Exclusive: An intimate look inside Petecof’s short-lived Campos marriage in F2

Gianluca Petecof had a rough year. He made the leap from Formula Regional to Formula 2, bypassing FIA Formula 3 because Adrian Campos gave him a ‘special’ opportunity right before his death. For the first time the Brazilian gives us a detailed look inside that short-lived marriage, all in his own words.

By Adam Dickinson

I was kind of hoping that winning the FREC championship would put me in a better position for 2021. I think the super license points situation is a good reference to know more or less where each driver is.

Having just turned 18 in November, and then by early December, winning the championship and already getting the 40 points which would give me the super license, that was a really good achievement. And that’s quite relevant, if you look even in F2 there are not a lot of guys that have it, I think it’s maybe five guys that have it. And I was one of them, so that’s something that I carry with me and that’s the reason why I’m still working on the future because this shows that I have to be there.

But in F3 the only opportunities that I was receiving was to drive for teams that hadn’t even placed in the top five of the championship, and then I got the chance of Campos in F2.

It was extra special because unfortunately what happened inside Campos this year with Adrian, we had a conversation shortly before he passed. And he just told me that he wanted me in the team, that he saw my potential, that he saw what I was able to do.

So that meant a lot, I think it was probably the first time in my career that happened, because before that I was always linked to a sponsor, I was linked to a driver academy but even when all of that went away I was able to get that opportunity and those words, that’s something quite special.

So that would always give me motivation to keep looking forward and knowing that I’m able to achieve things and having people that trust in me for what I’m able to do. 

I would have never considered F2 if it wasn’t for that opportunity that had arisen in the end simply because it’s a totally different world.

Credit: Campos

Not only the category itself, but also that whole format is something you get used to in F3 – the car is a lot less powerful than F2, it’s a natural step from regional. Most of the drivers there are coming from the same place as you, some of them have experienced in the category but it’s kind of the same level and it teaches you a lot that you carry that into F2.

I had to learn one or two years worth of information in about a month and a half so that I could show up to the test in Bahrain kind-of ready. But you never realize how big the step is until you actually sit in the car and for that first experience. 

The beginning of the season was quite eventful, very hard in many aspects. We had that period in Bahrain, where I went from completely zero to having good days through the test and the first race weekend, then we had an official test in Barcelona which was very positive.

For the first time I was able to feel some limits of the car, like I’m driving the car properly among the grid, and then we got to Monaco – which was already a little uncertain just before the race, we didn’t know if we’d be able to be there or not.

We had a date set for after Monaco where the team would give me that flexible period to work on finding sponsors and finding support for the rest of the season. It’s common, I think especially in F2 since it’s such a big budget, it’s common for teams to give drivers a window to figure out the financial situation for the full season.

The team made a big effort to put me in the car for Monaco. And then you’re right there, it doesn’t matter how much you think it’s going to be overwhelming and exciting, it’s always more, it always tops that, it tops any expectation.

I had been there before and I’ve always loved the place, it’s quite beautiful. But then you arrive during the race week and everything is just different, it’s like the glamour is shining. You go out on track the first time and you’re kind of sh*tting yourself a little bit because everything is so quick because the car is very powerful.

You’re topping 280kph on a few sections of the track. The tunnel section, you watch videos of F2 and you’re like, ‘oh, it’s easy flat, you know, tunnel’s not a problem’ and then you go around there for the first push lap and you struggle to keep it flat because the car’s moving around and the track is completely green.

Out of all of the tracks of the year, it’s the track where you want to enjoy your free practice time most because nobody ever drives there apart from race weekends. The track improves massively throughout the session and when you get to qualifying, you need to have your references straight and you need to be lapping good times in free practice, if you want to have a good qualifying at all.

So then when I go out, do a couple laps and the engine blows up like the Hiroshima bomb. It was not cool man, yeah it was tough, I only saw the flames and everything and the proportion of it afterwards because then I got back.

It’s frustrating and after a couple of hours I went to check Instagram and I see every racing-related page sharing it and posting about it, I think even F1 posted on their profile and it was you like ‘s***’ and then I saw a picture of the hill after Sainte Devote completely covered in smoke and then the onboard of a couple of guys trying to drive through and it’s completely foggy.

Credit: Campos

So that was quite a start to the weekend, it was tough going into qualifying with only a couple of push laps in the books, you just have to keep studying and trying to remember it more and kind of guessing where the grip was.

In qualifying there’s only so much you can do, you know, because everybody is improving maybe half a second or six tenths throughout the push laps and I’m out there making three-second jumps for lap-to-lap.

Then through the races there were a couple of crashes, just on the limit all the time, getting frustrated behind people because you’re trying to overtake and then as soon as you push a bit more trying to get close enough to attempt an overtake, mistakes can happen.

But then by the last race, once again, penalties, traffic, all of that stuff, stuck behind people all the time, and then we got to a point where we said ‘okay, we have nothing to lose anymore’. We pitted for softs at the end so we could see our pace and that’s when I did the third best lap.

I got two out of the three purple sectors of the track catching up a lot of the front runners. So then again, you’re able to see what was possible if you had just had a clean run. Of course, it’s already at the end of the weekend, everything is already kind of gone and past you, but it’s also good to see what was possible.

After that, we knew that it was going to be very hard to be in the car in Baku. We still tried something last minute but it was not possible. Also the team needed to to get going financially so then it was a natural decision, it was already a deal that was a place from the beginning.

Even if you were already expecting it, it’s always tough to get the word, but I think I was able to once again, take that, and transform it into some kind of motivation and energy to start working.

You always live to fight another day and I’m quite open-minded about my future. I know that if I tell myself that the goal is not F1 I might as well pack everything and go home right away, so that of course has to be the main objective, but equally it’s important to know that’s not the only path to take.

A good example for me recently is Antonio Felix Da Costa, a great driver, very successful in many categories, won the Formula E championship and he was right there to make it into F1 and in the end it didn’t happen for him, but he was still able to have a very successful career out of F1.

I’ve got say, now is not the moment, and I would prefer to stay in Europe on a number of scenarios rather than moving out into Asia or the US, for example. But that’s a possibility for the future as well.

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