Matteo Nannini is one of the youngest drivers in FIA Formula 3, but already has a wealth of experience even racing in Formula 2 this season. The 18-year-old Italian HWA Racelab driver on his first FIA F3 win, his uncle former Formula 1 driver Alessandro Nannini and a possible future in the pinnacle of motorsport.
By Adam Dickinson
With the Formula 3 races coming thick and fast on race weekends, it’s easy to lose track of each win before the next grid is lining up.
But talking to the latest entrant to the F3’s winner’s club shows how a single trip to the top step of the podium can change the course of a season. In his second season of the penultimate stepping stone to F1, Matteo Nannini has had near the dictionary-definition of an up-and-down season.
The 18-year old’s the only driver competing in both Formula 3 and 2 championships, and by round three of the latter he was already on his second team.
But in F3 he’d had some narrow misses in the opening part of the season, at Barcelona and the Red Bull Ring.
That duck was broken a fortnight ago at the Hungaroring, as he won race two after a daring move up the inside of Enzo Fittipaldi, and he told F1 Feeder Series how the result had changed his perception in the motorsport world.
“I was very happy because I showed to the people outside of the F3 world that I can do that, I can win races and I’m a good driver. A lot of people inside motorsport know it but from outside, if you don’t really make a result then they don’t know it.
“It was also very good because I received a lot of messages from various people saying congratulations on your race win, you finally got it and yeah it was really satisfying.”
One of those well-wishers was Antonio Giovinazzi, the only Italian on this year’s F1 grid and a confidant of Nannini long before he stepped onto the top step of the podium at the Hungaroring.
“With him it’s really friendly, I have his number, sometimes I Whatsapp him and after Red Bull Ring race one where there was quite a big battle with Sargeant, he texted me saying ‘I saw that and I really enjoyed it’. Yeah as an Italian I chat a bit with him.
“After Antonio in F1 there’s me racing in F2 and F3 so I push a lot on this fact, I’m the only Italian and there are a lot of English, French and whatever but it’s missing after Antonio one Italian guy so I will try to use all my cards to use this fact and get one seat.”
And the win also helped with the ultimate goal of joining Giovinazzi in F1. The last time two Italians shared the grid was in 2011 with Vitantonio Liuzzi and Jarno Trulli, but change could be coming with several F1 players showing interest in Nannini.
“After Hungary we had some calls with some F1 academies that could be interested to have me, and also because it can be helpful also for an academy to have an Italian guy because there are no Italian guys in academies racing in Formulas.
“Of course I know that doing results is important, to secure wins and championships eventually, but I also know that to be able to do that you have to be with a good team and to have a lot of friendships.”
And unsurprisingly Nannini has more than a soft spot for Ferrari if an opportunity arose.
“My dream would be to race with Ferrari as an Italian team although so far I’ve received calls from other teams, but of course as an Italian the heart is with Ferrari.
“And also because they get quite cool cars from the auto, like the Ferrari Roma, SF90! But no, away from jokes, Ferrari would be the dream.”
However, there’s more to the link than just national pride and fancy road cars.
He’s the cousin of Alessandro Nannini who completed five seasons in F1 from 1986 to 1990 with Benetton and Minardi (Matteo does this interview from Forli, just 20 minutes down the road from Minardi’s Faenza base, now run by AlphaTauri).
But there was also long-standing interest from a third Italian team, with Ferrari viewing Alessandro as a potential replacement for Nigel Mansell before he lost his right forearm in a helicopter crash that ended his F1 career.
He did have a private test in Jean Alesi’s 1992 F29A Ferrari, and has helped Matteo start his Scuderia dream too.
“When I started, the support of Alessandro was really helpful for me. He came with me to Bahrain when I raced in the World Championship Karts in 2016. When I did the first test of Formula 4 he was giving me some suggestions, how to do some corners. the first time I went to Spa or the first time I went to Vallelunga.
“With racing now it’s a bit more difficult for him to come and support me because usually I leave on Tuesday or Wednesday and he can’t leave his job for following me, but I’m always with my dad, he always comes with me, he gives me suggestions of how to manage a race.”
A champion karter, Nannini’s father never had the chance to try a formula car but Nannini will hope to carry that advice, and experience of his race win, into the second half of the season. After the summer break all eyes will be on if Hungary can mark a turnaround leading to more podium trips and a reinvigorated second half of his season, with Matteo aiming high.
“I think the best thing for me is to score some good results like Hungary, focussing on each race to take the best out of it and the championship will come at the end of the season. We still have nine races to go so it’ll be fun.
“If after some good results in the next races I can get into an academy maybe this can change my future a lot.”
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