Spain’s Daniel Juncadella has risen through the ranks of the lower single-seater categories on his way to securing his spot as the test and reserve driver at Sahara Force India, and has been working alongside Sergio Perez and Nico Hülkenberg from the beginning of the year.
The 23-year-old currently balances his duties in Formula One with a race seat in the DTM with Mercedes-Benz, racing for the RSC Mücke Motorsport outfit alongside names such as Gary Paffett, Paul di Resta and Vitaly Petrov. He also has an uncle that has been a part of the Formula One paddock in years past, in former Minardi driver and one time HRT Team Principal Luis Pérez-Sala.
Richland F1’s Alex Goldschmidt sat down with the 2012 F3 Euroseries champion on Saturday ahead of qualifying for the British Grand Prix, a day after Juncadella took to the track for the first time during an official F1 race weekend, replacing Hülkenberg in opening practice.
Alex Goldschmidt: Earlier on this year, you were announced as the Sahara Force India third driver working alongside Sergio and Nico. How have you settled into the team over the past few months?
Daniel Juncadella: It’s been really good, I think. There’s a nice bunch of people in the team and I’m getting on well with everybody. I’ve mainly been working at the simulator with the guys there and I’m also working a lot with them when it came to the tests I did in Jerez, Barcelona and here.
AG: You had a pretty good outing during Free Practice 1 on Friday morning, getting your first experience of the new Power Unit, and have had previous running last year at the Young Drivers’ Test with Williams, showing impressive pace. What were the the biggest challenges from your perspective as a driver with the differences between the V8s and V6s?
DJ: It is all the adjustments that you have to do on the steering wheel, especially when it comes to before, during and after the lap. It’s something that is new for me, but the Power Unit’s delivery is a lot more gentle than I was expecting from a turbo engine. I think that the big thing for me is adapting to Formula One from DTM., which is the hardest part. It’s good, as I can’t complain about doing a double program.
AG: Your pace in terms of time was pretty good, placing in 14th, just three tenths off Checo. Did you feel that there was more potential in the car, and were there any difficulties for you during the session?
DJ: I was improving every lap and getting used to the car. The tyres were getting on with mileage and as I started my run, I flat-spotted the right front and then I was suffering from vibration for the whole session, which was not the optimum, but lap times wise, I was putting the sector times together very close to Checo.
That’s good to see, as I’m spot-on with the pace and trying to push the guys. That’s what I was saving for the session. I was going through the plan during the session and giving the feedback, and I felt that I did a good job.
AG: I spoke with your DTM stablemate at Mercedes, McLaren test driver Gary Paffett earlier this year about the development time and every test driver has to follow the plan that is planned by the minute. Every racing driver has that instinct in just wanting to go for a flying lap. I bet there was a time when you just wanted to say that you want to do that and was there an opportunity for you to do so?
DJ: It’s different, as during practice, you need to know that you are working for the team, but then when when you have testing days, you get the chance to have a new set of tyres on and push for one flying lap.
That’s the nicest part of it, when you get the new tyres and feel the grip from them and have a clear track ahead. When it also comes to driving the F1 car, it’s really a nice feeling when you are in the engine mode when you can push to the maximum.
AG: Your uncle, Luis, was with HRT until it closed down at the end of 2012, as well as having driven for Minardi. When you told him the news that you had joined Force India, what was his initial reaction to having this opportunity to prove as as consistent and competent racing driver? Especially when you have worked alongside Mercedes for a big part of your career, when you won the F3 Euroseries title in 2012 with Prema Powerteam.
DJ: This was one of my best chances with Force India, and they have the Mercedes power and I work with them in DTM as a Mercedes works driver. Luis has always been very supportive of me since my early days in Formula 3 and starting out in Formula One. Everyone has his or her own view on everything, but he has always been thinking about the details.
When I was in Formula 3, it was a case of looking at the other details, especially when it came to some mistakes, losing time here and there, which has helped to keep my feet on the ground.
AG: Coming back to DTM, we now see that Paul Di Resta has returned to Mercedes after three years with Force India, especially when Felipe Massa had seriously considered a switch to the series for this season. In your opinion, when it comes to drivers like Mika Hakkinen, Jean Alesi and David Coulthard that have raced in Formula One, is there more of a charm that sees more fans international flock to the series as a result?
DJ: It is a top-class series, with ex-F1 drivers coming into it and struggling. Paul is different because he won the championship and has come back afterwards. You can see that he struggled when he returned, as did David Coulthard. We need these guys to help boost the popularity, but there are these young guys like Roberto Merhi, Antonio Felix da Costa, Nico Müller and Pascal Wehrlein that come in.
The young guys are not being noticed as they are that young, but they are doing a really good job at the moment. The championship overall is high-quality, as are the drivers that take part.
AG: Finally, with regards to Formula One, how do you see your future in the sport, now that you’re test driver here at Force India?
DJ: It’s not easy to say, but I am really enjoying my role as a test driver for the team, but I am doing that to give myself a chance for next year, hopefully. That’s the objective right now, as I want to put things all together and let’s hope that I’m getting the best chances possible.
So let’s hope that next year that will see me achieve that goal, which is still is F1. But if I don’t have the chance to reach it, then it’s not a failure as I’m really happy. I would like to race in the DTM for longer, but if I get a chance.
Juncadella is part of a new breed of young drivers that are trying to break into Formula One. However, the Spaniard remains calm and realistic about trying to achieve this goal, knowing full well it is a dream shared by many of his junior contemporaries. Nevertheless, he still is looking forward, hopeful he can repeat the feat of progressing in the same manner as Paul Di Resta did to Formula One, by winning the title in DTM.
His prowess was clearly showcased with Prema Powerteam, when he won the F3 Euroseries title in 2012. His results speak for themselves when you consider the talent he has raced against during his career, such as Felipe Nasr, Raffaele Marciello and Felix Rosenqvist.
Juncadella will not have to wait long for his next taste of F1 machinery, with the Spaniard set to run for Force India at Silverstone on Wednesday at the post-British Grand Prix test.
He’s still a man to watch out for, and he would be a welcome addition to the Formula 1 ranks if he were to get that chance.
RichlandF1 would like to thank Sahara Force India’s Will Hings and Tabatha Valls for arranging the interview and thank Daniel for his time.
Images © Octane Photographic and Sahara Force India