Champion’s Story 2: Pedro de la Rosa (1997)
In the last race of the 2019 season, with the championship coming down to the wire, it was Spanish driver Alex Palou who took pole in the qualifying. Although Palou didn’t win the title, with the guts and determination he displayed, he certainly left a long-lasting impression. Palou was born in 1997, the same year that another driver from Spain named Pedro de la Rosa won the Formula Nippon title. De la Rosa is still the only Spanish driver to win the championship in either Formula Nippon or Super Formula.
Born in 1971, de la Rosa first came to Japan in 1995 to race in F3. He was 24 at the time, but had only been racing for 8 years. As a young boy, he raced radio controlled cars where he posted good results, but didn’t begin karting until age 17. After that, he won junior formula racing title after title. In 1993, he began racing in the U.K. in F3, but didn’t post favorable results. Following that, Japan-based TOM’s reached out to Pedro. They had been using their own chassis to that point in F3, but made the change to a Dallara chassis. Pedro’s engineer at the time was Jun Yamada. Yamada said that Pedro was “very focused, took his meetings before and after sessions very seriously, and had a high accume for analyzing his runs.” Data loggers, which had been in use in Europe, just came out for use in Japan at the time. “Pedro helped show us how to use them and he spent much time working with the loggers.” Michael Schumacher, who had won the Japanese F3 title the year before, was blessed with natural abilities, while Pedro “was the kind of driver who continued to work hard all the time.” Even with that said, Pedro went on to win 8 out of the 10 F3 races that were held (one was cancelled due to in climate weather) that season. He moved up into Formula Nippon the following season.
In Formula Nippon, Pedro raced with Shinogi Team Nova. His teammate at the time was former German F3 champion, Argentina-born Norberto Fontana. Fontana was considered to be the top driver on the team and was billed as being able to compete against the likes of Michael Schumacher. In Rd. 3 at Fuji, Fontana won the race. “(Pedro) wasn’t able to use the same set-up that Norbeto had, which was unfortunate” stated engineer Hiroshi Kato. “So it was difficult to get podium.” De la Rosa was finally able to break into the top 3 in the eventful last race of the season.
It was a totally different story for de la Rosa in his second season. He asked to have “the same exact set-up as Norbeto” and continued to study it until he made it his own. Kato recalls that after getting to the circuit and finishing free practice “he made very little changes to the set-up.” De la Rosa called upon his own strength to continue to record better times and put his speed on display in the championship race. He went on to record 6 victories that season, with the first two coming in Rd. 1 and Rd. 2. Partway through the season, de la Rosa had already won the title and his next step was to race in F1. Although de la Rosa didn’t win in F1, he was valued not only as a regular driver, but also as a test and development driver, where he worked for a long time. Which speaks volumes for Pedro’s dedication and diligence to duty.