If you want to make it in motorsport, you have to take risks and you have to make sacrifices. That’s pretty much a given. Sebastián Fernández took that to the extreme, moving from Venezuela in South America to Europe, aged just 10-years-old.
Fernández had enjoyed karting success on his home continent, but knew he needed to compete at a higher level if he was to make a career of it. So, he packed his bags, said goodbye to his family, and headed off to Europe.
It was tough, undoubtedly, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s a decision he’d make over and over again.
“Everyone in this paddock is here because they love it,” he explained assertively. “Drivers, mechanics, even you. Right now, we could all be home, couldn’t we? It’s a passion and we all follow it. Any sacrifice it takes, I will do it. When you start racing you are happy, everything else is just noise.”
The 20-year-old’s pathway to a top seat in Formula 3 has been a lot tougher than most. He believes it’s for this reason that you don’t see too many South Americans in the sport. Brazilians maybe, but not too many from Venezuela – there have been just three Formula 1 drivers from the country in the history of the sport.
“I hope I’ve inspired a few kids from back home,” he continued. “I’m not sure that too many kids know me to be honest, but if they do and they’re inspired, then that is really great.”
Positioned to the North of Columbia on the Caribbean coast, Venezuela is home to a population of around 30 million people. Fernández was born in the capital city of Caracas. Growing up, opportunities to go karting were few and far between, with baseball and football more favoured and accessible sports amongst the locals.
“When I started racing over a decade ago, there weren’t many chances or places to kart because to be honest there’s not much of a motorsport movement. Motorsport costs money. It’s expensive, so that doesn’t work really. We do have some tracks, but nothing compared to Europe.
“When I first started, I raced more in South America in general. I raced in this South American championship two or three times. I won it twice and then went to the USA to race, because it was a higher level.
I’m not sure that too many kids know me to be honest, but if they do and they’re inspired, then that is really great.
“Logan Sargeant was there, Lance Stroll and Devlin DeFrancesco too. It was called the Florida Winter Tour and it was a big Championship there. I finished second in my first year and I realised that we needed to compete at a higher level, which is when I went to Europe.”
Fernández - whose first teammates in Europe included F2 title contenders Nikita Mazepin and Robert Shwarztman – was instantly surprised by the drastic increase in level, both on track and off it, but the biggest shock of all was moving away from his family. It’s difficult to comprehend what that is like at such a young age.
Typically, he’d spent three months in Europe, travelling alone or with his mechanics, before being able to return home for a short while. The time back home would go quickly though and before he knew it, he was back on the road again. It forced him to grow up fast.
“It was tough because I was really young, 10-years-old, and I didn’t know Europe. It was completely new,” he recalled. “It makes it a bit more difficult to try and rise up the ranks, because European people are closer to home. In a way, it’s like they’re still home really, whereas I was staying with my mechanics, far away from my family.
“I was calling my mum crying, telling her I missed her because I was a little kid. It made me become what I am today though - they say everything happens for a reason.
“It is crazy. It was really tough, not just for me, but for my family too. It was a huge sacrifice. Everyone in this paddock is making a sacrifice, but for people coming from South America, I’d say it requires an extra effort - you don’t see a lot of South Americans around here.”
He may be 20-years-old now, but those sacrifices remain the same. Living so far away from home becomes normal over time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it gets much easier, especially on the tough days, of which Fernández has had a few.
Earning a top seat in F3 for 2020 at race winners ART Grand Prix, the Venezuelan eyed a title charge, but suffered from misfortunate on numerous occasions. Taking the first pole position of the season, Fernández displayed the pace at his disposal, but the opening race didn’t go to plan as he ended up in the gravel on the first lap.
I was calling my mum crying, telling her I missed her because I was a little kid. It made me become what I am today though - they say everything happens for a reason.
There have been mistakes made as well, which he freely admits. Fernández is brutally honest and realistic but remains firm in the belief that “everything happens for a reason”. It’s how he keeps positive on even the most frustrating of days.
“I am not really pleased to be honest, totally the opposite,” he conceded when asked to sum up his 2020 campaign. “Most of the time I would say we've had good pace, but s*** happens. I have made mistakes and I’ve recognised that. When I mess up, I take it. There’s no getting around it for me. I’d say I haven’t had the best of luck though.
“I think that the team has done a great job. They always delivered the car, consistently. They have worked hard, and I think I’ve worked hard, but at times me and my engineer have been asking each other what the hell is happening. That’s out of our reach and sometimes you can’t do anything about it.
“Some guys this year have had more luck, but luck comes and goes. It isn’t stuck with you forever. For me, the only thing that will pay off in the long run is working hard. That’s how I see it.”
Finishing the season in 14th place, despite showing so much potential and at times blistering pace, is a bone of contention for Fernández. The hard-working Venezuelan does not enjoy the greatest of budgets, and a difficult season only makes it more difficult to pick up sponsorship.
Yet he remains hopeful. F2 is the aim for 2021, but he is open to other opportunities if they arise. His journey from Caracas to Europe, and everything it has encompassed, has taught him to grasp whatever chances come his way.
Since the conclusion of F3, he’s tried his hand at the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series, where he took P2 on his debut. He also competed in Asian F3 at the start of the year, where he took two podiums and a win.
“Next season we have to see. Obviously I would love to be in F2. If we find the budget then I would take a drive in that championship, but if you get stuck waiting for this to happen, then time passes and you’re done.
“I would love to continue in Formula racing, but if I cannot make it happen, then I’ll look for other opportunities. Ultimately, I want to keep racing because that’s what I love.”