Home Featured The tumultuous route to victory for F3’s newest winner

The tumultuous route to victory for F3’s newest winner

by Roger Gascoigne

Photo: Formula Motorsport Limited

It may have taken Roman Stanek 42 attempts to win in F3, but his feature race win in changing conditions at Imola was no fluke. Strong test form and in the first two rounds of 2022 meant it was ‘when’ rather than ‘if’

And yet, even though he only turned 18 in February, Roman Stanek’s career is already at a crossroads. Thrown into an FIA Formula 3 Championship seat after a stunning rookie season in Formula 4, two mediocre years in the series dented his confidence and dulled his shine as a bright prospect for the future.

Having joined reigning champion team Trident for his third season, Stanek knows only too well that 2022 is make-or-break.

Formula Scout caught up with the Czech teenager recently to talk about some of his fateful career moves, his mental resilience and how the atmosphere within Trident has rebooted his career.

A seat in a top team brings extra pressure for any driver, but particularly one who has failed to deliver the results expected of him so far. His father’s business, RIQ Investments, remains his primary sponsor, but it is clear that Roman Stanek Sr does not have the patience or the unlimited resources to continue supporting his son at this level indefinitely.

“Of course, I feel pressure because this is my third year in F3,” Stanek Jr told Formula Scout. While his maiden victory in the Imola feature race last weekend relieves some of that pressure, he knows it is too early to relax.

“This race we won but we keep working,” he added immediately after victory. “Already tomorrow we are preparing for Barcelona. This win is just part of the growing, part of the game. So we keep working, preparing for Barcelona and we push.”

Stanek now sits third in the standings, three points off the top, but could easily have also won in the first two races at Bahrain. A puncture in each meant he arrived at Imola pointless, but with a front row start and a fastest lap to his name. His one-lap and race pace, after pitting for new tyres in round one, had amply demonstrated the potential of team and driver.

“We have the pace; the car is very good. Especially in the quali laps but also in the racing,” he agrees.

“I feel pressure that I have to perform, but it’s a good pressure. It motivates me to be there. And also from my sponsors, from my father mainly. If I don’t do a good job, then my career is over. So I just have to extract the maximum out of the car, out of every session, every lap and I’m sure if we keep working, we can do a good job and I can continue the next year.”

Stanek is revelling in the environment at Trident and has settled in immediately, helped by his love of Italy, its way of working and an ability to communicate in Italian with his engineer.

He has felt at home with his mechanics, engineers and team manager Giacomo Ricci right from when they first started working together in 2021 post-season testing, and appreciates the team’s welcoming environment. And the personal support from Ricci has been vital to Stanek’s ability to perform.

“I’m really enjoying it,” he enthuses. “I’m happy that I got the chance from Trident and I can finally show my pace. Last year, I was not very good with Hitech GP. My father was quite hard on me, and he said like, ‘if you drive like this, we cannot continue,’ and I said ‘but in the last two years I never drove in a good team’. And now, when I am in a good team, we can do a good job.”

After scoring 32 points across two seasons with Charouz Racing System and Hitech, he has now scored more than that in one weekend. How did Stanek land one of the series’ most sought-after seats?

“We started talking last year at Spa. They [Trident] asked me what was happening because I was not very fast; all of us in Hitech were not very fast. I explained things and they said: ‘We would like to test you in Valencia test. So, if you want you can join us, and we see how it goes’.”

Stanek did not need to be asked twice.

Compared to Hitech, Stanek says “everything is more relaxed” at Trident.

“It’s like the proper Italian way. Everything is good, but they still work. In the workshop, they start work at 9am and they finish at 6pm or 7pm, so they really work hard, which I like. In Hitech it was a different approach; the English [approach] they were doing things quite differently to what I’m used to.”

The admiration is reciprocated. Ricci praises Stanek’s motivation and passion, but also that “he knows his responsibilities”.

“He needs a good car and good people around him in order to extract the best from his talent and abilities,” he stated.

The spirit between Trident’s three drivers is also strong. Prior to Jonny Edgar’s departure from the team due to illness, Stanek said he, Edgar and Zane Maloney were “helping each other to push the team forward” at Trident’s base and at the track.

“We were all three in karting, then me and Jonny stepped up to Formula 4 together, so we know each other quite well. I didn’t talk to Zane so much [in karting] because we were rivals like crazy. But now in Trident I think we are good mates.”

