Petecof on a tough 2021: ‘I hoped winning the championship would put me in a better position’

Gianluca Petecof is back! The reigning Formula Regional European champion is one of the most talented drivers in junior single-seater racing but has been plagued by financial instability since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but now has a drive again. F1 Feeder Series had a chat with him about his immediate future and F2.

By Adam Dickinson

It’s been a big news week in the world of single-seater racing. On Tuesday, Mercedes confirmed the highest-profile driver change in the past few years by signing George Russell to replace Valtteri Bottas, and Williams filled Russell’s seat by giving Alex Albon a popular second chance in the sport.

That followed on from last week’s announcement that Kimi Raikkonen – world champion and record-race starter – is hanging up his helmet and leaving the grid without his witticisms – a sad day for all.

By comparison, the news that Gianluca Petecof will return to racing in after a 112-day hiatus went virtually unnoticed but marks a significant improvement for a driver who’s endured one of the most tumultuous 13-months in motorsport.

He had a successful debut campaign in the Formula Regional European Championship, being crowned champion ahead of fellow-Ferrari junior driver Arthur Leclerc, and looked good to be entering FIA F3 with a competitive seat. 

But fast-forward to now and he’s left the FDA, missed F3 completely and had two difficult rounds in FIA F2 before leaving Campos – he’s been inactive since the Monaco F2 weekend.

So from all of those highs and lows, it’s intriguing that his standout memory isn’t any particular one of those.

“To get an opportunity simply because people trust in you and people have faith in your work, in the way you’re able to achieve. Not because of your last name, not because of the money, when people trust you and believe in you for you, and you only, that means a lot, that truly means a lot.”

FRECA (return)

This weekend he returns to FRECA at the Red Bull Ring, which if nothing else gives a pleasing circularity to his past year as he makes his comeback in the championship that reaffirmed his self-belief in the sport.

Last year’s FREC round in Austria was arguably the high point of his season – Petecof put in a supremely dominant display in the Styrian mountains as he took pole position and fastest lap in each of the three races, and came away with two race victories and a second place to extend his championship lead by 17 points.

Race three of the weekend is the last time he’s tasted victory but he did enough to hold on to the championship.

“I think that if I hadn’t won the championship, it would be a different scenario because then apart from not having a stable financial situation, I wouldn’t have delivered what I needed to, maybe single-seaters it would have been difficult to carry on.

“Of course there wouldn’t have been so interesting opportunities on the way, most likely, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity that I have with Campos.”

Credit: Prema

‘We are not going to make it’

Having won the shootout at the FDA Corral, the natural next step would’ve been a promotion to FIA F3 with Prema, but even going into the final round of last season at Vallelunga, Petecof knew that wasn’t meant to be for him.

While FREC runner-up Arthur Leclerc took his second win of the season last week at Zandvoort on that programme, Petecof has spent the time since Vallelunga attempting to deal with the consequences of his missing on the golden ticket.

“And after all of this, I was kind of hoping that winning the championship would put me in a better position for 2021.

“But it was tough because we didn’t have time at all to negotiate anything before the end of the season, so I already knew that I wasn’t going to be in Prema at least by, late November already knew he had, that’s all it was even before the last two rounds.

“So we had a two-week period after the championship finished for a couple of contacts. And then we realised like ‘shit we’re not, we’re not gonna make it at least not how we want to’. All the top teams had their seats filled.”

Credit: Prema

Ferrari

As we now know, Petecof instead took the unorthodox route of bypassing F3 and jumping straight into F2 – and as he found out it’s a route that’s unorthodox for a reason. Part of that jump was his exit from the FDA, and he was able to lift the lid on the reasons behind the split.

“We were speaking with Ferrari about possibilities for this season and in the end we just didn’t agree with each other. Everything they presented I didn’t feel like it was the ideal for me.

“Seeing the guy that I just beat in the championship heading to the best team in F3, and the only opportunities that I was receiving was to drive for teams that hadn’t been even been placed in the top five of the championship, I didn’t feel like that was at my level and they didn’t agree with the other opportunities that I had. So then we split.”

This weekend at the Red Bull Ring all eyes will be on whether Gregoire Saucy can continue his FRECA dominance, of if Zane Maloney and Hadrien David can close the gap. Last year’s Italian F4 runner-up Francesco Pizzi and Ferrari Junior Dino Beganovic are two more drivers on the grid that stand where Petecof stood, whilst rookie sensation Gabriele Mini could take his first win.

But keep a look out for the KIC Motorsport #11 car, and the driver who’s taken the road less travelled.

Stay tuned for part two.

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