After five years on the sidelines in driver coaching and broadcasting, Facu Regalia – who rivalled Daniil Kvyat for the 2013 GP3 title – made a shock single-seater racing return last weekend. This is how it happened
Over a decade in age separated Van Amersfoort Racing’s two drivers in Formula Regional European Championship at Paul Ricard. One was 18-year-old Pierre-Louis Chovet, and the other was his 28-year-old driver coach Facu Regalia, whose most recent single-seater race appearance had been in the final ever Auto GP event at Silverstone in May 2015.
Regalia was something of a breakout star in an unpredictable 2013 GP3 season, which was arguably the most open in the series’ nine-year history, with six drivers still in contention for the title ahead of the Abu Dhabi season finale. Back-to-back feature race wins for current AlphaTauri F1 driver Kvyat had propelled him to second in the standings and seven points adrift of Regalia prior to Abu Dhabi, and effectively set up a showdown between the pair, with other drivers only outside title bets.
Misfortune at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza had effectively ended the hopes of long-time points leader Tio Ellinas, while Regalia had the measure of his ART Grand Prix team-mates Conor Daly and Jack Harvey, both now starring in IndyCar.
“To be honest, at the beginning of that season, nobody was expecting anything from me,” Regalia tells Formula Scout. “I think I was one of the surprises of that season. I was really confident in myself and really confident of what I could achieve during that season with ART.
“The team did a great job, they gave me a really good car; really consistent the whole time, so I could always be in the top five.
“But at some point, I started to believe that I could really win the championship. I would say after my win at the Nurburgring, after that victory, it gave me so much confidence that I could feel it already, that this championship can be ours.”
Regalia’s seven-point advantage was reduced to three when Arden’s Kvyat stormed to Abu Dhabi pole, with Regalia himself only 10th on the grid. He’d risen to seventh in race one before a 30-second penalty for passing then-Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz Jr off the track dropped him to 15th place.
In the season-ending sprint race he fared even worse in 16th, completing his first pointless weekend since a woeful season-opener. Kvyat romped to the title with a win and a fifth, and a 30-point margin that did not reflect how close the season had been.
“It was a shame that we lost it by nothing [much] with Kvyat in Abu Dhabi,” Regalia reflected. “We arrived leading the championship, but unfortunately it was a difficult weekend for us and it was a really good weekend for him. The final result was what it was.
“It was my first time [at the track]… but in the end that wasn’t an issue, we were fighting for pole with the first set of tyres in qualifying, but then the second part with the second set of tyres, my front-left brake disc broke, out of nowhere, so I couldn’t take advantage of the second set [of tyres].
“From P3 with the first set, I moved to P10 [by the end of qualifying], and Kvyat on pole. It was kind of a disaster already from then on, because being P3, I could have still easily without any problems then [been] in the fight. But unfortunately the situation got really complicated for me, from that moment onwards.”
Kvyat graduated to F1 with Toro Rosso the following season while Regalia targeted a full-time drive in GP2 with a top team. He ended up signing for Force India-supported Hilmer Motorsport, which only had one year of GP2 experience under its belt. The team was not Regalia’s original choice of destination.
“The intention was to continue with ART in GP2, the team wanted it as well. But unfortunately we didn’t have the budget to step up with them. The only alternative was Hilmer Motorsport, because Hilmer was also supported by Force India.
“I became a reserve driver for Force India at the beginning of 2014. [Hilmer] was a decision also coming from them. And in the end because of budget reasons, performance issues with the car, we were struggling so much – also my team-mate Daniel Abt was facing his second year in GP2 – and we were nowhere.”
Following the conclusion of the 2013 GP3 season, Regalia had even conducted a simulator day with McLaren and tested for Caterham’s GP2 outfit in the post-season GP2 test in Abu Dhabi, before joining the Force India/Hilmer alliance.
“The pre-season was really good, we were looking quite good. But when the first race weekend arrived, we were struggling so much. Having too many issues, I did four rounds and the team wanted me to continue, but I didn’t want to for two reasons.
“One: the budget, and the other because I was not reaching the goal. The goal was to be there in top six, fighting with [Stoffel] Vandoorne, the best rookie at that point. But it was impossible, and a shame because the initial plan was to be with Vandoorne in ART, both together in the same team, it could have been great.
“There were too honestly many issues going on, between balance, electronic issues, sometimes technical issues. That’s the reason why I decided to stop and look for a proper budget the year after.”
