In his third year with Ferrari and Prema, Dino Beganovic has dominated the first half of the Formula Regional European Championship. Roger Gascoigne asks if this could be the Swede’s breakthrough season
In a Formula Regional European Championship field that is high on both quality and quantity, there is no arguing with the results of Dino Beganovic this season.
The Swede has found a winning balance of speed, aggression and consistency, and has a commanding 36-point lead over nearest rival, team-mate Paul Aron, as the season heads into its second half at the Hungaroring.
He has taken three wins, including a dominant performance on the streets of Monaco in front of the Formula 1 teams, and six other podium finishes on the road in 10 races, with his fifth place (which later became fourth) in race one at Zandvoort representing his worst finish of the season so far.
Is this the 18-year-old’s breakthrough season, or is he simply being flattered by the pace of a resurgent Prema outfit? Formula Scout sat down with the Ferrari junior to try to understand where this turnaround in results has come from, as well as what it meant to win at Monaco and his plans for 2023.
It’s been “a really good start, a fantastic start to the season,” Beganovic says, adding: “[You] really could not wish for better than this.
“We set the benchmark quite early in the season that we’re here to fight for the championship and I think we’ve done really well with one-twos quite often.”
Beganovic showed flashes of speed in his rookie season in FREC in 2021 as Prema struggled to get to grips with the switch to Renault power after the series’ merger with the Formula Renault Eurocup.
By the same stage last year, he had just 12 points on the board compared to Aron’s 90.
Although his season finally came good in the last two rounds at Mugello and Monza, where he lost out on victory from pole after being torpedoed by team-mate David Vidales, 13th place in the championship was clearly not where a Ferrari-backed driver would be expected to be.
Despite then taking his first victory at this level in the FRegional Asian Championship at Dubai Autodrome, the winter headlines were stolen by FRegional rookies Pepe Marti and Sebastian Montoya.
In short, coming into the FREC season it was far from obvious that Beganovic could mount a title challenge against returning series ‘veterans’ Aron and Hadrien David (both in their third years racing these cars), or rookie runner-up Gabriele Mini, promoted to lead driver at the ART Grand Prix team that dominated 2021 with Gregoire Saucy.
Was Beganovic surprised by the pace he has shown right from the first practice session in Monza?
“Not surprised but I’m just very happy about it,” he replies. “We worked very hard. I don’t think people realise how much work gets put in. But I wouldn’t say I’m surprised.”
The performance of both team and driver can very much be seen as a continuation of the progress made during 2021 and post-season testing.
“We’ve worked together hard as a team, but also in Ferrari just to see what could have been better last year, to improve it for this year, which we do really well. This is my third year with the team, so we know each other very well. I’m very happy with that,” he explains.
“I think we definitely saw a progression during last year after the summer break, especially with P4 and the first rookie podium in Spa, for example.”
This was followed by “bad luck in Valencia and Red Bull Ring, where we had good speed but with track limits it got taken away, but after that Mugello was amazing with P2, a bit unlucky in race one, fighting for pole as well. But it was cool fighting for the victory on Sunday in Monza for the last race of the season”.
Undoubtedly, Prema is back on top in FREC having gotten on top of its set-up woes, as well as seemingly mastering this season’s softer Pirelli tyres faster than its rivals.
The team’s performance across a range of circuits indicates that Prema can now win anywhere. Beganovic agrees.
“To be honest, I think Paul Ricard really showed us that Prema is back for real now,” Beganovic tells Formula Scout, referring to the team’s nadir at the same circuit one year before, when its best result across three cars was an eighth place.
“Obviously in the beginning of the season there were tracks that we’ve been strong on before like Monza and Imola and we had good results there.
“But from Monaco and Paul Ricard, [where] we struggled a bit more last year, we showed good pace. I’m feeling good with the car. I think the team has done a good job during the season just to understand [the car], because we collected a lot of data last year, [both] when it went well and when it went less good.
“Overall, I think we are there,” he says. “Every weekend the team has had a win so far. That’s an amazing achievement for the team when last year at this point we really weren’t where we are now.”
While Prema has clearly come back far stronger than last season, Beganovic has been working hard on his driving as he explains: “I changed engineer last season. We worked already after the last race together and also in Asia. It made a bit of difference that we worked together already from very early, so we could understand each other early in testing, how we work together.”
He sees his Asian foray as “a bit of practice before coming to Europe”.
“All the mistakes and all the learnings would have been done there and when we come to the tracks in Europe, it would just be focused on being close to perfection.”
“The cars you drive in Asia [are] not the cars that we drive in Europe. We drive them every year once basically.” As a result, the teams maybe do not invest the same time into fine-tuning the chassis, whilst the series’ Giti tyres “maybe suit some drivers better as well”.
But Beganovic admits to having been “a bit inconsistent as well, I just didn’t really think about performance or the results there”. The focus, he says, was “just to work on the things that we had to work on, like getting along with the engineer, not having any problems in racing battles and so on”.
Clearly, he has taken on board the lessons learned in the Emirates over the winter. How and where does he think he has developed as a driver over the last year?
“I think a bit from everything,” he says. He is now, he believes, “a more complete driver than last year”.
“For example, when it comes to crucial moments like setting a clean lap in qualifying or avoiding incidents in races, especially like Monaco when there’s a red flag and you get two laps, or in Paul Ricard you get one lap and you have to push that lap. You have to do a good job, to be on the limit but not beyond.
