The last few drivers from Argentina to have made it to the dizzy heights of Formula One haven’t exactly set the world alight. Names like Oscar Larrauri, who drove for Eurobrun in 1988/89, Norberto Fontana who briefly raced for Sauber in 1997; Esteban Tuero who raced for one season for Minardi in 1998, and the last Argentine to make a Grand Prix start Gaston Mazzacane for Minardi & Prost in 2000/01, never troubled the scorers and will only be a footnote in Formula One history. Jose Maria Lopez almost made it with the USF1 team back in 2010, but the team folded before he ever got a chance of a race.
Its a sorry state for a country that provided the sport with one of the biggest names and best drivers ever to have raced in F1 in Juan Manuel Fangio! The five time World Champion (for four different teams no less!) is a true great of the sport. Another great of the sport from Argentina was Jose Froilan Gonzalez, who took Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory in the 1951 British Grand Prix.
So who’s the best driver coming through the ranks? In my opinion its a driver currently plying his trade in the GP3 series for the ART Grand Prix team, from Buenos Aires, Facu Regalia. The 21 year old currently leads the GP3 championship with one final round to go, in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of November.
Regalia made his single seater debut in the 2008 Formula BMW Europe series for the EuroInternational team, but with minimal success, scoring a best finish of 6th in Valencia and finishing 16th in the standings, but third in the rookie class. He switched to the Josef Kaufmann Racing outfit for 2009, taking a handful of fourth places but still only finishing 8th in the championship, behind the likes of Jack Harvey, Felipe Nasr, Daniel Juncadella and Robin Frijns.
He returned to EuroInternational in the 2009 Formula BMW Pacific season, winning twice in three races, but was only there as a guest driver so wasn’t eligible for points. A third season in Formula BMW Europe followed in 2010 and for another new team in Eifelland Racing, and he finally broke his podium duck with a second place finish in Zandvoort. Another 8th place finish was his end of season reward.
For 2011, Regalia switched to the Italian Formula Three Championship with the Arco Motorsport team, taking 1 pole position (in Mugello) and two podium finishes (third in Imola, second in Vallelunga), before finishing tenth in the championship. He also made a guest appearance in the season finale of the Formula 3 Euro Series with the Mucke Motorsport outfit, finishing 10th twice at Hockenheim, though again he wasn’t illegible to score points.
2012 saw him run a dual campaign for the Campos Racing team in both the Auto GP World Series and the European F3 Open Championship. A second place in Valencia and a third place in Hungary saw Regalia finish P7 in Auto GP, but three wins, 1 in Hungary and a double win in Spain saw him finish fourth in the F3 Open championship, his best finish to date. He also made his GP3 Series debut, racing in two events, one with Jenzer Motorsport, the other with Atech CRS Grand Prix. His best result was 12th at Silverstone.
So onto 2013. When you saw who Regalia was teamed up with at ART Grand Prix, you’d have imagined he’d be the third driver behind highly rated American Conor Daly and reigning British Formula 3 Champion Jack Harvey, however things have turned out massively different to what everyone would have thought would happen. A double non-points finish in Spain has been the exception to a season that just gets better and better for the Argentine driver.
A win in the first race at the Nurburgring, and five other podium finishes in the 14 rounds of the championship so far sees him sit at the top of the standings, 7 points clear of second placed Daniil Kvyat in his MW Arden car. He has shown the skills to be up there fighting for big points, and will be favourite for the title going into Abu Dhabi in November.
So what’s changed in the past couple of years to make Facu Regalia a genuine championship contender? He seems to be one of those drivers that as the cars get bigger and faster, then he gets better. If this is indeed the case, then it bodes well for Regalia for the next stage of his career. A move up to the GP2 series or across to the Formula Renault 3.5 series isn’t out of the question, and Regalia should be competitive in either. Whether he wins the GP3 championship this year or not, he’s proved himself to be a good racer. Whether its enough to see him reach Formula 1 is another question though. Can he continue to develop as a driver? I wonder if any of the teams in the F1 paddock have noticed his performances. Only time will tell if he’s F1 bound.