Reece Ushijima was one of the surprise packages of the 2022 Formula 3 season. The Japanese-American driver, racing under a British licence, put together a solid rookie season with Van Amersfoort Racing alongside Franco Colapinto and Rafael Villagómez.
He secured a maiden podium at Silverstone with a measured and mature drive to P3 in the Sprint Race and, though the rest of the campaign didn’t quite live up to those heights, Ushijima is happy with the progress he made in his first season in the Championship.
“It was good. I enjoyed every race I did,” he said. “At the end of the day, it was really cool to be driving on an F1 weekend and to be racing on such a big stage. I had a lot to learn throughout the season, and I felt like the team and I grew really well together. In hindsight, I'm really proud of everything that we did in the first year. Although there was a lot I could have done a lot better, I'm satisfied with everything that I've done.”
In the early stages of the year, Ushijima struggled to hit the ground running after his graduation to F3. Improvements throughout the season resulted in points-scoring results and fights in the top 10 on a much more regular basis than in earlier rounds.
The better results were down to gains in one-lap pace according to Ushijima, who says his Friday efforts in the second half of the campaign gave him much more confidence in the latter stages of the year.
“It wasn’t necessarily anything regarding our ability to race or anything like that, it was just in all honesty me performing better in Qualifying. I wasn't good enough in terms of one-lap pace and I've been working on that lot over the past however many weeks it has been since the season finished to try to get better at that.
“I don't think racing has ever really been a problem for me, it was just me making sure I was up there in the top 12. In Silverstone, I was able to do that and was able to be in the points both times and other times, I put myself in a bad situation and we had difficulty trying to fight out of there.
“I think I matured a lot as not only as the driver but a person as well because the jump I made from GB3 to FIA F3 was a pretty big jump. I didn't have a lot of the experience that a lot of the other guys had and to make up for that I think I’ve had to mature a lot as a person to understand, kind of the position I'm in and to be level-headed, to be able to keep moving forward and keep improving and I think that's one of the main points where I’ve matured and enjoyed grown throughout the year.”
Ushijima was often fighting back through the field with rivals, pulling off plenty of overtakes during the Sprint and Feature Races. While he wasn’t entirely pleased with his one-lap pace, he says his racecraft was one of his bigger strengths throughout 2022, but that there was still work to be done.
Though in-car strengths and weaknesses are obviously at the forefront of any drivers reflections of a season, it’s developing confidence and finding the right headspace heading into next season that he believes will be key for 2023.
“My main strength was definitely race pace. I think in the race, I've always been very good at getting into a rhythm and on top of that racing as well, I think I have very good racecraft and I think I've been able to use that to my advantage. Like I said, I've got to improve my Qualifying and then I'll be able to show it off a bit more.”
“There's the physical side of racing and there's also the mental side, and I think that's the part that I'm working on the most right now. There's a lot of small things in my head that I need to sort out before I get to become Championship material, and I've been working hard on improving myself and making sure that I'm as ready as I can be for next year.”
There were potentially more points finishes on the table for Ushijima in 2022 but the Van Amersfoort driver is happy to have gained the experience of an up and down year. Reflecting on what he had taken most satisfaction from, the stand-out moment from his campaign was his Silverstone performance.
“I could give you a very wholesome answer and say it’s been me growing as a person, but the reality is standing on the podium. I'm hoping to do a lot more of that next year and once you get a taste of it, you just get addicted to the feeling. That's my motivation for 2023.”