Lukas Dunner on his F3 debut: “I noticed that things were really taking off.”

He is 18 years old, lives in Vienna and loves to play golf. Lukas Dunner is known mainly for his motor racing skills though – as our big hope for an Austrian to finally drive in Formula 1 again. At the start of the F1 season on Spielberg, Lukas Dunner drove his first FIA Formula 3 race in one of the side series (for Team MP Motorsports). In an interview, he tells what it was like to take his new 400 horsepower car around the Red Bull Ring.

Hi Lukas, you are new to FIA Formula 3 this year - what do we need to know about your new wheels?

My car has almost 400 horsepower, is a rear-wheel drive and compared to a normal street car I have no electronic aids on board to make my life easier. Steering and braking are extremely hard. The car has less downforce than an F1 car, but there is DRS, which means I can open the wing at the back, which is new for me. The top speed on the Schönberg straight is estimated to be 250 kmph and in the slipstream perhaps 270 kmph.

You completed your first F3 race last Saturday. How was it?

I was quite surprised at what is possible with the car on the racetrack. In the previous years I drove cars with around 240 HP, where the tires were much narrower and had a longer lifespan. In Formula 3, the effects are much more noticeable if the wheels lock, you turn too much or you drive too close to the car in front. Such mistakes make a difference much more in Formula 3 than in the previous championships I was in. I noticed straight away in the first race at the Red Bull Ring how tactical you have to be in the race to be able to drive consistently well.

You trained a lot in the simulator but the difference to real life is probably quite big ...

Yes, for sure. Bringing the real racing feeling into a simulation is almost impossible. We have millions of little things in the car that can trigger and change millions of other things. A computer opponent will never drive like a real opponent, G-forces cannot be simulated and the weather does not feel like it is real. There are so many factors that play a part that can’t be duplicated in the simulator.

Before your first race, did you secretly dream of a surprise start by taking a place in the top five or even a podium finish?

Every racing driver always starts with the feeling that they can win and always wants to win. If they don't believe in that, they have already lost. On the other hand, you shouldn't expect too much of yourself, otherwise that can really knock you back. It’s better to be realistic and honest with yourself and learn from every mistake. That's how I went into the race weekend at the Red Bull Ring.

What did you do well on the first weekend?

We were able to correct our mistakes from day one and knew right after the first free practice session that we have to improve here, and there ...

Could you be more specific?

For me it's all about understanding the tires and braking correctly. The braking is the key point in every turn - the better you brake, the later you can brake. At the start I always braked a little too early because I did not brake enough and therefore didn’t get a good hold of the entrance to the curve, which continued until I accelerated out. We were able to get this under control slowly but surely and the horsepower was then well measured out during the race. In the first race I was only four tenths of a second behind the fastest car.

What can you and your team do before next weekend to gain those four tenths of a second?

It would be ideal if we could test between races - but that’s not really possible during the championship. It’s important at this stage to talk to teammates, look closely at all the data and analyze what is making the others faster.

How do you get a bad race out of your head?

I try not to think too much about a race that has gone by. It happened and you can't change it anymore. That's my philosophy: okay, next time I'll do better. If you go in with that feeling, you usually actually do better. It doesn't always work, of course. There are race weekends you just can’t get into. It helps me if I don't look at my positions but talk a lot to my trainer and my manager to build up my self-confidence.

Did you aim to leave big-name rivals like David Schumacher or Enzo Fittipaldi behind you in the race?

I have never considered the names in a race, as every opponent is the same on the track. After the race you might be a little happy inside though and think: cool, I wouldn’t have imagined that ...

How much do you miss the fans? Do you notice the lack of spectators during the race?

Driving in front of spectators is more enjoyable, of course, and would give me a bit more motivation, especially if I was driving at the Red Bull Ring as it’s my home circuit. When I’m driving I don’t really have any time to look at the stands, so it makes hardly any difference to me.

You haven't driven at the Red Bull Ring often. What was the biggest challenge for you with your 400 horsepower car? What was the most enjoyable thing for you?

That was the last two corners, 9 and 10. I noticed that things were really taking off there. Driving through it so quickly with the heavy car was for me, at the start, a bit ... puhhh. Especially in the last corner you can really see what the car can do with its 400 horsepower. The thing really races away. What I liked the most was the first corner. Driving there over the curbs is just loads of fun with this car.

How exhausting is it to actually race?

A lot of people seem to think that it is not too physically demanding. Really hard training is needed though to be able to take on this strain as a matter of course. You actually train for it every day during the season. It is really exhausting mentally. You are mentally extremely tense when you have to make so many decisions on every lap and ‘read’ the opponents. In these situations, so much is coming together at once. The most strenuous thing I've done so far was an LMP2 race at Silverstone at speeds of over 300 kmph. After that it took me two days to think clearly again.

How would a casual athlete cope with these stresses?

If someone is training once a week for fun and then gets into a racing car to drive against real professionals, then their first training session would probably be over after two laps ... or they would just be done for.

What does your week look like between the two races in Austria? What are you doing from Monday to Friday?

After the race last Sunday we drove home around noon. Training is on the program every day from Monday to Wednesday - two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, three endurance sessions and three to four strength sessions. I’m also sitting in the simulator this week, twice for 1.5 hours. I’ll go to bed early on Wednesday evening because we are going back to the circuit on Thursday. I'll be back at the Red Bull Ring from Thursday lunchtime.

On the subject of sleep ... how important is planning sleep for your performance?

It is extremely important. If I have too little sleep or go to sleep late, I don’t train well the next day. That's why I set fixed times for going to bed and getting up, which makes it much easier for me. I sleep between 7 and 8 hours every night during the week.

You just drove your first F3 race. Are you ready for F1?

That's a good question. If I firmly believe I can and if I continue to work hard, anything can be possible. Not straight away, of course, but if I take my time and move up from F3 to F2, I think it is possible and I can do it.

To be in F1 you need 40 FIA points. How and where do you want to get them?

This year I want to take some points with top three positions in the Euro Formula Open, which is the second championship I am driving in this year. In the next two years, Formula 2 will be on the agenda. You get quite a lot of points there for top five finishes.

Are you certain to move to Formula 2 from next season?

That is the plan currently. There are negotiations ongoing and it is not certain yet. For many drivers, FIA Formula 3 is usually just a stepping stone to get to know the car and the philosophy of Formula Racing, which is very similar here to in F2.

Niki Lauda is your big racing role model. He always told his engineers how to make his car faster. Are you also a driver who has a lot of say in the pit lane?

Times have changed, and it’s not really possible anymore today. I don't want to change too much in the setup myself. I know that the missing tenths of a second are mostly due to me and not the car. First I have to make sure that I get myself up to 100%. Only when I can perform to my maximum and the data shows that, I will take a close look at the car.

Niki Lauda may not always have been very diplomatic to the engineers, but he was honest. People loved him anyway and did what he said - because he was quite simply a fast guy. I would also like to be that some day.

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