Correa: F3 car physicality ‘could be more of a disadvantage for women’

For two of this year’s FIA F3 grid, Jonny Edgar and Juan Manuel Correa, enforced breaks from the season due to illness and injury have made the physical job of racing even harder when trying to muscle the Dallara F3 2019 around corners at high speed. F1 Feeder Series spoke to the duo about the physicality of the sport.

By Michael McClure

Over the winter of 2022, Jonny Edgar began to feel unwell. The newly signed Trident driver had been experiencing inflammation in his digestive tract and quickly lost weight as F3 testing approached. Instead of mounting what should have been a title challenge, he was trying to survive each session as his strength dwindled. His chances of points, let alone podiums or wins, slimmed with every passing day.

Having received his Crohn’s disease diagnosis, Edgar withdrew from F3 after the opening round in Bahrain. It was initially expected that he wouldn’t return for the rest of the season, which ends 11 September at Monza, but a treatment plan helped him get back on track sooner than expected. As his most painful symptoms faded, his weight rebounded from a low of 52 kilograms in April back to his normal of 69 kilograms, and he returned to racing three months later, in early July, for his home race at Silverstone.

Since his return, Edgar has looked increasingly comfortable behind the wheel and racked up points in the UK and Austria, taking eighth in the Feature Race at Silverstone and seventh in the Sprint Race at the Red Bull Ring. At a media session ahead of the event, Edgar told F1 Feeder Series that he felt the current car shouldn’t be made any more difficult to drive than it currently is.

Points for Jonny Edgar and Trident at Silverstone | Credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

“The cars are pretty hard to drive. When I was ill and then missed a bit, it was even more difficult coming back, and I think with how competitive the championship is, even a little bit struggling, even if you don’t feel it, it makes a difference.

“It definitely doesn’t help, but I’d say the cars aren’t too physical. Obviously, you have to train for it and everything, but every sport has that high level that you have to be quite fit for. So I think it’s okay as it is, but I don’t think you’d really want to make it much harder than it is currently.”

Physicality ‘part of the challenge’ for Correa

In August 2019, Correa was involved in a fatal Formula 2 accident at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps that claimed the life of Anthoine Hubert. Correa sustained severe leg, lung and back injuries in the accident, requiring more than 20 surgeries over the next year and a half before making a sensational return to racing in 2021. At one point in his recovery, doctors told him that he might never return to racing.

After racing an F3 car with a modified braking system while he regained strength in his legs that year, Correa returned to a standard set-up in 2022, intent on delivering a front-running challenge. But he began experiencing pain in his left foot during the first race of the season at Bahrain, which turned out to be a stress fracture in one of his left metatarsals.

Correa returned to the cockpit for Round 3 in Barcelona after sitting out the in-season test at Barcelona as well as the Imola round. The injury also affected his planned dual campaign with Prema in ELMS this season, which he has yet to start because of his injury recovery timeline and schedule clashes with F3.

Juan Manuel Correa | Credit: Joan Codina

Correa’s experiences in recovering from injury and racing cars while driving with reduced strength gives him a crucial perspective on the physical challenges of his current machinery. Correa explained to F1 Feeder Series that drivers who take breaks from driving face an even steeper re-learning curve.

“The F3 and F2 cars are probably one of the more physical formula cars in the world. I think maybe only IndyCar is more physical than this category, so now [whether] one might say it’s too physical or not, that’s the way the car’s made. It’s part of the challenge and it’s interesting, but it does make it very difficult if you have an extended absence, as you said, for injury.

“Jonny and I had to come back – it’s not easy. It’s a lot more than just getting back the reflexes, but also there’s certain muscles that you cannot really work in the gym but you really feel it when you get back in the car.”

Potential difficulties for female racers

Correa also thought that the physical challenges of the current F3 car, which does not include power steering, might pose an additional barrier for women. In recent weeks, Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell have both cited a difference in raw physical strength relative to men as a challenge that women face in climbing the ladder to F1.

“I think that it could be more of a disadvantage for women, to be honest, because it comes to a point where it is difficult even for us to be strong enough to endure a 45-minute race, so I would imagine for a girl it’s more challenging. But I’m not the one to judge on that,” Correa said.

It remains to be seen how Correa and Edgar will adapt to the more technical Hungaroring this weekend, particularly with temperatures forecast to be well above 30 degrees Celsius on Friday.

Header photo credit: ART Grand Prix / Juan Manuel Correa

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