“I think Rafa Camara is an outstanding young driver from Brazil. I love him, he’s very fast.” Fulsome praise for a single-seater rookie, particularly from such a legendary figure as Emerson Fittipaldi
After an outstanding season in karting and strong testing performances in Formula 4 at the end of 2021, and with the backing of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Camara’s car racing debut in the F4 United Arab Emirates championship at the start of this year had been eagerly anticipated.
But to take six wins in his first 13 races, all within three weeks of his first ever race, was simply stunning.
Expectations were understandably elevated as the F4 squads returned to Europe, but after a strong start to his campaigns in Italy and Germany, he has been overshadowed of late by the stellar performances of Prema team-mate and former karting rival Andrea Kimi Antonelli.
Nevertheless, in what is already looking like an exceptional intake of junior talent in 2022, Camara has marked himself as a star of the future. His rivalry with Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 junior Antonelli is already looking like being a permanent feature of the coming years.
The softly-spoken 17-year-old from Recife in the north-east of Brazil talked to Formula Scout about his amazing start to the season, the transition from karting and his goals for the rest of the year.
“Yeah, it was really good in UAE,” he modestly says. “To be honest, I did not expect it to be like that. First time racing in formula [cars]. I didn’t expect six wins but for sure I went there to try to do my best.”
Camara had to wait until the season’s second round at Dubai Autodrome to make his debut after being forced to miss the F4 UAE opener at Yas Marina Circuit for medical reasons.
A podium in the reversed-grid fourth race of his debut weekend provided little warning of what was to follow. In the next two rounds, also at Dubai, Camara was in scintillating form. He took his maiden win in what was only his fifth race in single-seaters, before adding a further five victories in the next eight races.
He would have won the next race as well without a five-second penalty for stopping in the wrong place after a red flag.
“I learned a lot, a lot of experience there. To have six victories in the championship and to go home with second in the championship and first of the rookies I think was a really good job.”
Back in Europe, Camara continued his strong start to the season by rounding off a strong weekend at Spa in the opening ADAC F4 round with a charging win from seventh on the reversed-grid.
However, it was the second race of the weekend where a first lap incident dropped him down the field that pleased him most. “That was a really funny race because to overtake everyone it was a really good race. And then to finish second, I dropped to 15th, I think, and then to finish second was a really good race.”
He then won the first race of the Italian F4 season at Imola after Antonelli was forced to retire with transmission problems.
Although Camara mugged Antonelli on a safety car restart to score another win at Misano, it is the Italian who has gained the upper hand with a run of crushing victories.
Camara lies second in the points of both series at the halfway point, with three wins compared to Antonelli’s 16. US Racing’s Alex Dunne and Kacper Sztuka are the only other drivers to have won, taking one each at Imola.
The rivalry with Antonelli goes back to the pair’s karting duels. “I think we raced together in mini karts so it’s quite a long time that we race together,” recalls Camara.
“It’s always nice to have some rival who is really fast so you can work more and prove [more]. I really enjoy to drive like this. Someone who can push more, it’s really good.”
Camara had an outstanding final season in karting, winning the WSK’s Champions Cup and Super Master Series, with Antonelli second in both, as well as the Champions of the Future title.
In addition, he finished runner-up, again to Antonelli in the CIK-FIA European Karting Championship, while a puncture put him out of the World Championship final having rocketed into the lead from fourth on the grid on lap one.
The karting success helped Camara get nominated for the FDA’s World Scouting Finals by FDA partner Escuderia Telmex, and his performance there earned him F1 junior status for 2022.
Prior to the final at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, Camara had limited experience of an F4 car.
“I had tested before some times at Varano and Vallelunga and then I did the Scouting Cup at Fiorano,” he remembers. “To be honest, I didn’t expect one day to be at Ferrari. I think it’s a dream for everyone.”
“[Being at the FDA] is really good. They help me to prepare more for the races and to do my best on the track.”
The FDA pushes its young talents hard off-track as well as on it. “We have everything like mental [training], gym, we do some stuff like that at Maranello and then when we drive we are [better] prepared to give the best every race. Just comfortable and ready to push.”
The FDA regularly shares images from its group sessions on social media, including some of the fun activities that its junior get up to. “We did some cooking class but I’m not so good like this. It is better that I keep driving because cooking is not my best. We cooked and then afterwards we had to eat it but it’s not a good idea to eat it!” Camara laughs.
“Sometimes we meet [but] I didn’t speak too much [to the more senior FDA members]. I stay more with James [Wharton], my team-mate. We stay more together because we race in the same championship.”
Camara now lives in Maranello village, meaning Ferrari’s headquarters is visted regularly. “I always go into Maranello, to Ferrari, to the sim. Sometimes I do the cooking but it’s not so good,” he admits.
His family supported him throughout his karting career and into cars, and not surprisingly Camara admits to missing “the family, calm and relax” of pre-Maranello life. “Sometimes you really like to drive but sometimes you just want to be with your parents and live a normal life.”
But he has clearly fitted in well with life at Prema. The team principals Angelo Rosin and Grazia Troncon run a tight ship, but ensure that their youngsters are well taken care of.
