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The path to F1: how Prema Powerteam conquered the 2016 junior single seater scene
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Rene Rosin Pierre Gasly Prema Powerteam
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  12 Dec 2016   |  3:13 pm GMT  |  10 comments

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.

Rene Rosin Prema Powerteam

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.

Rene Rosin Prema Powerteam

“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.

Antonio Giovinazzi Pierre Gasly

“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.

Pierre Gasly

“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.”

Lance Stroll

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.

Charles Leclerc

“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.

Antonio Giovinazzi Pierre Gasly

“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.

FIA European Formula 3

“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.”

What do you make of Prema Powerteam? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

Sounds like Giovinazzi is at a loose end. Why is no-one snapping him up?

2

no one is desperate for a rookie.

3

i wonder who holds the record for passing for the lead…

4

I was lucky enough to go to Hungarian & German GP this year. Friends and I became Gasly fans because he was always fighting his way through the field. Even when not in a podium place, watching from the grandstand, you felt he was closer to the car in front than the car behind – you always felt he would try to make a SAFE move without doing anything stupid. Seemed more mature than the other GP2 racers.

5

I hope Gasly can make it to F1. What few GP2 races in the US we get to see including the last one, Gasly sure seems to know how to overtake.

I know there is a money advantage there but at least he wasn’t sponsored by his dad or a third world country.

There is going to be a vacant spot somewhere in F1 in 2017 that I hope doesn’t get filled by a retired driver.

I sad about drivers like Maldonado being able to buy their way into a cash strapped team. I wish they would think maybe a better driver could at least gain more points.

Maybe Manor or Sauber could give him a shot. In a few years there will be a lot of drivers retiring. Having someone inexperienced shouldn’t be as risky now with simulators. Some might think a simulator is a driver aid though.

6

After everything that’s been happening in F1 the last few weeks, I forgot all about Stroll! Maybe a good thing for him, as no one is paying much attention to him right now, maybe takes the pressure away a little bit. Good for him and good for daddy’s money I suppose 😉.
But agree with what another poster wrote, what is there budget compared to their nearest rivals. From what I can gather, Strolls rather wealthy daddy put a hell of a lot of money and resources in the hands of this team. I just hope that Lance Stroll can live up to his dads expectations.

7

An entire article about Prema, and not one mention of funding?

What was Prema’s budget compared to their average competition in F4, F3, and GP2?

What was Prema’s budget compared to previous championship winning teams?

Why was it that every time I watched an ADAC F4 race, there seemed to be twice as many people in the Prema pit stall as anyone else?

Did any other teams use helicopters to scout weather for F3 races, or just Prema?

Not trying to be rude, but it really feels like there is only half an article here James.

8

With all this talent in one organization and the limited number of “seats at the top” there has to be some way to relieve the pressure building up in the pot, one would think. And what about the talent which rests in other “feeder” teams? Suppose it’s time to revisit the issue of F-1 teams running more than two cars on the grid ?

An alternative to the existing F-1 weekend, perhaps. For example, maybe something akin to the well-known format from Friday and Saturday night local circle tracks here in the U.S. might be something to think about with a series of qualifying races (for all drivers) building up to the “A-Main” part of the event at the end of an evening (or on Sunday for the big finale). That’d give BE some headaches, eh ? Just sayin’ . . . Might be some bleed-over with the new “commercial” owners in the wings – or is that too far out of the box ?

9

𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗮𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗼 𝗙1 𝗶𝘀 𝗮 𝗱𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝗰𝘂𝗹𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘃𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗱 𝗿𝗼𝘂𝘁𝗲

I should say so. What a contrast to when Maggie and Cowboy Ronnie were in power, 30 odd years ago. If you wanted to join the Formula 1 elite in the late 70s/early 80s (and even a decade later), you had to prove your worth in either UK Formula 3 and/or European Formula 3. And that was it. Do well hustling a F3 car around Thruxton, Estoril or Zandvoort, and grand prix team managers couldn’t wait to get your signature on a contract: it’s how Mr Piquet, Mr Prost, Mr Senna, Mr Mansell, Mr Berger, Mr Hakkinen and even Mr Button progressed to top level racing – because they all impressed some “influential” to be given a Formula 1 contract.

It was much simpler for youngsters 3 decades ago, wasn’t it? Do well in UK or Euro F3, and you were on the meal ticket to stardom, but, now………….there isn’t quite the same well worn career trajectory.

10

the competition is much higher now. drivers are professional compared to the wealthy amators of the past.

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