“<aybe last year I wanted sometimes a bit too much and it obviously went wrong. I think I’ve understood myself and also the car a bit from this side. So, in crucial places I’m able to sort of switch it back around if you like.”
As championship leader, he is now the one others are taking aim at. Inevitably this increases the pressure and the expectations.
“Especially from outside, expectations are higher when you’ve done so good results, but from my side it doesn’t really change a lot,” he says.
“Obviously, I want to win, I want to be at the top, to be in the top five, to score the points needed, it’s very important for the championship. But not to get too stressed about it if you’re not winning.”
He is flourishing in the Ferrari Driver Academy environment too. The FDA “don’t set goals that this week I need to win two races, this weekend I need to win the championship, it’s not like that at all,” he explains.
“[The target is] just to improve from race to race. Step by step. Always forwards. And that’s how the result comes, as you improve all the time, you learn how to improve, until hopefully you will not have anything more to improve.”
The highlight of the season so far was undoubtedly Monaco, where, after setting the fastest time in qualifying, he went on to take a win and a second place. “Just to drive in Monaco is an achievement so to win there, it was really amazing,” he says. “It took a couple of days to sink in. I can’t find another word apart from amazing.”
“One of the most cool things in Monaco is the qualifying. The plan was just to get the laps in and to be able to run the whole qualifying towards the end [as] we knew that in the end the track would be stronger.”
And while Aron’s weekend disintegrated after hitting the barriers, Beganovic managed to stay out of trouble to take pole in the dying minutes, as he had planned. And, he adds, “it was not just the pole by one-tenth, it was by a margin [0.323s, to be precise], so we were really confident that we could do a good job [in the race]”.
“The race is obviously cool but there’s not much happening. I would say it was perfect because it’s difficult to do something in race one but in race two we showed our pace, we pulled away very quickly [to win by over two seconds].”
To round off an almost perfect weekend, he was invited to join the Ferrari F1 team “on Sunday as a prize to see the race from the garage which was really cool”.
“I mean the whole show in Monaco is the main part, I think. The pre-race show was crazy. I could never expect something like this. So many celebrities, so many people you know.”
Not surprisingly, the famous faces he was happiest to meet were Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. “It was not like they asked me how it went but they knew that I had won in Monaco. That was special for me that they already knew that, which means that they follow. So that was really special.
“[It was] really cool to be with the Ferrari guys at Monaco. I mean, most of them I’ve seen in Maranello before, so it was cool to see them in action on track.”
And astonishingly this was, he tells Formula Scout, the first ever F1 race that he has watched live in person.
Watching the F1 drivers at close hand the level of focus of the drivers really made an impression. “There’s a lot of celebrities and family members coming and they are really isolated before the race or qualifying. You can’t really reach them. I’m really impressed with that because it’s not like us that we jump into the car and that’s it.”
On the same weekend as Monaco, Sweden took probably its most high-profile single-seater victory for over 20 years when Marcus Ericsson drank the milk at the Indianapolis 500. The two of them have been in touch, Beganovic says. “We did a podcast not long ago and after that we follow each other very well. I think he’s doing a really good job in IndyCar.”
“Marcus winning Indy is something special for all the world, but also especially for the Swedish people watching at home.
“I think the last one was Kenny Brack that won the Indy 500, so it’s been a long time waiting. So it was a really good day for Swedish motorsport and because it also got me more into the picture as well,” he laughs.
There is still a long way to go, and Aron and Mini in particular are now right back in title contention, but Beganovic is quietly confident for the remainder of the season.
“I think we’ve had a good car in the first half of the season and I can’t see why we will not fight for the championship or for the wins in the second part of the season, as well,” he argues.
“We have some very good tracks from before. And there’s one new track for me, Budapest, but the team has a bit of experience from before, so I’m not too worried about it. It’s always very cool to come to a new track.”
Despite the points gap at the top, Beganovic continues to focus on race wins rather than collecting points towards the overall championship. “I approach every weekend like the start of the season. If you’re too conservative for the championship and you start thinking ‘I cannot take risks’, the other drivers will overtake you then [so] that’s completely the wrong thing to think.
“Obviously, not making any stupid mistakes is very important. I learned from last season and the season before in Formula 4 that it’s so easy to make stupid mistakes, and I just try to avoid that and still be aggressive as ever on track,” to show the other drivers “that you’re not here to back off”.
For 2023, Beganovic hopes to “have the opportunity to go up with Prema to Formula 3.” There will obviously be multiple parties involved in the decision, led by him and his manager Rickard Rydell, the 1992 Macau Grand Prix winner-turned-touring car legend. “Then also the FDA have their impression about it, and even Prema if they think I need to do this or that.”
“For the moment, I’m not talking about next year,” he says, but acknowledges that “probably Rickard is”. The focus is very much on finishing the job at hand: “First of all, what’s in my mind is just finishing the season and towards the end of the season start to think about next year, but the goal would be that next year I will step up to F3.”
Competition for places within Prema’s FIA F3 team is likely to be intense, with team-mates Aron and Montoya looking to move up, plus potentially the squad’s F4 wunderkind Andrea Kimi Antonelli, skipping FREC to jump straight to F3, as well as any of the current line-up staying on for another year.
But if Beganovic keeps performing at the same level in the remaining five rounds, his call on a Prema seat in FIA F3 will be hard to resist. And maybe Swedish fans will have a countryman to cheer for on grand prix weekends on this side of the Atlantic too. Now, that really would be ‘cool’.