With team championship victories in German and Italian Formula 4, FIA European Formula 3 and GP2, 2016 was an impressive year for the all-conquering junior single seater squad Prema Powerteam.
The Italian outfit, which counts Jacques Villeneuve, Robert Kubica and Valtteri Bottas among its alumni, ran Williams-bound Lance Stroll to a dominant European F3 title and Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi secured the first two positions in GP2, with the Red Bull junior driver sealing the title at the final race.
With two drivers’ titles from this season added to the seven it has won over the previous five years – including every European F3 title since 2011 – Prema has become one of the most successful junior teams in recent memory.
René Rosin, Prema’s team manager, believes his squad’s triumphs stem from the culture of competition and pleasure that has been instilled in every driver and team member.
“First of all our goal in all the categories we do is to enjoy what we are doing and really push forwards altogether,” he told JAonF1 in an exclusive interview. “There is not a battle between each single engineer, [but] the competition is there because competition is the mother of everything if you are doing motorsport. But everybody works for Prema and works for the result of the team itself. So everyone is happy when their teammate is winning and that is clearly the force pushing us to the top in all the championships.”
Rosin also highlighted the dedication shown by members of the squad as another reason for its success, a factor that he feels aided Prema’s run to nine wins and the teams’ title in GP2 this year despite 2016 being the first season it had competed in the Formula 1 feeder series.
“We started working very hard together, trying to put the targets at the maximum of our possibilities [in GP2],” he said. “It was really stressful [and] it was very demanding but nobody was worried.
“To give you an example, we were doing pitstop practice before [the first GP2 round at] Barcelona and the mechanics worked consecutively with no stopping for three days – night and day – to get everything ready. That was something incredible that demonstrated the dedication of everybody. [Everyone] from the technical director to the last of the mechanics was there altogether helping each other. I think that [shows] that the great success of Prema is clearly the teamwork.”
Rosin reckons that the combination of Gasly, who missed out on promotion to Toro Rosso for 2017 when Red Bull opted retain Daniil Kvyat for another season, and rookie Giovinazzi also proved to be a very effective combination that aided the team’s arrival in GP2.
“We were rookies but we had two really motivated drivers that were working very hard together,” he said. “We knew with Pierre we had a shot at the championship but nobody was expecting it with Antonio. We knew Antonio from Formula 3 and he has always been incredible, so I thought as soon as I got the chance to get the possibility of having Antonio with us, for me that was the right team to build up.”
F1 ambitions: Gasly and Stroll
Gasly cannot return to GP2 now that he has won the championship and the latest speculation surrounding the 20-year-old suggests he may make a similar move to 2015 GP2 champion – and 2017 McLaren F1 driver – Stoffel Vandoorne and head to the Japanese Super Formula series for next season.
But even though an F1 move for 2017 appears unlike with all of Red Bull’s F1 seats currently occupied, Rosin hopes that the Frenchman will make it to the championship eventually.
“I think he deserves [to be in] Formula 1 and he has to be in Formula 1 in the near future,” he said. “I rate him as one of the best drivers we’ve ever had at Prema – especially in the qualifying laps, [they were] really something incredible. He deserves to be in Formula 1 and I hope that he will be in Formula 1 if not in 2017, then in 2018.”
Another 2016 Prema champion will be on the F1 grid in 2017: Stroll, who won 14 times on his way to the European F3 crown. The Canadian driver will make his debut with Williams next year and when asked how he thinks Stroll will get on at the top level, Rosin outlined the talents he observed from the 18-year-old during their three years together, which also included victory in the 2014 Italian F4 series.
“What he achieved this year was something very good,” said Rosin. “He’s a great talent, he’s a great person [and] he’s really dedicated 100 per cent on what he is doing. He pushes everybody forward to achieve the best results possible and he’s a great fighter – he’s not somebody that sits down as soon as he wins something, he always wants to improve.”
A future Ferrari junior squad?
Although Giovinazzi’s 2017 plans are not yet known, Prema will run the reigning GP3 champion Charles Leclerc, who tested for the Scuderia and made four free practice appearances for Haas F1 in 2016, and his fellow Ferrari Driver Academy driver Antonio Fuoco in GP2 next year.
Prema is not a Ferrari junior team, but Rosin has not ruled out such a “pleasure” for the future.
“We’re running two of FDA’s drivers and from then on I don’t know what the future will bring because at the moment we’re just cooperating with them like we have done in the past,” he said.
“We run these drivers for them, we will try to give our best experience and our best technical side and management side to them. It would be a pleasure to be a junior team for Ferrari, but we are not, we just give them our knowledge and our expertise. That’s for the moment how it is.”
A number of experienced drivers are not expected to return to GP2 in 2017, so a first rookie champion since Nico Hülkenberg in 2009 could be on the cards Rosin, who saw Giovinazzi come just eight points from achieving that very feat, reckons it could be a possibility.
He said: “I’m quite convinced that a rookie can win the championship. Look at Antonio and what he has done this year. We arrived in the last race and both [he and Pierre] had lost a few points due to some mistakes through the season.
“I think in a good structure, with a good line up, even a rookie can fight for the championship.”
European F3 vs GP2
The path to F1 is a difficult and varied route, particularly as drivers reach the upper echelons of single seater championships. In recent years, drivers including Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon have graduated from European F3 straight to F1 without doing GP2 (although the latter also won the 2015 GP3 title and a did a half season in the DTM before he signed for Manor midway through 2016).
But Rosin believes there are strong merits to both FIA F3 and GP2 that get young drivers fully prepared to make a step up to F1.
“I’m a great supporter of Formula 3 because it is where we started our business back in 1983 and I think it’s clearly the university of motorsport where the drivers can really learn a lot about cars,” he said.
“And this year when we joined GP2, it was a very good surprise for me [as] it is a very well organised series that permits the drivers to get a step closer to Formula 1 in a really high demanding environment because you are with the Formula 1 weekend.
“I think that Formula 4, Formula 3 and GP2 are the right the path for the young drivers aspiring to arrive in Formula 1. There are drivers that can jump directly from Formula 3 into F1 – like Lance has done – [and] there are others who go through GP2. But both of them are really formative from a driver’s point of view to get ready and get prepared.”
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