as soon as possible.
Header image credit: Mumbai Falcons
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly