Cameron Das claimed the 2021 Euroformula title at Barcelona last weekend with his 15th podium of the season, and shortly after sat down with Formula Scout to talk through the technical elements of his year
If you watch Cameron Das on YouTube, you’ll know he isn’t a driver who reviews races as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or even neccessarily rate his performance as a whole. He’s far more technically minded, and therefore when he joined the Formula Scout Podcast just an hour after securing the Euroformula crown to review his season, he went into the engineering details.
But first, how was it feeling to be champion?
“Elated. Also relieved. It’s good to have it done on a Saturday because I think the last two races will just be fun for me. Not that I don’t have fun every race, but there’s always a certain level of making sure you have the good result and you might not go for a certain move because you want to mitigate risk. The next two races are all out.”
They were just that, with Das concluding the year with a fifth and a second, the latter earned after a daring move around the outside of title rival Louis Foster at the start. The Saturday race had been more stressful, with an oil temperature warning and a slow-shifting gearbox late on meaning he couldn’t have a go at race leader Cem Bolukbasi.
Back in May Algarve hosted round one of the season, Das’s fifth in Euroformula, and the American described the event as a “very new” experience.
“I had never been to Portimao before. I did some simulator, and we even had a simulator in one of the trucks that weekend so that we could practice as much as we could, but it’s never the real thing and it was a complete gamble to me as to where I was going to finish the first weekend. Early in practice, the pace wasn’t as strong, but as I learned the track then from race one to three was pretty dominant.”
Das took his first three Euroformula wins, including the series’ first ever reversed grid race, in front of the Formula 1 fraternity at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
“[The sim’s] better for knowing what gears are for what corners, and having a little bit of a base and muscle memory. But then in terms of where the grip actually is, which line’s actually going to have the most grip, especially when rubber’s been put down by F1 and the other series that were there. That’s something you just have to learn in the car, there’s no other way.
“It changed a lot [with F1 rubber]. Normally we have this progressive boost in grip, which we didn’t really have with the Pirellis. It depended also on what the temperature was. Like if we had a morning run versus an afternoon run, but we’d start to pick up their rubber at certain temperatures for a few laps until the tyres got up to a certain temp. Everyone was on an even playing field because no one knew how to really react to the F1 rubber. It was interesting, especially from the engineers’ perspective.”
Motopark worked wonders on Das’s car, as he triumphed on average by 8.388 seconds in the races.
“We had a pretty commanding [reversed grid] race. I can’t remember what the exact delta was behind another car, but it was probably seven tenths a lap you needed to really be in a position to try to overtake. And then we had a very long straight, we had an uphill bit, so it meant that – also with the wind direction as well – that was helping a lot.
“We had a headwind into turn one through pretty much the whole weekend, so it was punching a huge hole in the air from whoever was in front. So we were able to have quite a few decent overtakes. It was surprising to us, because we thought it was going to be an aerowashy track, just like Barcelona is, but in reality it was great for overtaking. Especially when we had the extra pace.”
That extra race pace effectively vanished for round two at Paul Ricard, where Das, team-mate Jak Crawford and CryptoTower Racing Team’s Foster had some thrilling battles. Crawford won the first two, and Das prevailed in the third.
“I thought it was fun,” Das said of the battles. “Race three, Jak, Louis and I were just battling pretty much every lap. For the first half of the race until I got ahead of Jak. It was a track you really don’t overtake at, and we were having great battles. So I more saw it as just fun, and I thought the rest of the season was going to be a lot like that. Which it was. So it was great.”
But after Paul Ricard was Spa-Francorchamps, where Motopark’s title contenders had come to blows multiple times before. In 2021, Das and Foster (in a satellite Motopark car) just avoided that.
“I mean I didn’t quite avoid it,” said Das. “I avoided contact with Louis, I think this was race one. I think he had made a second move to be quite honest. I didn’t realise at the time, it wasn’t until I watched it after the fact, but he made a second move and neither Josh [Mason] or I was expecting it. So Josh and I made contact, and then I had damage from that.
“I ended up having to retire later on because one of the suspension arms was collapsing. It definitely put us on the backfoot. The new structure of the races really, if you had a bad race one, you could have a really tough weekend from that point on.
“So that was like the first major hardship I think I had through the season, and then that sort of brought us back onto an even playing field in terms of points. So from that point on, I was like ‘OK, well I don’t have this in the bag, so if I have to perform in every single possible [race].”
Das left Spa leading Foster by 19 points, and the gap remained after the Hungaroring. Das retired in race one there, putting him to the rear of the grid for the new-for-2021 reversed grid race two, then claimed fastest lap in that race to put himself on pole for race three which he won despite it being his “least favourite track in the world”.
“It was also boiling hot. I think on Thursday it was 38°C. Everyone was struggling physically. Motopark had literally put out trash cans with ice in the water. We needed it, honestly.”
That moment made for some of the best social media content of the season, but the big takeaway for Das that weekend was the lost points in race one which he had led prior to a brake failure.
“I think we would have had fastest lap as well, and yeah quite a bit of damage to the car. The other thing that happened that weekend was in free practice I bottomed on the exit kerb of turn four, and I tubbed the car. It was really minor. You watch the onboard and you wouldn’t think anything of it, but the chassis wasn’t usable anymore so the team did an insane job to switch everything on the car back to a spec chassis.
