With just over two months until FIA Formula Two gets its 2020 season underway, we have caught up with one of DAMS’ new signings as Sean Gelael makes the switch from Prema Racing.
From humble beginnings in Indonesia to racing for top junior teams from Carlin to Prema, Gelael has certainly had an interesting career so far which you can discover more about in this honest yet revealing interview.
Hailing from Indonesia which isn’t well known for top racing drivers, who or what was your inspiration to become a racing driver?
Gelael: Coming from Indonesia, honestly its quite difficult because we have 250 million people, but we only have one circuit that is use for actual racing. We therefore only had maximum two different tracks in Indonesia that we use for karting with 8 races in total per year as the national championship.
Therefore in terms of competitiveness and budget, we have to race in Asia because in Asia, everything travelled by water not like in Europe so the competition is not a lot, like maximum of 12 races a year.
In Europe, you now see people doing karting for hundreds of days a year so the competition level is not as much but my inspiration to become a racing driver obviously was my dad.
I grew up watching him rallying and rallying was quite bore in that atmosphere but it was quite big in Indonesia at that time because at 1996 and 1997, the World Rally Championship was here.
I therefore came from that route actually because I came through rallying first and when I was 10 years old and then after a year, it’s hard because in rally, you are using real car so you need driving license and everything so I started out as a co-driver just to learn everything.
By the time I was approaching 12 years–old, I was doing karting and rallying and I think at the end of 2009, we decided to fully stop rallying and focus on racing in single seater, so quite late compare to the others but I was fortunate enough that I am able to go to Europe.
2013-14 saw you compete in FIA European F3 against several drivers, of whom you are now racing against in F2. How much of an experience did you find spending those two seasons at that level and has it helped you against them in F2?
Gelael: I learned a lot of thing from the competition and mentally wise, learned very different culture, especially when you are in Asia or Indonesia when there is not a lot competition.
When you’re good, its hard to keep motivating yourself to become better. While when the competition is so high, you keep pushing yourself to the limit, and the information about the sport is a lot more in Europe. You learn a lot of things and you know how to become professional.
That’s the biggest different when we compete in Europe. And then what also made it bit difficult was I did a year with Antonio Giovinazzi in Formula Abarth but that was only 6 races I think in Formula Pilota Asia.
I then competed in FIA F3 Europe against several drivers of who are now racing also in F2 and some of them already in F1.
2015 saw you race for Carlin in Formula Renault 3.5 and the latter half of that GP2 season. What was the biggest thing that you learned from juggling both series before making a full-time move to the latter series?
Gelael: If there is one regret that I had in my career, it is that I think I rushed a little bit to go to Formula 3 without as much testing as it was more open at that time.
We therefore didn’t really prepare as much when we go to the new track and that time is the first time FIA F3 European Championship combine 34 cars, so it was a huge group.
Another thing that I regret is that I should have done another year in F3 to really mature myself as I have quite good improvement with Carlin in 2014.
I think it was a bit of a rush when I decided to go to Formula Renault 3.5 but I had to do it because I was getting bigger and quite tall, and my muscles also growing as well, so its hard to keep the weight limit and the fit of the F3 car basically.
We therefore felt it was more comfortable if we go to Formula Renault 3.5 and also we stay with Carlin. But I think because they jumped out from the competition a year before, so how everything was set up it was not well prepared I would say so.
That was again just pure rush and that is why the performance was not that good and personally, I am not mature enough as like I said I prefer to improve my skill from F3 as they have so much more data, so much more references for me to learn.
At the end of the year, I had an opportunity from Carlin in GP2 because they also struggled with the drivers because Marco Sorensen and Julian Leal both pulled out, so it was me and Dean Stoneman the last four races in GP2.
I hoped that I could learn about the car and the tracks before having full season in GP2 2016.
Since making the permanent step-up into GP2 (now F2) in 2016, you haven’t had the strongest of point scoring records with just 85 points across four seasons including two podiums. How would you respond to various critics who over recent seasons have begun to question whether you have the potential to reach F1, despite having some involvement with Toro Rosso in recent seasons?
Gelael: For the first year, I don’t want to put blame on how everything went but I mean Campos did well in 2015 with Rio Haryanto and Arthur Pic and then with me and Mitch Evans, it was not the best situation for both of us.
As motorsport fans know, Mitch was top 3 or top 5 in GP2 2015 with Russian Time and he did not perform well at Campos. And also me being a rookie, I had quite good start let say from Baku to Austria when we have the podium.
After that round, it was very inconsistent for us because we didn’t score any points and struggled with everything.
Then in 2017 with Arden, I think it was a rush to go to Arden or to make the decision to go to a team like that and then to start building from zero again because me and Norman Nato both struggled.
The real full season that I’ve learned a lot in terms of myself and hard the way of working was with Prema. They were so dominant in 2016 and 2017, but the move to a new car in 2018 made everything change again.
Don’t get me wrong, but I think Prema is still a good team. The potential was that they were supposed to get better but I think mistakes and how the realibility of the car in 2018 from F2 itself was very inconsistent, so it made things little bit difficult in some reasons, although in the end of the day, the results were not there.
It therefore is hard for me to defend myself saying “Oh I think my performance is quite good or that kind of stuff”. This year I am turning 24 years old so it makes me more mature to deal with the situation.
As for Toro Rosso, its hard for me to say because even though the performance with Toro Rosso were quite good, I have no result in F2. So, its hard for me to convert.
At the end of the day, I just trying to do the best I can in each race in F2 and hopefully that can translate to the result. I think that’s very important.
This season will see you make the move to the reigning team champion – DAMS, so what are your expectations given that DAMS have guided two drivers into F1 across the last two seasons?
Gelael: I am very happy that Dams believe in me and hopefully we can share the experiences.
I believe I can learn a lot from them as a team champion last season and then hopefully with the new 18 inch rims and with a huge experiences that I have in GP2, F2, and sometime driving F1 car, that I could help them in terms of development and the way we should move forward. Hopefully we could find a nice gel together.
Finally, what are your ambitions for the future?
Gelael: I am just looking at one step at the time. Obviously, you want to do the best in terms of end goals.
You want to be top three in the championship. You want to become a F1 driver but I think everything start from being step by step.
From the preparation, from the simulator, from the debrief before the race, and then the race weekend itself. Free Practice, Qualifying, step by step. I think I just have to look that way and see what the future hold after that.
The most important thing is just control what you can control, and then everything else is down to the other stuff.
With special thanks to Sean Gelael for taking the time to participate in this interview and good luck for this season.