Growing up in Ecuador, Juan Manuel Correa couldn’t have imagined the journey his love of motorsport would see him embark upon.
Making a remarkable full-time return to the Formula 2 grid over three years on from the tragic events at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019, the Van Amersfoort Racing driver takes us those key moments that have shaped his story so far and how he continues to push the boundaries of what he think is possible.
FIRST TIME IN A KART
“The first time I jumped into a go kart because that's what started everything when I was seven years old in Ecuador, so that was the first step. My earliest memories were my training sessions. So it was a few months of training before I could do my first race. It was quite fun. I would go after school, two or three times a week, straight to the go kart track and just do laps all afternoon. I remember I started those very first few sessions around just a track with cones, running around in an oval. I did that until I could do the whole lap flat out in a little kadet kart.
"A few months after I started racing and I continued training after school. So it was pretty much kind of like having an extracurricular activity after school but instead of going to play soccer or whatever, I was going the racetrack. They were good times. I spent a lot of time at the racetrack and it was also a bit of a family activity, when I had races my family would come to watch. I have basically no bad memories. It's all positive.
“From what I remember, from the first time I drove I wanted to be a racecar driver. So I was already very much into Formula 1 with my dad. My whole family were racing enthusiasts. There had been some type of amateur racing at some point being rally or a bit of touring cars. So when I started doing karting I was already pretty much sure that I was going to be a Formula 1 driver, but I was I would say kind of like a naïve kid at the time. I think the moment when I was serious about doing it as something was when I was 13, just before I ended up winning the World Championship."
2013 KARTING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
“The second moment that had a huge impact was 2013 when I won the karting World Championship because that's what drove me to go racing Europe. It thus determined kind of a path I took. I was bothering my dad that I wanted to go to Europe and he was like, ‘we'll see, we'll see, we'll see.’ Then, when I won the World Championship, I got offered a contract to go through the whole European Championship, and that was all paid for as well. So then of course, there were no excuses.
“It was it was a good season. It started off difficult, then around a quarter of the way to the season, I went to a new team. From my first race in the new team, we basically dominated everything that year, I was doing all the big championships in USA, National championship and American Winter Tour. I won the national Championship, got my tickets for the World Championship and we went to the World Championship which was coincidentally, the first time it was ever being held in the USA. It was in New Orleans, Louisiana.
"We went there with not very high expectations, to be honest. I mean, we were racing in the American Championship. We were quite used to Europeans kicking our ass. The level was always higher year in Europe, but we went there and we were just quite competitive from the beginning, but not competitive to win the race.
“Practices and Quali, we were there lingering around the top eight or 10. But then actually in the final race I found myself at one point in third position. The guy in P1 was like six, seven seconds ahead of us, and I just started pushing the guy that was in P2 the whole race. We were catching and waiting, just a few tenths every lap.
"Then, with one lap to go, we both passed him and then I passed the guy for first position in the last corner with two wheels on the grass. And it was emotional. I was kind of processing what was happening. What just happened? It was crazy. I would say maybe that night, when I got back to the hotel, that’s when I finally comprehended and it was pretty special. My mom was there and I think my grandmother and yeah, that was like holy hell, that was incredible. And then offers started arriving from Europe.”
“I would say the third moment is probably the crash, because it had a huge impact not just in my life, but also in in my career and for me to be back here in F2 this year, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the crash. I don't know where I would be. But that's a huge impact as well. And it's always going to be something that has influenced my career and wherever I do end up, that's been a huge impact.
"I mean it's been honestly crazy. I don't think many people or maybe no people at all in the public know really everything that has gone down. Someday I will tell my story because I think it's really worth telling and it's just been crazy. I mean, everything I'd done before the accident has been basically child's play, and I had already worked very hard to get where I was in terms of the level of commitment and honestly just like mental strength to go through the process and get back.
"To this day, it continues to be a process. Getting back into it was almost impossible. But actually, from the moment I was back in a car to being competitive again at a very high level – it has been very hard. The last three years, the work has been tough, but very rewarding as well.
"I've learned a lot about myself and expanded my own limits. I've found new boundaries and that certainly has made me a better person and more prepared to think about this as a driver and anything in life. It has been really a defining moment in my career and my life.
"It feels very good to be back in Formula 2, just to be on the grid is already an achievement, there’s a lot of work in that as well. All of us here are working hard to just be here. So I'm happy and I'm thankful to have this opportunity because of what it means for me, but I'm here to do one job and that’s to win and be competitive and that is the only way I'll be happy in the bigger picture.
"At the end of the year, if I feel, not necessarily in terms of results, but if I feel like my level is good and I'm improving and becoming better race after race, that'll keep me happy. But that'll be tough. It's arguably one of the hardest categories in the world. It's very competitive, full of the future stars. If you can do well in F2 you're set as a driver I would say. We'll work hard but I'm enjoying it that's for sure.”