“From what I understand, that area where it’s susceptible is actually thinner than the old chassis is. So it’s just easier to have damage in that area than the previous tub. But the chassis are different. The performance might be the same, but there’s always slight little differences in set-up you can do to adapt each chassis. So we noticed a difference immediately in the second one, and going straight into quali’s not easy when you don’t really know what the optimal is for that chassis. We were a bit on the back foot, and then race three was really the recovery we needed.”
The heat of July continued on to Imola, where the circuit kerbs led to chassis damage for several drivers.
“That’s exactly what happened to me actually,” Das confirmed. “So I think this ended up being my best weekend of the year, despite the results probably being the worst of the year apart from Spa.
“We had chassis damage from some time in free practice, we’re not sure when, and we didn’t notice – or we didn’t see the chassis damage until the car got back to the factory after the race weekend. We knew something was wrong, but at that point we didn’t have a spare, so I just had to drive it. And it was getting worse on the chicane kerbs.
“It was getting worse and worse every lap, and the car was genuinely undriveable. So the podium I had in race three was, I can’t even describe how difficult that was. And I was keeping somebody behind me who was giving me massive pressure.”
Foster closed to within four points of the title lead that weekend, which upped the ante for after the summer break when Euroformula returned to track at the Red Bull Ring.
“I wasn’t quick at it in previous race reasons, but I had a test just before the end of the season last year, then for whatever reason at that test something clicked with the whole track, and then I knew – I was just confident,” Das revealed.
“It was sector three that I really struggled with. Turn 9. And then once I figured that out, I was very confident. I went straight into the race weekend not having to iron those issues out. I didn’t have to find, it was just there. And then we had a great fight with Jak throughout the whole weekend, who was very, very quick.”
Crawford was the fastest Motopark driver in every session bar first practice, but FP1 pacesetter Das knew that Friday morning form wouldn’t be indicative of what was next.
“To a certain extent, you kind of have to ignore what you’re feeling in free practice. You have to trust that you know where the grip is going to be in qualifying, and how the track can evolve to that point. But sometimes you can’t really read into what you feel in free practice. Because apart from this weekend where we had new tyres here in Barcelona, most of the time we’re on like some race tyre from who knows where and it’s not really relevant.
“Sometimes you swap sides too. Because the inside tyre from that last track is going to have more rubber than that left side. So you might swap. Someone might be on a tyre from Budapest, and someone’s on a tyre from Portimao. And the wear’s going to be completely different. So you can’t even look at the laptimes, honestly, and know where you’re really at.”
That makes qualifying a difficult session to master in Euroformula, and Das didn’t get his first series pole until the penultimate round at Monza. It’s a format “I haven’t completely nailed” yet, according to the American.
Heavy rain hit the Monza weekend and Das claimed two wins while Foster was wiped out and left with a 63-point mountain to climb to defeat Das at Barcelona.
Ultimately Das’s second place in race one there was enough to wrap it up early, and was an impressive performance beyond his late technical worries.
“I think I was the only one who didn’t do a long run [in free practice]. The first run on Thursday [testing] I did eight laps. And then the longest long run I did was six laps, which was on the reduced aero setting and everything. So I didn’t really know what to expect, especially being so slow.”
Despite this lack of precise knowledge on how the tyres would react over a race distance, Das and Van Amersfoort Racing’s Bolukbasi really pushed each other for victory and set some impressively consistent laptimes in the proccess.
“We did definitely have some drop-off, like some of the other tracks with the fuel load burning off. We’re quicker on the last lap than we are on the first lap, even with new tyres. But in this case, Barcelona is so aggressive on the tyre that I think we’re all holding on towards the end of that race.”
The reprofiled turn 10 hairpin meant the right-hand tyres were getting abused almost as much as the left-hand tyres too around the clockwise track.
Das’s target for 2022 is “100%” Formula 2, rather than a return to Formula 3 where he finished a pointless 25th in 2020. He was also sixth in Euroformula (after missing two rounds) and Motopark’s team principal Timo Rumpfkeil, who has run Das since mid-2019, told Formula Scout last year that the stability of just one series in 2021 would lead to a performance jump.
“Yeah, I mean it certainly helps,” admitted Das after becoming champion.
“I was a little exhausted by the end of last year with all the travel and with COVID-19 and everything being even worse.
“Car-wise, that F3’s a lot heavier. There’s a lot more tyre degradation. It’s a different mindset to driving that. And also with DRS, you have to time the speed traps pretty much perfectly in order to have the DRS activated on the next lap. But you need to know that the person behind you, you don’t want them to have the DRS at a certain point. So it’s an extra element. [While] the car in Euroformula is super sensitive. On driving inputs, I think you need to be way more precise with this car than the F3 car.”
Precision is crucial to preventing the rear-end from snapping out, particularly when Motopark favours a set-up that is more oversteery than other teams as the rear axle rotates more on the entry to corners.
Das thinks that his long spell at Motopark “has helped massively” for his development, and “it’s where I’ve learned the most in my career”. And how long did it take for him to master Motopark’s fabled set-up approach?
“I don’t think I was comfortable with it when I first started driving with them. I don’t know if it’s a Motopark thing, or a German thing, but when I was with British teams, it was always said ‘not understeery’, but definitely not as on the edge.
“So I was very much used to that [new approach]. And then towards the end of the last year, it started to click for me and now I really hope I don’t have to drive a car that’s not like that ever again.”
It’s no surprise that Euroformula’s last two dominant champions said pretty much the same thing.
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