The first thing you notice when you speak to Alex Fontana is that he’s a lovely guy. He reminds me a lot of serial smiler, Daniel Ricciardo.
It’s very rare in this age of strict PR and censorship to find a down to earth driver who is more than willing to openly interact with the press and fans alike. Fortunately 22 year-old Alex is such a guy. Follow him on Twitter and you’ll find out.
Just like Ricciardo though, don’t let that smile and happy-go-lucky demeanor fool you, this boy is going places, he’s a mini honey badger.
The 2011 European F3 Open Champion, who will be competing in his third full season in GP3 Series this year with his new team Status Grand Prix, has picked up a handful of podiums and point finishes during his time in the series and is highly regarded among the paddock’s elite.
So what makes Alex stand out from the rest of the GP3 grid you may ask? Well one very big thing makes him stand out, his helmet design.
The design was inspired by the late Welsh Formula One driver Tom Pryce, who sadly lost his life following an accident at the 1977 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, and his father who sported a similar helmet during his racing days.
Alex has carried on this tradition during his career and told The Checkered Flag that his helmet is more than just a design.
Alex feels that he holds the same qualities that Pryce did and that like Pryce he has had to overcome financial adversity in order to shine.
“All my career before the GP3 series and before my single-seater debut in go karts, I’ve never had the best material or team on paper,” said Fontana.
“I had to fight my way through the field of drivers with bigger budgets.
“Tom had a difficult situation in F1 as well with the Shadow team, but he did the best he could and achieved great results with it. I like the fact he never gave up or felt this big gap from the bigger teams…he deserved much more.”
Although his connection to Pryce is there for everyone to see he doesn’t wish to emulate any other drivers or put them on a pedestal. He simply wants to be his own inspiration.
He said: “I believe a driver must respect everyone and try to learn everything he can from other competitors, but not try to emulate anybody.
“Everyone should have his own style and personality.”
With the new GP3 season fast approaching (testing begins on March 18th), Alex is confident he can use all the attributes he has picked up over his previous years in the series and put them to good use.
“First of all, I’ve learned the format of the series, which is basically around the single qualifying for two races,” said Fontana.
“I know how to be quick fast, which is very important in GP3 as track time is limited, and again was something I had to learn myself in the first and second year.
“Last but not less important, I know the Pirelli tyres very well, which are quite difficult to understand.”
Alex has been one of GP3’s biggest improvers over the course of his time in the series and is certainly a title contender for 2015. Yet he wants to seriously play down his title chances, telling TCF it: “was a choice to keep it low.” ‘It’ of course being his title credentials.
Alex instead is ready to let his driving do the talking.
“I talked enough in the past seasons, now I’m here to make facts.
“I will fight to be always better, in the same way if it’s for a position, for a point or for the win.”
Alex may be quiet about his chances at taking the 2015 crown but he is more than happy to talk about his new team, Status Grand Prix, and how he is settling in at the Silverstone based team.
“Since three years ago I had contact with Status, and there was always a kind of feeling,” Fontana told TCF.
“I’ve watched the team during the season and in the beginning of this year we spoke again. I felt like I was really wanted there.
“I need to have a good feeling with the people to have a nice progression and constant work during the year, as it is very important in GP3, and Status looked perfect for this.”
Like many drivers Alex is aware that in order to succeed sponsorship is a necessity. Fortunately for Alex he happens to be fantastic at pulling in sponsors and has some tips for any youngsters trying to climb the motorsport ladder.
“Be everywhere, all the time,” said Fontana. “All the events of your city, all the contacts you can make, meet all the press, make a car presentation, invite everybody, invest some budget on marketing.
“Every ten people that will say no, one will say yes. And that is already one more that before you didn’t have.”
With more than 60 sponsors to his name and bags of talent to go with it the sky is the limit for Alex, and the sky is where he is aiming.
He already has a Formula One and DTM test under his belt so it’s clear that doors in the future may be open. But Alex is aware that motorsport can be a cruel industry and is aiming for results now to be able to make decisions later.
He said: “I’m happy to have at least tested the F1 car once. But it is difficult to know where I will be. Everything changes so fast.”
“Probably when I was asked this question in 2010 I would have never believed it was possible to be here now on my third year in GP3, with a title in the European F3 Open and a F1 test in my pocket.
“Motorsport can give you a lot in a short amount of time and take it all away in half an hour,”
“Motorsport can give you a lot in a short amount of time and take it all away in half an hour,” added Fontana. “I believe I will start to look around for a second program like GT during the season, just to start and see how it is.
“In 2011 I had the chance to test a DTM car from a factory team. The test went well, even though for different reasons I didn’t get the chance to prove myself on a entire championship.
“There are many roads to take, but I want to study them all before taking a choice. For now, single-seater is still the priority.”
Wherever Alex’s future takes him there’s no doubt he will be a fan favourite. He certainly has the mean streak to counter balance his joyful approach to life.
I for one hope his attitude takes him far and i’m sure it will. Look out for him this year in GP3, he will be the guy on track with the unique helmet and blistering pace and the guy on the podium covered in champagne with the million dollar grin.