Williams started this week by announcing they had signed a new name to its Racing Driver Academy: Franco Colapinto.
The 19-year-old Argentinian will race in Formula 3 this year with MP Motorsport. Williams is the latest in a line of big-name supporters of his career, which include a current F1 driver.
After being a champion karter in his home country, Colapinto made waves internationally when he won the first-ever Olympic karting event at the 2018 Youth Olympics. Later that year he began his car racing career in the Spanish Formula 4 championship and won on his debut weekend.
Colapinto signed with the Drivex School team co-founded by Pedro de la Rosa to make a full-time move into cars for 2019 in Spanish F4, and joined de la Rosa in the Formula 1 paddock during pre-season testing. There he convinced de la Rosa and his good friend Fernando Alonso to back his career, and Colapinto would spend the year racing in the colours of Alonso’s FA Racing Team brand.
Their support was rewarded as Colapinto dominated Spanish F4, winning 11 races out of 21 and earned himself appearances in higher categories with Drivex after initially evaluating moving straight into F3 for his rookie season of car racing (which was ruled out due to Colapinto not reaching the category’s minimum age until mid-season).
For 2020 he took the intermediary step of moving up to Formula Regional with MP, starting in the Toyota Racing Series with the Kiwi Motorsport team MP was supporting and coming third in the standings. Either side of him were Red Bull’s highly rated Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda.
That form continued into the Formula Renault Eurocup, where he won two races and finished on the podium seven other times while also juggling coaching/engineering commitments in Spanish F4 – a trait of technical understanding and communication skills that F1 teams look out for.
Alonso’s support had ended by this point, but Colapinto was now part of the Bullet Sport Management company whose connections enabled the teenager to demonstrate his skills in a far wider range of machinery.
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In addition to staying in Formula Regional with MP, where he won twice in an otherwise frustrating European championship campaign in a Gulf-sponsored car, Colapinto moved into prototype sports car racing. He came third and fourth respectively in the Asian and European Le Mans Series in addition to sharing an LMP2 car with Nyck de Vries at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
That made him a sought-after talent in sports cars, but Colapinto was able to further his single-seater career for 2022 by joining debuting team Van Amersfoort Racing in FIA F3. He claimed pole on his first attempt at Bahrain, won at Imola in his third race and ended the season at Monza with another victory and ninth in the standings. Between those high points, he more than once managed car trouble to earn a podium result.
He said during that year his lack of F1 affiliation rested on the fact that “it’s not that I don’t have any intentions, but the teams have to have intentions as well” to sign him as his managers at Bullet Sport were “in all these discussions” with prospective teams.
The solution, he said, was two-fold. He had to showcase his driving, and he trusted in his managers to present his case as effectively. Their combined efforts have now worked, and there could be an intra-Williams title fight in racing for the first time in decades as Colapinto goes up against Prema’s Williams junior Zak O’Sullivan for this year’s F3 title.
Argentina has had 22 drivers race in F1, including one of the most revered of all, five-times champion Juan Manuel Fangio. He was one of a clutch of racers from the South American country who competed successfully in the fifties, including fellow race-winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez.
Since then Argentina’s only other race-winning star was Carlos Reutemann, who spent three seasons at Williams and was a close championship runner-up in 1981. If Colapinto makes it all the way to the top he will become Argentina’s first F1 racer since Gaston Mazzacane in 2001.
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