A few days after his first outing in a Formula 1 car, Sacha Fenestraz will kick off his 2018 season at the Pau Grand Prix (11-13 May). The young 18-year-old driver is setting himself another challenge with the backing of the Renault Sport Academy and – a first – the support of the FFSA Equipe de France by tackling the FIA Formula 3 European Championship with the Carlin team.
Tell us about your latest news with your first drive in an F1 car. What was it like?
“I’ll never forget that day! I’ve always dreamed of driving an F1 car and it was a really incredible experience. I felt amazing sensations as soon as I really went pedal to the metal. With 800 bhp and a weight of 580 kg it goes like a rocket. In itself, the car wasn’t all that difficult to drive with the traction control. But you have to pay close attention to the temperatures that have a tendency to rise very quickly. It was really one of the best days of my life and I’d like to say a big thank you to the Renault Sport Formula One Team for making it possible.”
You continued this experience with a day on the team simulator in Enstone. What’s your role in this field?
“Recently, I’ve been helping the team out on the loop simulator at Enstone, along with Jack Aitken. Using the data acquired on the real car we try and get as close to these figures as we can to calibrate the simulator. Sometimes we’re also involved in preparations for the race weekends. You’ve got to have a very good feeling to give the engineers useful information. It’s a very exciting job and you learn very quickly. My F3 engineer soon realised that the quality of my technical feedback had improved thanks to these sessions.”
What does your status as a Renault Sport Academy driver give you?
“This opportunity created by my title in the Formula Renault Eurocup means that I’m in permanent contact with a Formula 1 team. There’s a great ambiance with the other drivers in the Academy; we meet up regularly to work on our physical fitness. We can also talk with the engineers, and trips to a few grands prix are already scheduled for this season.”
This season you’ll also be flying the colours of the FFSA Equipe de France, won’t you?
“It’s another great honour, above all when you look at the list of the previous members. The three French drivers currently racing in F1, Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, all enjoyed the support of the French Motor Sports Federation. I felt very honoured when Jean Alesi, the captain of the team, phoned me and asked me to join them.”
Let’s come back to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. How have you prepared for such a late start to the season?
“It’s true that I haven’t raced for almost six months. This winter some drivers went to compete in New Zealand. I focused on the physical side in the early months of the year. Then we did a lot of testing, which helped me to continue getting to know the car and the team. It’s difficult to draw conclusions from these tests as nobody was driving at 100%, me neither. The team forewarned me about it. We won’t really see where we stand in the hierarchy until after qualifying in Pau.”
How are you getting on with the Carlin team?
“It’s a real top team with a great ambience between drivers, engineers and mechanics. Everybody loves working together. The team’s involved in in F2, Indy car etc. with a lot of success and Trevor Carlin’s immense experience is a great help to all these programmes.”
The first meeting takes place in the streets of Pau. You’ve got good memories of this circuit, haven’t you?
“Yes. It’s pretty unbelievable to begin the season on such a circuit. I still remember the 2015 event. It was my first year in motor racing and I won two of the three races in the French F4 Championship. I think it’ll be a tricky weekend for the whole field. The aim’s both simple and difficult: not to hit the guardrail, rack up the laps and do the best job possible.”
Have you got an exact result in mind?
“I think there are eight drivers in the running for victory as well as the title. I hope to be among them and kick off the season in this group. Then I’ll gradually raise my objectives and aim for the top 5 and then the podium. I know it’s going to be the most difficult season of my career. I’m going to have to work harder than ever before to achieve my objectives.”
At the end of the season, you’ll be racing in the Macao Grand Prix for the second time. Have you had time to think about it?
“Yes. All the more so as I’ll be carrying the Michel Vaillant colours again at the event. On my second outing my aims will be higher than in 2017. I’ll be gunning for a podium finish at the very least. Whatever happens, it’s a crazy race and above all you must avoid hitting the wall- like Pau!”