Rising Australian star Alex Peroni is the first to admit that 2020 is the biggest year of his career, as he chases his dream of a Formula One drive.
The 20-year-old from Tasmania is in his second season of F3, one of the feeder categories that runs alongside the F1 series.
Perhaps best known for his enormous crash in Italy last year that left him with a broken back, Peroni has returned to the sport with an impressive turn of speed, finishing on the podium in the opening race of the season in Austria.
But Peroni knows that he needs to be at the front of the field on a consistent basis if he’s to keep climbing the ladder.
“This year is really critical for my career if I want to get to Formula One,” Peroni told Wide World of Sports.
“I knew that from the start. I’m not trying to add pressure on myself, but I need to get good results.
“I need to be in the top five in the championship, and in a field like this that’s not easy.
“I feel like it’s closer than last year, but I have to get the results.”
Peroni’s third place during the first of four races the series ran at the Red Bull Ring had an Australian flavour to it, with the race won by Melbourne’s Oscar Piastri, another with eyes on an F1 seat down the track.
It meant that despite finishing third, Peroni still got to hear the Australian national anthem being played for Piastri.
“Yeah, that was strange. That’s the first time in my career that’s ever happened,” Peroni said.
“It was nice, it was an awesome race. It was my first race back after the crash, and the car was mega. We had really good pace. We were really happy.
“But the podium was weird because of the social distancing stuff. Probably the weirdest podium in my life, but who cares! The main thing is getting the points.”
Unfortunately the next three races weren’t as kind to Peroni, who has failed to add to his points tally since, making for a rollercoaster of emotions to start the season.
“I think in the end there were more downs than ups, unfortunately,” he said.
“It was more a case of what could have been. We were really quick in qualifying, but some small things held us back.”
Elite sport is all about timing, and Peroni’s luck was out last weekend. Seconds away from finishing a qualifying lap that would have vaulted him up the grid, the session was stopped following a crash for another car.
“We were very unlucky, being at the start of pitlane means you’re the last car out of the lane, so when the second red flag came out, all the cars in front had completed their lap and I was still coming around the last corner,” he said.
“Based on the times I would have been P2 or P3.
“Qualifying is everything in Formula 3, and starting seventh wasn’t bad, but it could have been so much better.
“It’s good to know the pace is there, and if we can get a clean weekend we should be up the front.”
Peroni’s increased competitiveness in 2020 can partly be attributed to his new engineer, Andrea Rocchetto, who has previously worked for Ferrari, McLaren and Renault in Formula One.
The Australian says there’s still more to come from that relationship as they learn each other’s strengths.
A wrong call on setup prior to the wet race on Saturday compromised the entire weekend, with the race stopped early in torrential rain.
“It was just a tough situation, when we got to the track it was spitting a bit, we knew it was going to rain, but we didn’t know exactly when, or how heavy it would be,” Peroni said.
“We just got our strategy a bit wrong, and in hindsight it wasn’t the best setup, but that’s how it goes.
“I was struggling to get any temperature in the tyres early on, it took a few laps before I was in the groove, and then the red flag came out.
“It was a really tough race, possibly the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in. We couldn’t see anything, the car was aquaplaning, it was interesting, to say the least.”
Peroni finished 11th in that race, which again highlights the fine margins between success and failure. Had he finished 10th, he would have started from pole position in the next race, as the top 10 start in reverse order.
Instead, he was about 0.5 second behind in 11th, and that’s where he stayed for the second race.
“Yeah that was rough. Very rough,” Peroni laments.
“But we didn’t really deserve it, we didn’t have the pace.”
After consecutive weekends in Austria Peroni is now in Hungary, ahead of this weekend’s race in Budapest.
With the COVID-19 situation playing havoc with the schedule, there’s another double header coming up later this year at Silverstone, a rare situation that Peroni found to his liking.
“I thought it was awesome. It was really weird going to the same track twice in a row, but it was a new challenge. You had to improve on the spot, and really analyse what happened the week before.
“It was a new challenge, although it was weird being in the same hotel for two weeks!
“But I’m not going to lie, I’m excited to get to a new track.”