Regalia walked away from after a disastrous season start, where his best qualifying position was 19th and his best race finish was 17th. Rather than land a return to the series in 2015, he instead ended up racing in Auto GP.
“The intention was to go for a full season in GP2 in 2015 with a competitive team, but unfortunately the budget and the support didn’t arrive. We did our best, I moved to Argentina for the second part of the season in 2014, to find the budget everywhere, from my government, from private companies, but it was impossible.
“My country is a very difficult one. Very complicated to get support for these kind of things. Although the passion for motorsport is mega, and they really want the F1 back. But they want everything without [paying].
“In 2015, I did Auto GP because they invited me to do the whole season for free with them. It was a really nice chance to fight for another championship, to keep getting victories, to keep me active as well, but unfortunately, the category entered bankruptcy after the second round at Silverstone, and we had to stop.
“By then, I was P2 in the championship and fighting for the title with [ex-F1 driver] Antonio Pizzonia, so it was a shame honestly because the car is great.”
Regalia’s driver coaching began that same year in Euroformula and Spanish Formula 4, and he joined Argentina’s F1 television broadcasting team. His goal of returning to the second-tier was not over, however, as he came close to securing a place on the 2018 Formula 2 grid with MP Motorsport, a team which would eventually run ex-F1 driver Roberto Merhi and Ralph Boschung at the start of the season after a Los Angeles-based investor funding Regalia’s attempted entry had to pull his support.
“When I lost that opportunity, it was right at that moment that I decided myself to officially start running the [Road to Success] company. I let everyone know in the paddock, in the environment, about the intention, my work philosophy, people working in the programme, and so on.
“There was straight away a really big interest from many people around the paddock. One of them was Van Amersfoort straight away. I start from then on working fully and investing my whole time in the programme, Road To Success.”
The Road To Success driver development programme set up by Regalia features a number of past-and-present racing drivers including Mercedes-Benz’s Formula E reserve driver Dani Juncadella, DTM race-winner Lucas Auer, 2009 Euroformula champion Burno Mendez and Formula Renault 3.5 race winners Albert Costa and Borja Garcia.
Regalia’s shock single-seater return this past weekend came as a result of his association with VAR. This year he’s served as its official driver coach, as well as specifically mentoring its FREC driver Chovet. Alessandro Famularo was supposed to be his team-mate, but has put his intentions to race on halt for both coronavirus and performance-related seasons.
This left a vacant seat alongside Chovet, which Regalia was asked to fill in both the in-season test at the Red Bull Ring and the second round of the season at Paul Ricard. Regalia qualified eighth for all three races and recorded a best finish of seventh in the first and second races at a circuit he hasn’t raced on since his own Euroformula campaign in 2012.
“Well it was something that was a big surprise to everyone, even for myself,” he admitted. “Before the collective test at the Red Bull Ring, the team asked me to be the tester, to be helping the team, keep evolving the car and also helping Pierre-Louis as well, because for that test there was nobody in the second car.
“Normally there would be another driver from the next race onwards, but at that point there wasn’t anybody, so they asked me to jump in and try to help them test some things to keep evolving this car and also to keep helping Pierre-Louis.
“The last single-seaters that I drove, the GP2, the GP3, the Auto GP, those cars were really powerful cars and really [high] downforce cars and are completely different to these single-seaters, to this F3, that has a completely different way to drive, because of how heavy it is.
“It’s not so powerful in the end, because of the weight of the car. So at some point you need to drive it differently compared to what I was used to. I had to adapt myself. Red Bull Ring was of course a good opportunity to know the car, experiment with the car on track.
“I was really used to watching it from outside, and also analysing the onboards, the data and everything. I obviously had information [at hand]. For that reason, it didn’t take too long for me. It was actually pretty quick, my adaption to the car.”
The initial deal was for Paul Ricard, although the next round of the season will take place at the Red Bull Ring, where Regalia got behind the wheel of the car for the first time in the in-season test and set the second-fastest time behind team-mate Chovet on the final day.
Future race weekend outings may well depend on if VAR can fill its second seat, but regardless of whether Regalia ever gets back behind the wheel of the car again, this past weekend stands as a well-deserved single-seater return for a driver whose career could have turned out very different had he lined up alongside future F1 and FE star Vandoorne in GP2 in 2014.
You can listen to the full interview with Elliot Wood on the latest episode of the Formula Scout podcast. Click below to listen, or head to Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.