Maloney took pole but spun out of the Imola feature race, and Stanek said to Formula Scout it was “very, very unlucky with Zane that he was not able to be on the podium also, because he deserved to be there”.

All three made their car racing debuts in F4 in 2019, with Stanek doing so as a Sauber junior at US Racing. He won twice on the way to fourth overall in ADAC F4, finishing behind current Formula 2 stars Theo Pourchaire and Dennis Hauger and with title honours in the rookie classification, then did all but one round of Italian F4 and again won in his first weekend (prior to a penalty). As US’s sole driver he came fifth in the points, and with six poles – only one less than champion Hauger.

“Coming into F4 I felt like I’m ready because I really tested a lot to make this step from karting,” Stanek says.

“I think I was on it straight from the first race. So even when I won the race, I was not surprised, I knew it was part of the [development] curve. It was a good, good season.”

It was at this point Stanek’s career progression went dramatically off the rails for the first time. A Formula Regional European Championship seat with Prema, dominator of the series’ inaugural season in ’19, was lined up for 2020.

In fact, explains Stanek: “We had the contract and everything ready. It was already signed, everything. I started to do the prep with Prema, to test, to do the simulator work and to be in Italy. But then there was the COVID-19 situation…”

Stanek was forced to stay at home, limiting himself to “one test in GP3 just to be in shape,” when Antonin Charouz, owner of the eponymous team, approached the Staneks with an alternative proposition and a test in a Formula Renault 3.5 car.

“He started to speak to my father, ‘Yeah, but in this COVID-19 time, everything will be shit, so it’s better you step up to Formula 2′. Yeah, straight from F4 to F2,” reveals Stanek. “I said, ‘of course I can do it, but I’m not sure, because it’s a big step’.”

The contract with Prema was torn up “which I was not happy about because I knew that year we could have done a good job, but it didn’t happen”.

The decision to turn down Prema is still painful, particularly in the light of what followed.

“Of course I really regret it, because I think it could have ruined my career, to be honest. So this mistake cannot happen again, for sure.

“Prema is a team where from F4 they push you and they try to explain all the things also for F3, also for FRegional and I regret that I was not able to make the season because also at that time there was Arthur Leclerc and Gianluca Petecof, who are both my friends. I was really happy to be with them in the team, to push the team forward, to drive with them.”

Although a contract was signed with Charouz for F2, it soon became apparent that there was a snag.

“Charouz at that time, he had me, [Louis] Deletraz and [Pedro] Piquet. And we all were signed. But you know there are only two cars in F2, not three.”

Stanek Sr had already paid the budget for F2, and “we had a good deal” but with the possibility of ending up sans a race seat.

Charouz’s solution to this apparent dilemma? To drop Niko Kari from its FIA F3 line-up to be replaced by Stanek.

“So I said, ‘Yeah, but F3 from Charouz is not very strong, there’s no point doing it’.”

With no realistic alternative on the table, the family decided “it’s better we spend the money in F3 than to get nothing, and that was it”.

For Stanek, “2020 was a year to forget because everything was in the wrong direction” and he admits that the problems were with both him and the team.

“It was all the package because we didn’t do any preparation, no sim, no testing. I just came for the first race, and they put me in. So, I was not ready from my side. And also, the guys there, like I don’t think they were that good. If I compare Charouz to Trident, it’s a completely different world.

“So yeah, if the engineers are not good and the car is not good, and you complain, and you don’t focus anymore on yourself, and I was slow so yeah, that’s it.”

The move to Hitech for 2021 promised much but also failed to deliver. However, it is not well-known just how close Stanek had come to joining Prema in FIA F3 one year after his aborted move to the team for FREC.

In FIA F3’s post-season Barcelona test in October 2020, Stanek tested with Prema and ART Grand Prix, then drove for ART GP again in the follow-up test at Jerez.

“I did quite a good job with Prema]. The team was happy, I was happy, and I had a chance to go to Prema or ART,” Stanek says.

He personally focused on the Prema opportunity, but Stanek explains his camp somehow failed to communicate with the team in time, and, just as Frederik Vesti’s Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 support nudged him from Prema’s line-up to ART GP, Olli Caldwell snapped up the team’s third seat.

