A second season in Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix awaits Juan Manuel Correa, and for the first time since the beginning of 2019, there’s a level of “normality” to his preparations.
It’s also the first time since 2016 – when he drove for PREMA Racing in ADAC and Italian F4 - that the 22-year-old has entered a season believing he’ll be a frontrunner. The rehabilitation-focused outlook of his inspirational comeback campaign has been replaced by pressure and expectation, and it’s exactly the way he likes it.
“When you go into a season without expectation, there is no pressure on you,” said Correa. “Whereas, when you go into a season with expectation, there’s a lot of pressure on you and that’s something that I’ll have to manage. I feel ready for that, and I am welcoming it because it’s a good feeling.
“Starting the season off at a higher level and not playing catch-up, I feel I’m much better mentally but also physically. My legs are much stronger, I’m fitter and I’m more prepared in all areas.
“That should translate into a much better season, which is what I am after. My ambitions and my hopes for this year are quite a lot more than what they were in 2021.”
Since the conclusion of the F3 campaign in October last year, Correa has tested in F3, F2 and LMP2. The American will be dovetailing his F3 campaign with one in the European Le Mans Series, as he’s signed up for PREMA’s maiden LMP2 outing in the series.
It’s all in a bid to increase his mileage and provide him the greatest possible chance of climbing the motorsport ladder, given the time he lost during his 18-months of rehabilitation on the side-lines.
Asked how he feels compared to 12 months ago, Correa replied: “On another level completely. I really feel that 2021 - especially the final part of the year with all of the testing that I did - made me achieve my goal of being back to 100%, so now I feel like a racing driver again coming into this season.
“I feel that the mix of different cars has helped me to get a bit of an edge back, and so far I have been pretty competitive in all of the tests in all of the different cars. I am just waiting to drive the F3 car again now, as it has been a bit of a while since I drove it last in Valencia.”
Correa took five top 10 finishes with ART last year as the team finished third in the standings for the third successive season, albeit with more points than in both 2019 and 2020.
So, what does Correa feel they need to do to break into the top two?
“We’re not here to play second or third team, we’re going to go for it and are pushing hard to be number 1,” said Correa. “But on the other hand, if you see where we were last year on average throughout the season, if we stay on that level, we’re going to struggle to stay in the top two, as you saw last year, because Trident are very strong right now.
“Realistically, if we manage to make the steps forward - myself and the team - that we need to, then we can win the title, I feel safe saying that. If we don't manage to make those steps forward, then realistically we're not going to win the title and we'll be fighting in the top five."