Juan Manuel Correa opens up about his F2 return: ‘It’s a bit surreal’

Juan Manuel Correa will return to the FIA Formula 2 Championship after three years this weekend as he takes over from David Beckmann at Van Amersfoort Racing for the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi. F1 Feeder Series spoke with the American-Ecuadorian driver at a media roundtable Thursday about his comeback journey and further hopes for a future in F2.

By Tyler Foster

It has been more than three years and two months since the horrific accident in the 2019 Formula 2 Feature Race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps that saw Anthoine Hubert lose his life and Juan Manuel Correa suffer injuries that caused him to be put in a medically induced coma.

Since that tragic event, Correa has been focused on fully recovering in order to return to F2. He has raced for ART Grand Prix in FIA Formula 3 for the last two years, improving gradually and taking his first podium since his racing return at Zandvoort in September.

He’s endured pain and faced recovery along the way, but Correa stressed to F1 Feeder Series that his return to the F2 paddock has been a long time coming.

“I’m not surprised because it’s what I’ve been working for, for the last three years, so I’m delighted to be here. I’m surprised to be back here this year because obviously it’s the end of the season and this opportunity came last moment,” he said.

I’ve been working hard to get a seat for next year, and for me to be here this weekend is certainly a big step in the right direction.

Juan Manuel Correa on a full-time F2 return

“I do see my future in F2 on longer terms for next year. It’s no secret that I’ve been working hard to get a seat for next year, and for me to be here this weekend is certainly a big step in the right direction.”

Van Amersfoort for 2023?

Given that Correa was a part of the Prema team in the European Le Mans Series that won the season-ending 4 Hours of Portimão, many believed his future would be in endurance racing. But with the wealth of experience that Correa has in open-wheel racing, it seems that his focus is on returning to F2 as a full-time driver.

VAR’s 2023 line-up remains unconfirmed, but F1 Feeder Series understands that Correa remains a front-runner for a seat with them, with current VAR driver and Correa’s teammate this weekend Amaury Cordeel likely to continue with the Dutch squad.

The Van Amersfoort team’s wealth of experience in feeder series racing, dating back to 1975, smoothed their sizeable jump to F2. In just the second round of the season at Jeddah, VAR’s then lead driver Jake Hughes crossed the line in third before being disqualified for having a skid plank that was not thick enough.

The loss of what would have been a maiden F2 podium and Hughes’ departure after Round 8 were blows to VAR, who are currently last in the teams’ standings with 61 points. Nevertheless, both Cordeel and Beckmann, who has driven in Hughes’ place since Round 9, have taken numerous points scores in recent rounds.

Correa made his F2 debut in 2019 with a Charouz team in just their second year in the series. Coincidentally, 2023 will also be VAR’s second year in F2, so Correa said he’d be in ‘a similar position’ of working to push them forward if he joins them.

“[VAR] know they’re not at the level they want to be, but they are hungry to get better. For me, that’s a really nice challenge, actually, to become a part of. I feel that in many ways I can bring a sort of experience and perspective that not a lot of drivers my age have because I’ve been with a lot of teams,” Correa said.

“I’m also very good at building an environment, so that’s one of my goals for this weekend. The weekend hasn’t started, but they’ve surprised me already in many ways because I can see the drive they have. I really believe they will be a top team in the near future, so it’s an exciting franchise.”

Older and wiser

When Correa made his debut in F2 machinery, he was a 19-year-old rookie who went on to score two Sprint Race podiums before the Spa accident. Now at the age of 23, he has amassed vastly more experience to complement his abilities behind the wheel. We asked him, under the assumption that he does find himself in F2 next year, whether he would be at the same level as when he last raced in the series or if he has developed into a better driver since his return.

“I would probably expect more, to be honest. I think I am a lot more complete now than I was at the beginning of 2019, as a driver, as a team player, and I feel that I would be able to do a better job than I did that year. There are other factors, like team performance. This category is very competitive. There [are] a lot of good teams.”

I am a lot more complete now than I was at the beginning of 2019, as a driver, as a team player

Juan Manuel Correa

Despite F2’s competitiveness, Correa hopes to find renewed success on a side of the paddock that he knows well.

“It’s a bit surreal,” Correa said, “because it’s been a long time and I’ve kept this goal for three years. On the other hand, it feels very familiar. I think it’s a paddock that I’m familiar with. I know everybody. I’ve raced with a lot of the guys, obviously most of them already before. The car is fundamentally the same one that I raced in 2019 except for the 18-inch tyres. I think it will be still challenging to jump in even if I didn’t know this category. I hope to get just a clean weekend out of it.”

Header photo credit: James Gasperotti / Van Amersfoort Racing

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