“They [Prema] have a really good situation. The team is really good, the people that work here are really nice to work with, to work with them is really good. It’s just like a family. I just feel like at home. It’s a nice relationship. In the end everyone wants the same thing. To work like this, you just want to give more,” he says.
Rosin and Troncon are enjoying having their 2022 F4 line-up in the‘family’:
“The drivers respect each other, all the drivers listen. It is a good group working together,” they smile. “And until now, the fight was very fair.”
The speed of the Prema squad, often running 1-2-3-4-5 at the front of the field, has raised a few eyebrows in the F4 paddock.
After stalling on the grid, Camara had to repeat his recovery drive at Spa when Italian F4 visited the circuit in June.
— Formula Scout (@FormulaScout) June 19, 2022
From 34th at the first corner, he scythed through the field to finish on the podium, just under nine seconds behind the victorious Antonelli, provoking paddock mutterings about the team’s performance level.
Prema had gained a head start on its rivals by fielding a full team in F4 UAE to understand Tatuus’s new Gen2 chassis. And it has put together a well-balanced and talented squad of drivers.
“For the drivers it was a good learning time,” she tells Formula Scout. “For Camara it was the first race there. The drivers arrived [in Europe] a bit more ready compared [to their rivals].”
Asked to identify the main differences on his transition to F4, Camara said: “It’s everything. It’s really different, how the race is. The space of the car, in karting it is really small but in formula [cars] it is much bigger. And the starts. Like in karting it is not a stop like a normal [standing] start.”
Camara’s time in karting started when he was six. “Actually, my brother started to race but he didn’t like it,” he explains. “I was five when he stopped. Then I said to my dad I wanted to drive. I wanted to race but at five it was not possible, so I had to wait like five months and then start to race. And when I started to race, I didn’t stop. Every time tried to go even better and better.”
Off-track now, the bespectacled Camara is rather a quiet, even shy teenager; a stark contrast to the effervescent, eloquent and communicative Antonelli, for example.
At the circuit his manager Dudu Massa, brother of 11-time F1 race-winner Felipe Massa (the last Brazilian to win for Ferrari in F1), is never far away, keeping an eye on his driver.
Brazilian motorsport has had a long wait for a top-line driver in F1. And there is considerable interest back home in Camara’s progress.
“I have quite a lot of people watching, and it’s really good to have some people supporting you.”
Though born 11 years after the death of Ayrton Senna, he has no hesitation in naming the Brazilian icon as his hero.
“Senna for me was the best. Senna is probably the idol for all Brazilians. I didn’t watch him race but I watched some of the documentaries and stories about him,” he says.
It is apparent from how he speaks and conducts himself at the circuit that Camara appreciates how steep the learning curve is and is willing to listen to those around him, his Prema engineers, the FDA and manager Massa.
Words such as “learning” and “improve” feature heavily in his answers. “Every time I go on track it is quite good and then [I am] just trying to improve in all the sessions and to do a good job.”
And inside there is a quiet determination to develop. “In the end I think I managed to keep quite fast and to not have many problems to race. I think I’m quite comfortable to race without any problem but every race I think I keep improving myself.”
FDA head Marco Matassa is satisfied with his charge’s progress so far: “Rafael is progressing well, getting good results especially in the races. We should not forget that this is a driver in just his first season of single-seater racing, so there is plenty of room for improvement.”
For Camara, “to fight for the championship” is still the goal in his two programmes despite Antonelli’s dominant form.
“I think we have the speed and everything to always be on the top. I think it’s just to get every point, don’t try to do any mistakes and in the end just try to be more consistent as possible. I think we have enough speed, everything to fight for the championship.”
It is too early to talk about 2023, although the step up to Formula Regional would appear to be the most obvious move. However, the rivalry with Antonelli is likely to continue for many years, with each carrying the colours of one of the top manufacturers in the sport’s history. With the likes of Alpine Academy affiliate Tsolov, McLaren junior Ugochukwu and Red Bull’s Arvid Lindblad added to the mix as 2022 rookies, we can sit back and relish the progress of an exceptional generation.
D/O/B May 5, 2005
2022: Currently 2nd in ADAC F4 (1 win, 1 fastest lap), currently 2nd in Italian F4 (2 wins, 1 pole, 2 fastest laps), 2nd in F4 UAE (6 wins, 4 poles, 5 fastest laps)
2021 (all OK): Champions of the Future champion, WSK Super Master Series champion, WSK Champions Cup winner, 2nd in CIK-FIA European championship, 4th in WSK Final Cup, 18th in WSK Euro Series, 35th in CIK-FIA World championship
2020 (all OK): 8th in WSK Euro Series, 8th in WSK SMS, 11th in WSK CC, 15th in South Garda Winter Cup
2019 (all OK-Junior): 10th in WSK SMS, 14th in Italian championship
2018 (all OK-J): 11th in WSK Final Cup, 33rd in WSK CC, 34th in South Garda Winter Cup, 37th in WSK SMS
2017: 5th in WSK SMS – 60 Mini, 32nd in WSK Final Cup – OK-J, 37th in Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals – Junior, 40th in USA SuperNationals – X30 Junior
2016: 6th in USA SuperNats – Mini Swift