There has been continued speculation this year over the whereabouts and racing plans of European Formula 3 race-winner Ralf Aron. But the 21-year-old hasn’t disappeared off the map: he’s continuing to compete in Europe with junior single-seater behemoth Prema Powerteam, just not in the driving seat.
Like most drivers, Aron got his first taste of motorsport in karting, but considered racing a hobby rather than a future career. Things changed when he moved to cars – initially because it was cheaper than staying in karts – and specifically after joining Prema for the 2014 Italian Formula 4 Winter Trophy, which he won.
He followed up with the 2015 Italian F4 title, beating Guanyu Zhou and Robert Shwartzman. The relationship with Prema continued into European F3, where he was a winner by his fourth race, but only made the podium once more.
His sophomore season was spent with Hitech GP, but once again he only scored two podiums. He redeemed his year in a one-off with Van Amersfoort Racing at the Macau Grand Prix with a charge to third place from near the back of the pack in qualifying.
A return to Prema last year was expected to result in a title challenge, but Aron only led the standings for one race mid-season. Three wins in the first 11 races (including the Pau Grand Prix crown) were followed by just six points scoring finishes in the next 11, although that did include victory at Misano. He ended up a distant sixth in the standings, also roughly his average finishing position.
This came in the shadow of juggling further education commitments, which ultimately became Aron’s priority for 2019 after his less-than-rewarding time in European F3.
Aron studies International Management and Finance (a four-year course) at Franklin University Switzerland. Although it is management-based, Aron assures Formula Scout there is no correlation with his ‘summer job’ as team manager of Prema’s Formula Regional European Championship team.
How did Aron end up behind the pitwall, rather than racing past it, this season?
“Towards the end of last year, when it started to become clear that it was possible I won’t be racing, [Prema approached me]” Aron says. “Then they offered it. At the beginning, I didn’t take it, immediately. But, you know, here we are.
“There were some signs that they might offer me something, but for sure it’s still a big responsibility for someone really young. I don’t see anyone else in my age doing this job, so in that sense I appreciate that they’ve put a lot of trust in me.”
‘Here’ is Aron’s office, otherwise known as Prema’s FREC race truck. Outside it are the cars of title-leading trio Frederik Vesti, Enzo Fittipaldi and Olli Caldwell, as well as the various members of the race team who Aron is all responsible for.
“I’m team manager but I still get help from Angelo [Rosin, Prema founder], and Grazia [Troncon]. Grazia’s more focused on F4, I’m more focused here. The usual responsibilities as a team manager are overlooking everything, making sure everything’s fine, everyone’s on time.
“I have to take responsibility for a lot of things [that can go wrong], even if it wasn’t me, but it really depends on the situation. I’ve been with Prema for a long time, so I know them inside out. That’s the main reason I got the job: they know me, they know my work ethic.”
Due to Prema’s diverse team line-up, which includes the recently-signed and highly-rated Pedro Matos as engineer for Vesti, the working language is English. Knowing the names of everyone can have as much effect as being fluently multilingual, but more important is ensuring everyone works the ‘Prema way’.
“Prema approaches every championship the same. Whether it’s F4, Regional F3, F3, Formula 2. We go in with the same mentality and the same work ethic, so it seems to work,” is Aron’s response to Prema’s FREC domination this year, something he is hesitant to take credit for.
When things are going to plan, there is little to worry about, as long as Aron is well organised. That in itself though is a major stress of the job.
“It’s a different kind of stress [to driving]. Here you are more stressed whether others are going to do their job, and you just want to make sure they do that and that everything is running smoothly. With racing there’s a lot more pressure on yourself.
“I miss it sometimes, but the last couple of years I had racing were so incredibly stressful that I was – let’s say I wasn’t enjoying that year.”
Aron trails off before concluding his statement – that he could not see the worth continuing when the environment was not rewarding, arguably even damaging to his own welfare.
There were plans to race in 2019 though, just very far away from the pressures of the European single-seater ladder.
“I tested F2 [with Campos and Arden], but it was more that I wanted to try the car. Then I went to test in Japan [with Team LeMans and Kondo Racing], and that was with serious intent and focus – I wanted to do Super Formula. The good seat I was after was taken by another driver, and the other seat just for the price that they asked, didn’t make any sense.”
Having turned down a bad deal, and in between signing a career-changing one with Prema, Aron worked hard on making the contacts and case for younger brother Paul to join Mercedes F1’s junior team. His hard work paid off, and, although Paul has Peak Performance Management’s Kevin Korjus (another Estonian single-seater trailblazer) on hand during race weekends, as an experienced older brother Ralf still helps on coaching and managing. A de facto team and driver manager, and he’s still 21.
The only other man in the paddock with similar roles is also called Ralf. The difference being that US Racing’s Schumacher is over twice Aron’s age.
With youth still on his side, and a degree that will be completed in the not-too distant future, Aron is “pushing” to be ready for a return to the cockpit in 2020.
“I take whatever is best in front of me right now and I dedicate myself to that and see where it goes. If I get a good racing opportunity, for sure I would like to go back to racing. If not, then we’ll see.”