Andreas Jenzer on developing drivers: ‘When Yuki Tsunoda left us, he was very complete’

Being the established Swiss team within Formula One’s junior categories, Jenzer Motorsport has been run as a family business for the past 30 years. Currently competing in FIA F3 and Formula 4, the outfit has taken wins and titles in multiple series and has seen the likes of Yuki Tsunoda, Nico Müller and Jonny Edgar developing under the guidance of team founder and owner, Andreas Jenzer. A former racing driver himself, the knowledgeable man sat down with F1 Feeder Series to discuss Jenzer’s history and the difficulties of driver development.

by Alexander Studenkov

“I got started in motorsport in touring cars in Switzerland. We have a very small racetrack and that’s where I started to do some weekend races. Then I got involved with Formula Ford in 1988 and raced there until 93’. Together with a friend I actually built about 15 Formula Ford cars as a constructor; the car was called ‘Faster’.

“And then in 1993 I was taking over an importation of an English Formula Ford company called ‘Swift’. I was importing the cars until 98’, then I changed to Tatuus and Van Diemen and in the year 2000, when Renault launched the Formula Renault 2000 series and as we all know, this was one of the greatest cars in junior single-seaters.”

We have a very small racetrack and that’s where I started to do some weekend races

Andreas Jenzer

Within this championship the team experienced great success. Following the Renault pathway, a then-rival to the more well-known route set by the FIA, Jenzer Motorsport became champions in the German, Italian and Swiss Formula Renault 2.0 series. Added to that, the support of Renault Switzerland enabled them to join the World Series by Renault, coming four points short of winning the 2003 title with Neel Jani, whom Jenzer credits as one of the best drivers that ever drove for him.

“And in the year 2010 we decided to go into GP3. We stayed in GP3 until today, the category having been renamed to FIA F3 in 2019. I think there is a very clear path in motorsport for the spectators now with Formula 4, Formula 3 and Formula 2. Everything in between is not really that important.”

Why one creates a race team

With this wealth of experience within the industry, it seems a surprise as to why Jenzer never progressed from being a feeder series team to becoming a professional outfit paying its drivers. Although an enticing prospect, Jenzer has always stayed on the path of developing young drivers.

“I was already quite old when I started to race myself. All the money I used for racing was from sponsorship or from my own earnings. I did this as a hobby because I enjoyed driving myself. And in 1993 one of my main sponsors made a suggestion for me to look after young drivers and I already looked after two drivers at the time: Hans Pfeuti and Tazio Pessi.

In 1993 one of my main sponsors made a suggestion for me to look after young drivers

Andreas Jenzer

“And we were already quite successful early on in Formula Ford all over Europe. I enjoyed working with young drivers and I still enjoy working with drivers in single-seaters up until now. I think now team owners don’t stay in single-seaters because it’s obviously the highest level of motorsport, there are many other categories but I enjoy working with young people.

“Of course, it’s always nice to see your driver moving on and becoming professional. I think it’s a big task but there are quite a few drivers today that are earning money that have come out of our team, building up from very young.”

The drivers

Jenzer has the right to feel proud, as some of the drivers that have, in part, been forged by Jenzer Motorsport, have gone on to reach Formula One, win titles in the World Endurance Championship or the European Le Mans Series. When asked about his most talented ever drivers, Jenzer presented some well-known names.

“The most complete package…Nico Müller was a very complete driver. Obviously, Yuki Tsunoda was a very strong character, but it was an extremely fast learning curve when he arrived with us, the little Japanese boy, and when he left us, he was a very complete driver. Building within 10 months, it was incredible, from F4 to F2. There is Bruno Spengler and Neel Jani who were also very high-level and they are still very high-level drivers now.”

I think there are these kinds of talents out there…if you are at the top there that means the driver must have talent

Andreas Jenzer

“With Yuki Tsunoda, we actually had him in the car in 2018 for the end-of-season test in GP3 and at the same time we also had Oscar Piastri in our car. Even if Oscar was already signed to do [Formula] Renault the year after, he wanted to learn the track and we had him in the car for two days. It was a nice comparison and I remember that the two drivers were never out of the top five.

“I think there are these kinds of talents out there, obviously the engineers can see this on their driving style, but in the end, there is always a printed piece of paper coming out at the end of the day and if you are at the top there that means the driver must have talent.”

A constant battle off-track

For Jenzer however, the wins and titles of their alumni is not the be-all and end-all of his operation: Financial stability for teams, especially ones within F1’s junior series, is a rare occurrence, with a number of teams closing up shop or selling to the (vanishingly rare) highest bidder every year.

“The biggest achievement is not only building a driver. I think the biggest achievement is that we survived in this hay-fish pot for 30 years as a stand-alone company from Switzerland. We don’t have a huge investor behind us; I survived with my wife Esther for 30 years [by] doing a seriously good job. We never cheated and always did the things very clear and that’s probably one of the biggest achievements.”

We never cheated and always did the things very clear and that’s probably one of the biggest achievements

Andreas Jenzer

“I am not a money-driven person and neither is my wife. We don’t have a family, we don’t have kids, we are not money people. We enjoy the sport, even if the sport gets more and more difficult. Other teams have big investors behind them that are willing to lose money, we don’t have this but I think through serious work we were able to survive for all of these years. We are very clean in terms of our financial situation and obviously this is also a part of our success which we’re very proud of. If we one day decide to walk away, we can walk away while being able to watch our own face in the mirror.”

The art of driver management

For this season in Italian and ADAC F4, Jenzer has two separate line-ups comprised of four rookies, namely Nandhavud Bhirombhakdi, Ethan Ischer, Rasmus Joutsimies and PHM Racing loanee Valentin Kluss, meanwhile only two drivers, Samir Ben and Oleksandr Partyshev, have previously competed in the category.

With an average age of 16 at the beginning of the season and with Ben being the only sophomore Jenzer driver, the Swiss team have had a difficult time in both series, with a best result of eighth place coming from Ukrainian Partyshev at the Hockenheimring. Jenzer explains what goes into keeping the drivers grounded during a very crucial stage in their career.

I think it’s more important to manage the parents and the manager than the driver

Andreas Jenzer

“Obviously I think today it’s very important to manage all what is around the driver. A lot of drivers today are arriving with managements or with their parents and I think it’s more important to manage the parents and the manager than the driver. I think if we have the driver to our self throughout the whole weekend, we have so much experience and we have had so many rookie drivers from all around the world, all the characters around the world. Obviously, I am trying to calm down the situation.

“Today you also have to push the drivers, obviously. Quite a lot of drivers today are not taking the maximum out of themself and out of the car, they need to believe more in themself, they need to believe more in the car. Sometimes, okay, they end up in the wall or they end up making a mistake but they are more driving at 95 percent than at 105 percent.”

The performances the drivers put in are being looked upon closely by people with connections to professional motorsport, as even academy bosses of F1 teams follow the race weekends in hopes of discovering a future star. However, Jenzer does not believe that a driver’s rookie results in car racing should matter to a great extent.

For me it’s all about trying to make the mistakes now [rather] than when you are more in the spotlight

Andreas Jenzer

“It’s a learning category in the end, I think it’s the time to learn. When they are in their first years of single-seaters, mistakes are allowed. You should not do mistakes anymore when you are in FIA F3 and FIA F2, that’s where mistakes really hurt and where you are really in the spotlight. In F4, you are in the spotlight for a weekend, maybe the winner is in the spotlight all the season but I think rookie drivers can learn, they can be at the front, they can be at the back, for me it’s all about trying to make the mistakes now [rather] than when you are more in the spotlight.”

Header Photo Credit: Red Bull Media

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