For Santino Ferrucci, 2018 was a year that he’d likely rather forget. He started out the year at Trident Racing, competing in the FIA Formula 2 Championship. In addition, Ferrucci served as a test driver for the Haas F1 Team.
After some decent runs, such as a sixth-place finish in the Sprint race in Azerbaijan, issues erupted in the team. First, Ferrucci had a series of incidents at Silverstone with his own teammate, Arjun Maini. After being found to have deliberately made contact with Maini on the cool down lap of the Sprint race, he was suspended for two weekends (four races).
Later on, Ferrucci was disqualified from the Sprint race for another incident with Maini. He was then also accused of operating his car (with the engine off) while using a cell phone while the car was being towed from the support paddock to the primary pit lane. That resulted in a fine of 60,000 Euros. Ultimately, Trident Racing sacked Ferrucci for the various instances of misconduct, combined with a default on payments to the team for the seat.
Luckily, Ferrucci established a decent rapport with Dale Coyne Racing, away from the chaos in F2. Ferrucci ran four races for the team (two in place of the injured Pietro Fittipaldi, and two in a third entry). For 2019, Ferrucci will drive the No. 19 full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series with sponsorship from Cly-Del and David Yurman.
Interestingly enough, Ferrucci believes that there is some carryover from the Formula 1 feeder series to IndyCar.
“To be honest, the [Dallara DW12] is very similar to the GP2 car, the older F2 car with the V8 engine and the longer, narrower body style,” Ferrucci told Frontstretch in Long Beach. “Jumping from there to the IndyCar, the big difference is mainly the tires. Yeah, it’s 150 horsepower more and maybe another 1500 pounds of downforce, but the tire is what makes a big difference. In IndyCar, you’re pushing, flat out, for two hours. As a driver, that’s like the greatest thing ever.”
Having to race flat out for two hours is a new thing for Ferrucci. F2 weekends generally feature two races, a Feature race on Saturday and a Sprint race on Sunday. The Feature race has a mandatory pit stop, while the Sprint race does not. Generally, the Feature race is roughly an hour in length, while the Sprint race is closer to 40-45 minutes.
In addition, Ferrucci has to adjust to racing on street courses. Yes, there are street courses in F2, but they’re not like the street courses in IndyCar.
“European street courses are really smooth,” Ferrucci said. “They’re smoother than all of the tracks [in IndyCar], combined. How do you make a street course that doesn’t have any character?”
Currently in F2, the series has two street race weekends on the calendar. They are in Baku, Azerbaijan (which just so happens to be this weekend) and in Monaco. Monaco has recently repaved a good chunk of the circuit there ahead of the Formula E and Formula 1 weekends.
Ferrucci definitely feels differently about the street venues on the IndyCar calendar.
“Our street courses are actually like street courses,” Ferrucci said. “They’re bumpy, there’s walls there, and you really can’t make any mistakes.”
At Dale Coyne Racing, Ferrucci has inherited a very experienced teammate in Sebastien Bourdais. Naturally, when you have a multiple-time champion in the fold, you make good use of him.
“[Bourdais] is one of those guys that has four championships [and] he’s been in this series for nearly as long as I’ve been around,” Ferrucci said. “He’s been nothing but a great mentor in helping me and getting me through everything. [He’s helped me] make sure I know what I’m doing, and I can be fast and competitive with him.”
Entering Long Beach, Ferrucci was 17th in points with a ninth-place finish at St. Petersburg. For a driver seeing each of the circuits for the first time, he seems fairly happy to this point.
“The season’s gone pretty well,” Ferrucci stated. “From St. Pete, to be the biggest mover from 23rd to ninth. [At Circuit of the Americas], we made Round No. 2 in qualifying and were running pretty strong until we ran into suspension issues late in the race. Even [at] Barber Park, we were running in the eight-nine-10 area and that caution caught us out.
“I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far. I can’t complain. We’ve completed every single lap in all three races. That’s a big deal for me. I think that if we keep chipping away at it, we’ll eventually get into the [Firestone Fast Six].”
At the beginning of the season, Ferrucci set out some goals for himself. He’s already reached a couple of them by scoring a top 10 at St. Petersburg and reaching the second round in qualifying at COTA. From there, Ferrucci wants to increase his consistency. He wants to get to at least the second round of qualifying on a regular basis and score quite a few top 10 finishes before the season is out.
In Long Beach, Ferrucci out-qualified Bourdais and put himself on the grid in 13th. Unfortunately, that was more or less the high-water point of the day. He dropped back a couple of spots, but was able to maintain his position until after his first pit stop. According to the team, Ferrucci bottomed out going into Turn 1 and went he went into the runoff.
Ferrucci attempted to spin the car around so that he could get back underway like so many others had to do during the weekend, but managed to stall his car. He lost two laps waiting for the AMR Safety Team to start his engine and allow him to resume.
The trip to the runoff dropped Ferrucci back to 22nd. With no cautions for the remainder of the race, he was only able to make up one position on his way to a 21st-place finish, despite good pace. The finish dropped him one position to 18th in points.
Ferrucci was disappointed with his race, but learned a fair amount.
“We had a clean start. Sebastien [Bourdais] seemed pretty quick so when he got close to me, I didn’t fight him,” Ferrucci said in a post-race press release. “I’m happy I didn’t because he passed a couple of cars and I watched and followed suit, so it was a good learning experience for me.”
Ferrucci and the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will be back in action on May 11 for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis.