Home Featured The Franco-Italian alliance that could lead Mini to Regional F3 glory

The Franco-Italian alliance that could lead Mini to Regional F3 glory

by Elliot Wood

Photos: ACI Sport

Nicolas Todt has a strong record when selecting young drivers to support with his All Road Management company. His Italian protege Gabriele Mini had a stellar first year in cars, and now moves up to FREC

Helped significantly by bringing in several teams from the now defunct Formula Renault Eurocup, the 2021 Formula Regioal European Championship season looks set to be the most competitive yet and the list of names already committed to the series makes for exciting reading.

The latest addition to the entry list is reigning Italian Formula 4 champion Gabriele Mini, whose first season in single-seaters included five wins, 11 poles and 16 podiums from 26 races.

Mini grew massively over 2020, having been one of Europe’s top rookies in senior karting the year before, and the 15-year-old is incredibly mature for his age. His race-winning debut at Misano last August not only stood out because of how brilliant a beginning it was to his car racing career, but also because it contrasted with his OK karting debut in 2019.

On his current trajectory, it’s easy to see Mini being in contention for professional drives even before he’s in Formula 1 – which is where he intends to be in a few years’ time – and the next test of his abilities will be in Regional Formula 3 machinery. What from the last two years, including how he handled his debuts in OK karts and F4, can he use to set himself up for FREC success?

“To drive a single-seater is completely different from go-karts, so there was a lot to learn,” Mini says to Formula Scout of his F4 debut.

“But, as this is what I want to do since I’m a little kid, I felt good straight away! One of the good points of F4 is that you can drive a lot, so every lap you learn and improve.”

The extensive track time that Italian F4 has in particular makes it an incredibly popular series, to the point where more than 30 cars can be competing in a race weekend, and this made qualifying in particular difficult to get on top of for rookies with such limited time to nail laps on a busy track.

“For sure, the traffic was always heavy during the 2020 season. But, my team and I did our best to maximise our track time. Good strategy and communication were key. Then, sometimes, like in the first Imola weekend, it didn’t go as planned. This is part of the game…

“The F4 Pirelli tyres can be quite consistent and I managed to do poles in my last laps, like in Misano for example, it was harder to have a clear lap than to use the grip of the tyres.

“It was a boost to get the three poles in Misano. We were fast in testing before the start of the season but as long as you are not in the first qualifying session, you never know exactly where you are.

“It was a perfect way to start the season but I also knew that it didn’t mean that I would easily be on pole for all races. The level of the championship was high and it was always a big fight to get the top spots.”

After taking victory from pole on his debut, Mini was shuffled down to fourth place in the second race at Misano and ended the weekend with a return to the podium behind fellow Italian and title rival Francesco Pizzi. The driver who won race two was Andrea Rosso, Italy’s gold medal winner in the 2019 Motorsport Games F4 Cup, and the trio are forming a renaissance for Italian F1 prospects after budget issues and an influx of foreign talents in Italian championships has limited the country’s hopes for nearly a decade now.

“I’m happy to see Italians at the front but at the end of the day, I wanted to beat everyone,” admits Mini.

“The road to F1 is still very very long for me and any other drivers of my age but for sure Italy needs to have drivers back in F1. We will work hard for that.”

Mini’s karting career was spent with Italian teams, and his move to cars kept him local too as he joined Prema. In addition to his full campaign on home soil, he also raced in Germany’s F4 championship for two rounds and took victory from pole in his first race again before adding three more podiums and another pole in his six-race spell.

“Prema is a very strong team. They have a huge experience with young drivers and I could learn a lot with them. I had a great time. I had the same engineer in both championships and we got along together very well. I didn’t have any driver coach but I was well followed by my management, All Road Management.”

The logical move for 2021 was for Mini to step up to FREC with Prema, but instead he’s joined ART Grand Prix – a team Todt co-founded and previously had a stake in but still knows very well.

“First of all, I’m very happy to join the Formula Regional by Alpine championship as I think it’s a logical step after F4, but it’s a big one,” Mini says.

“I did some tests with ART GP at the end of 2020 and even though it went well, I still have a lot to learn and to improve to be as fast as the guys in front. I will do my best to improve each time I go on track and if I do so, good results should come.”

The first of those tests was technically Eurocup’s rookie test at Paul Ricard, despite the series no longer existing, with Mini driving the car that had won the 2020 title with Victor Martins at the wheel. Mini was fifth fastest of 22 drivers on a greasy track on the opening day, and then sat at the top of the times for most of the second day. He was quickest in the morning session, and just 0.016 seconds short of the fastest lap of the test.

The car Mini will drive in 2021

Before Christmas he also tested at Barcelona, and was 17th fastest in a closely contested group of drivers. F4 rival Pizzi had tested with ART, but after Mini’s arrival at the French team he drove for Van Amersfoort Racing and looked at Prema too.

“As I said, it went well but I can still improve a lot. The car is much heavier than a F4 and behaves differently so it requires changes in my driving style,” Mini explains.

“ART GP is also a very experienced team and it was interesting to work with them. It’s always nice to discover new people and way of work, and I also had the chance to work on my French.”

Of course with Todt as his manager, he knows who to speak to if he needs to brush up on his language skills.

“I cannot thank Nicolas enough as, without him I would be where I am today. Thanks to Nicolas, I was in the best team in 2020 and I know my 2021 racing programme will be interesting too.

“It’s an honour to be part of All Road Management but it also adds a little extra pressure as I know I have to deliver!”

The All Road stablemates that Mini will be looking to emulate include Ferrari’s current Formula 1 and sportscar stars Charles Leclerc and James Calado and former F1 drivers Jules Bianchi, Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado.

There’s one brand that links most of Todt’s proteges, and one that Sicilian driver Mini is not yet aligned with. Any reports that Mini is already a member of the junior stable of the Prancing Horse are incorrect, but if he continues his current career trajectory with a race or even title-winning season in FREC as a rookie then he will probably have interest from across the F1 grid. It’s not just Ferrari that would want an Italian winning races in its cars.

“I have received many congratulations messages for my title and it was really pleasant,” Mini adds. “Regarding the contacts [with F1], I leave that to my manager.”