272 days: That’s how many had passed between Marino Sato last setting foot into a Formula 2 car, for 2018 post-season testing, and his next appearance, when he made his debut at Spa-Francorchamps in Round 8 Free Practice.
With such little experience, it was always going to be a steep learning curve for the Japanese racer to step into the car mid-season and instantly perform. Sato was well aware of this, but for him, any potential struggle would ultimately reap rewards in the future - wherever his may lie.
It was all about balancing out the negatives, with the positives.
“I knew that it was going to be a difficult one,” he admits. “My first experience of this car was in 2018 but only for three days and it was then seven/eight months without even seeing this car in person, so hoping back again, was tough.
“You are always looking forward though and I think the 2020 season and the future is more important. I did have a hard time this year, but that is not wasted time because it’s going to help me in the future.”
Due to the tragic events in Spa, Sato wouldn’t officially make his full race debut until Monza and despite the limited car time, he enjoyed a positive result. Driving for Campos, the 20-year-old finished 12th in the Feature Race and 11th in the Sprint – an impressive first outing.
The results that followed weren’t quite as strong, but he never finished below 18th and his concentration was largely focused upon improving himself as a driver. Something that he feels is already bearing fruit.
Asked where he feels he has improved so far, he explained: “Just in general, in terms of my driving, having spent more time with this car and getting more used to it. Sochi was a difficult one, because it was my first time on the supersoft tyres. But, that was just another challenge for me.
It is about finding any mistakes and trying to improve that, and finding those marginal gains.
“I have improved my pit stops in the last few events too. The pit stops were new to me as well, as I hadn't experienced that before.
“Honestly, it is all a learning process. With the limited time we get, it is about finding any mistakes and trying to improve that, and finding those marginal gains. It is really tricky and difficult. We always have positive things in each weekend and we are moving one step forward every time, so I am happy.”
Sato was announced at Trident on Tuesday and will step into the car once again for pre-season testing in Sakhir, Bahrian, on March 1-3, alongside his new teammate Roy Nissany.