There are two versions of Robert Shwartzman. The first is his on-track persona, a fearless competitor driven to become a Formula 1 racer, the second is his off-track identity, a laidback, light-hearted and good-humoured 21-year-old.
Both of them are utterly and entirely infatuated with cars: the first with single seaters, Italian ones to be exact, and the second, by anything he can get his hands on, from go-karts to super cars and everything in between, including his pride and joy, a Ferrari 458.
When talking to the Russian, it doesn’t take long to get onto the topic.
“I love going for random drives. I love Ferraris,” says the 21-year-old, with a smile. “I think it’s very important that you find that thing that gives you positive energy. That can be anything, just as long as it brings you happiness and positive energy in a way that nothing else can. For me, that is cars. You know what happened in my life and the biggest thing that pulled me back up from my knees and back to my feet was my love of cars.
“I hope that everyone can find this in their lives, whatever it is. It is very important to have that thing, because in the most difficult moments it can help you a lot. It is the motivation that drives you.”
The moment that Shwartzman is referring to is the passing of his father last year, the man who he credits all his success to. And there has been plenty already.
A member of the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy, he’s a former Toyota Racing Series Champion, secured top three finishes in European Formula 3, Formula Renault Eurocup and Italian F4, and in 2019 added the Formula 3 title to his list of achievements.
Clinching the crown in front of his father in his home country of Russia remains a defining moment.
“If I had an opportunity to travel in time, I would back go to that moment,” he asserts. “Winning F3 was very important to me and I was so happy that my father was there to see it. He believed in me and I was able to prove to him that I could achieve these things. He didn’t waste his time, money and energy for nothing and that was a very big moment. It was the brightest moment of my life.
“Everything is because of him. I could have grown up as a normal kid, finishing school, going to university, getting a job, starting a business, but would I have been happy living that life? I would say no. Where I am now, it is my place and I can feel that it is my place.
“My dad gave me everything he had. He sacrificed a lot of his time, his money, his attention, so many things to help me get where I am today - it is all him. I am happy that I managed to learn from him and that the time he put into my career wasn't for nothing. I did my best to make him proud.”
Lifting the trophy saw his stock skyrocket. The PREMA racer was already rated as one of the most promising junior talents around and the F3 title win cemented his standing. Leading the Championship at the end of every round, he only missed out on a points’ finish once, scoring 10 podiums, including three victories.
His season was inspired by consistency, but certainly not caution. Shwartzman knows how to balance the risk versus the reward. He’s an enthralling watch, and when he needs to be, one of the strongest, more daring overtakers at this level.
Transferring those characteristics and skills into Formula 2 was never going to be an easy task, especially with the added pressure he was under, entering as the F3 Champion.
“F2 is more difficult. The competition is bigger, and the field is very close to each other,” Shwartzman continued. “To be completely honest, the first time when I sat in the car in testing, I didn’t feel comfortable at all. If I remember correctly, I actually spun on my first lap. It definitely wasn't an amazing first lap.
“In F2, you need way more mileage to get used to the speed. Even though it can be heavy physically, it is very fast, and you need to get used to that. At the beginning, it was difficult, but slowly I got used to it. We changed the setups and I got more used to the car and had a good feeling.”
It's Shwartzman’s honesty and his relationship with PREMA that allowed him to turn this around quickly. They were able to have open and frank discussions on where they needed to improve.
He went from spinning on his first lap to securing a podium in his very first race. By the end of Round 3, he already had two wins under his belt. He ended the season with four - the most of anyone last year.
Finishing fourth and falling narrowly short of the title, he will remain with PREMA for the new campaign, returning to the grid as the highest placed driver from 2020.
He continued: “This is what I see from my side, I can be very competitive in Quali, I can be very strong in a race and generally we have everything we need, but the issue we have is that we are making mistakes, or I am making a mistake, and that results in missing an important opportunity.
“One unlucky moment, one mistake can ruin your entire race weekend, so it is very important for me to continue learning. I need to be even more prepared for every single race weekend so that we never miss an opportunity.”