Joel Pearson will debut in British F4 this month, a year later than planned, after his racing career was paused at the end of 2020 by an osteosarcoma diagnosis. Formula Scout caught up with him about the last year
After coming eighth in Ginetta Junior two years ago, Joel Pearson was set to switch to single-seaters in the British Formula 4 championship. He began testing with Argenti Motorsport and had signed with the team to race, but his plans were then halted as he was diagnosed with pelvic osteoblastic osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
A year of chemotherapy reduced the initial cancerous tumour, and a fundraiser then started for Pearson to access carbon ion therapy abroad to completely eradicate it. Money is still being raised for that goal, but the British teenager’s recovery has gone well enough that he was able to return to simulators in 2021, test first-generation F4 cars at the start of this year and after a test in the new Tatuus T-421 car he has now signed with Chris Dittmann Racing to race in British F4 for 2022.
Formula Scout’s Jordan Edwards, who has been fighting cancer himself, caught up with the Leeds-based driver as the series’ media day test to see how he’s been getting on in the last year and what his plans are for the upcoming season:
First of all congratulations on being back on the grid, how are you finding being back in the paddock?
Obviously from my two years of Ginetta Junior, you know, it’s just kind of bedded into just what I do so it feels like being back at home, being at a race track and being around racing.
I saw you did some testing with Argenti earlier in the year in F4 machinery. What was that like getting back into the car?
In 2020 I was testing to get into F4 and then it obviously all stopped so to get back into a car after over a year; it felt amazing and then to only recently get into this new car this week. It was my first ever time in the new car, it just felt like a super modern upgrade and just felt amazing.
So if we move on to a little bit about your recovery, for any readers that might not know, would you be able to explain why you had to pause racing in the first place?
So yeah, the end of 2020, I’d finished Ginetta Junior and I was testing to get into F4 and I felt a little, like a tingle in my right, sort of pelvic area and you ignore it and then everything starts to get a little worse and I end up having a CT scan and then I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in my right pelvis. Then it was everything from there, bone cancer. But after over a year I’m getting back to racing.
You did some simulator work during your recovery, did that help you get up to speed quicker when looking at a racing return?
It’s quite funny because in the middle of treatment I was going back on the simulator, which was quite good in itself I guess. But as soon as I got in the sim and got warmed up none of the speed was lost, you forget how embedded it is and how you don’t forget things, really, after being out of the car for ages. Everyone was really happy to see all of that. So it definitely kept me in a good mindset to keep going on the sim and everything, but I think the biggest thing was getting back out in a car and when that happens it’s like a whole different story.
You talk about mindset a bit there, was there anything else that helped you through while going through treatment?
Everything that helped me through was for one, me being the person I am, I like to stay positive and I’m very determined. I find a drive in everything but the whole motorsport community wanting me to get back in the car [helped]. I got sent so many kind messages from fans and teams, and drivers, absolutely everyone in the entire community and that helped a lot, the actual wanting to get back out into a car, everything kind of mixed together and gave me a nice positive drive to get through it all.
I know I personally as well found the Teenage Cancer Trust was really helpful, especially in those early days, and I saw you also started a fundraiser for the charity.
Yeah, basically Teenage Cancer Trust helped a lot because when you go into the hospitals you’re on the teenage cancer ward. They’ve got lots of things to help you feel more comfortable so they have like Netflix and a PS4 just to make your time there as good as it can be really. But all the people there are super nice. I feel like without them it would be a different story – going there, it makes it as bearable as possible.
Let’s move onto 2022, what are you aiming for in British F4 this year? CDR is new to F4, any added pressures because of that?
No, I think this year the only person putting pressure on me is myself. From my family and team, they’re just really happy to see me out in a car. Me racing this year, they’re just happy with that, me being me. I’m not going to be happy just making up numbers being the person I am, I want to go out there to get podiums. I know it’s going to be very difficult to do that this year, given the amount of testing I’ve done and having the year out of the car. It’s going to be a tall ask but there’s no reason why I can’t be.
Has it been an easy experience settling in at CDR?
I mean, yeah to be fair the media day is the second time with them and second time meeting the whole team so I feel like I’ve settled in rather quickly. They’re a great team, Chris is just such a nice guy and all the team around him so I’m looking forward to this year with them.
What do you think of the second-generation F4 chassis? Are there any obvious differences you’ve come across so far?
I’d say there’s two. The fact that it has a bit more horsepower means around the corners it feels like it pulls a lot more and in the wet you’ve got to be a bit more cautious on the throttle in this new one. You’ve got to sort of bleed it in a lot more and make sure that you don’t spin up the wheels because sometimes it can lose traction in the rear quite easy. The other part would be the brakes, the brakes are a lot more efficient in the new car than the old one so that’s one thing I’ve got to get my head around but what’s important is that it is a much nicer car.
And finally, have you got any more testing lined up before the first race?
We’ve got Thruxton, which is one of the official days, and a bit of testing before the first race weekend so not much really.
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