Stanek himself admits that his struggles in recent seasons have been as much mental as a lack of speed on track or technical understanding, even beginning to doubt his own ability to compete in F3. Following the traumatic experiences of 2020, he started working with a coach to assist mental and physical fitness“to fix the things from last year”.

“Sometimes, I had no motivation, for example, after a bad weekend. I was not sure if I’m good enough and stuff like this. And this guy was able to help me to make it up,” the 18-year-old admits.

“And for some things I’m really grateful to him because he helped me a lot. Before a race, you’re nervous, and [with him] we make it better.

Stanek in 2021

“I really thought to myself, like if I’m good enough for this level. I didn’t know what to do because I was trying to do my best with the engineering on the sim and everything, but clearly it was not working as I wanted, as we wanted.”

Stanek ended up at Hitech for 2021 after Igor Fraga’s move there had the rug pulled out, and says his team-mates Ayumu Iwasa and Jak Crawford “were struggling sometimes, I wouldn’t say as much as me” with what was their rookie campaigns.

“I would say it was 50:50 from my side mentally because I didn’t really match with the team. We were not able to go in the right direction to improve the car. Then everyone through the season was improving but we were not really improving. That was the issue, the problem. And it is how it is, I cannot change it now.”

On the driving side, Stanek is clear about where he needs to adapt. He claims to be joking when he says that he likes to treat a hot lap in qualifying as “make or break; so either pole position or nothing”, but, somehow, leaves a clear impression that the remark is not wholly in jest and acknowledges he needs to work on consistency and putting together the sectors in a single lap.

“Sometimes I really struggle [with that], because for example my sector one can be the fastest, sector two can be good, but sector three I make a mistake because I want to really push so much, which is not sometimes very good.”

After setting the pace in free practice at Bahrain last month, he had looked on course to top qualifying too but made a “mistake in turn 10 when I got the oversteer on the exit”.

The result? He finished the lap 0.065 seconds slower than poleman Franco Colapinto.

“I lost quite a bit there. Without that I would be on pole. [But] that’s my driving style. I want too much sometimes, to go too fast, like over the edge, which never works.”

Ricci also jokes about Stanek’s aggressive style: “When I see him, I always say ‘Roman don’t push too much, you’re already on the limit’.”

Team and driver have been working to address the tendency to over-push, particularly on corner entry as that compromises exit speeds, “and it seems like it worked well in Bahrain and in the test”.

And on a greasy surface at the start of the Imola feature race, which he qualified second for, Stanek avoided the temptation to risk fighting for the lead with Maloney into Tamburello on lap one. “I got a good start, but then I didn’t want to overpush in the first corner because it was half track dry and half track wet.”

It is perhaps fitting that Stanek’s first FIA F3 win would come at Imola, one of his favourite tracks and where he’d won at in two categories already, and to be able to do it for an Italian team in front of Italian fans was “something special”.

“I really like Imola because you have to have the balls to really go fast there because the walls are close to you,” he says. “I like this feeling, the adrenaline is much higher than, for example, in Bahrain.”

On his first visit to Imola in Italian F4 he claimed a clean sweep of three poles and his first series win, and in a last-minute outing with Motopark in Euroformula last year he matched the season’s fastest driver, his Hitech F3 team-mate Crawford, for pace and also held him to win a race on just his second start in the F3-level Dallara 320 car.

For Stanek, the Euroformula cameo was a chance to prove to himself, and his father, that his speed was still there after his ongoing F3 struggles.

“I came there, and I was immediately fast,” he relates. “I made this race to get more mileage because we wanted to see if I can do it, if I can be fast in the other category because in a FIA F3 I was not very fast.”

Photo: Fotospeedy

“With the team I was matching, because I like how the Germans work. They are strict but they really know what to do. Motopark was a very, very good team for me.”

Rather than follow up that winning weekend, Stanek returned his focus to F3. What does he believe he can achieve in 2022?

“The car is for sure for top three,” he answers. “We have the car and the pace for top three, but also there are some things that I cannot avoid such as the punctures [in both races in Bahrain], so I will do my best with the team.

“We keep working to extract the maximum, we keep improving as much as possible with me, with the engineer, on the sim. So, I’m sure if we keep working like this, we have the pace in the upcoming rounds.”

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