Juan Manuel Correa, an Ecuador-born American is waving the Stars ‘n’ Stripes in Europe. Hours before he headed from Miami to his European ‘home’ in Geneva, he spoke to David Malsher.
DM: Last year you raced in both the Italian and German Formula 4 championships with Prema Powerteam. Are you committed to that heavy schedule again?
JMC: No. This year we’re going to focus on the German, the ADAC Formel 4 series, but we’re doing three races from the Italian championship. They’re pretty much the same spec cars – Fiat Abarth engines, Pirelli tires – although the German cars are a little heavier, you don’t feel any difference. But the German championship is widely known as being the sort of unofficial European championship for Formula 4, the most important one, and the driving level is a bit higher.
With that schedule under your belt, and a very strong karting background, would you say that Formula 4 is proving to be a decent training ground for kart stars who want to make the leap?
Yeah, definitely. I remember last year when we were talking about the move to cars and we were looking at the different categories and I’m pleased we chose F4 because the cars are a good specification for that first step. And the championships are strong: I think people don’t realize how high the level is. They think because it is that first Formula for a lot of drivers that it must be easy. But I raced in the top level in karting in Europe and the F4 championship is nearly at that level, maybe even higher, especially the German championship. They have about 40 entries – it’s really impressive, really crazy.
Given how spec the cars are, and you can’t do much to the cars to tailor them to your handling preferences, is that frustrating when you’re an inexperienced formula racer when you’re trying to learn all about racecar dynamics?
Well, we do have some things we can change. We can change the springs – within a certain range, obviously, and play with the wings and the camber, things like that. But I think what we can currently change is enough for a first single-seater. And I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the team; I have a basic understanding of how the car works. But I think maybe a driver who is not so good technically can probably get away with it a bit more than if he was in a category like Formula 3 or GP3, where you need better feedback. That is a problem, in my opinion. I have always been a very technical driver, I like to look at every little detail change we can do and there’s maybe some drivers who are only fast and in F4 they are still OK.
What are your reasonable expectations from this season after winning three races in the Italian championship last year and finishing sixth in the championship? Have you got to at least repeat that performance in the German championship?
Hmm… Obviously being the second year, there is always more pressure, whereas last year there were no expectations at the beginning. But from when I took my first wins in Italy and was up front from the middle of the season, the pressure went up anyway. In that sense, I suppose the pressure doesn’t change much.
Like I say, the German series is tougher and I don’t expect to be winning every race, but I do expect to be up there regularly and to be fighting for the championship. As a rookie I was quite fast but I couldn’t be consistently up there. To change that has to be my goal, and even if I can’t win the title, to have been a contender.
Was there anything you noticed other drivers doing that you thought, ‘That’s what I need to do to be a frontrunner at every track’?
Not really. I suppose my weak spot was typical rookie mistakes – unnecessary crashes which mean you get less track time. You don’t build up your experience if you’re not in the race. But I think with the experience of two championships in one year behind me, I have got a lot more knowledge. I don’t think there’s something in particular that I have to work on; it’s just using my experience to make the whole thing come together. And I think it’ll happen, too.
What have been your favorite tracks in Europe?
Oh, Mugello I think; it’s stunning. And also Zandvoort is a very nice circuit. Red Bull Ring, Nurburgring… we have so many good ones, which is great for us. But yeah, Mugello is the one that really stands out for me.
And at Zandvoort, if there’s a strong gust of wind, does the surface still get covered in sand and alter the grip levels?
Yeah! It’s funny – the wind changes and suddenly the whole track changes. That makes it quite tricky…
Have you got any plans to test Formula Renault 2.0 or Formula 3?
Not at the moment. We haven’t talked about any of that… and honestly, I don’t think we’ll even start talking about it until midseason. Definitely we’ll focus 100 percent on the F4 championship. Between the testing and the races, I have very little time left, so I don’t want to be overloading myself. I think that was actually what happened a bit last season, doing both championships, was maybe a little too much for both me and the team.
So the attitude is to just work and focus on this season and see what opportunities may come from that.
In light of that focus, it seems wrong to ask you something several years in advance, but is Formula 1 still the ultimate aim for you?
Yes, yes, definitely. That’s my goal and it would be very nice to achieve that, but I think also some drivers make a mistake to close their whole perspective and just focus on Formula 1. For me, that’s not how it is; if F1 can’t happen, I would still love to do another major category of racing. Hopefully American open-wheel will be another option for me somewhere down the road. But like you say, for now I don’t think about that; I just have to do my job – win in F4, and then decide what is the next step.