Jazeman Jaafar is participating in his second season of Formula Renault 3.5, this year with ISR having raced in 2013 for Carlin. The twenty-one-year-old Malaysian described his move to ISR as the best opportunity for success after a trying year in 2013 that saw him score points on only four occasions, one of which was a podium finish around the streets of Monte Carlo.
“Every year of my racing career I have reviewed the options available to me and in tandem with my long-time sponsor, PETRONAS and my advisers, I have decided on whether to stay or move on from a team,” said Jaafar to The Checkered Flag. “At the end of last season I tested with a few other teams and from this I believed that ISR would give me the best chance of success this year. It’s only one round into the season – and only one race as I was taken out on the second lap of the first race in Monza – so it’s too soon to make any real evaluations of the team.
“It was a big decision to leave Carlin as the team has been fantastic and really helped me grow as a driver, and as I’ve matured the team has been able to nurture me each step of the way. But it’s been difficult to leave the comfort of Carlin as I have made so many good friends and worked with such great people.
“It is very sad that Carlin aren’t running in World Series by Renault this year, but I think they have expanded their race programmes in other categories, so I’m sure they will keep busy!”
Jaafar had a tough 2013 pre-season that left him on the back foot for the season, but this year he had a better series of tests at Motorland and Jerez that gave him extra confidence ahead of the 2014 season.
“I was really pleased to get back in the car in Motorland, as I just love driving and the winter months of fitness training then had a real purpose. It takes no time at all to get comfortable behind the wheel, even though I was new to ISR. My confidence level is obviously higher this year, having had a season of racing in the category. Also, testing pre-season last year wasn’t the best, as we lost a lot of running one way and another, so I started the season with less testing time than I had hoped. This season we had two really good tests and that has given me plenty of confidence for this year.”
He also admitted that he is still growing as a driver and that you never stop learning behind the wheel of a racing car.
“I’ve definitely matured as a driver over the last few years. In my last year of F3 all the hard work and the learning curve of being in that championship for consecutive seasons came together and I missed out on being champion by a very slim margin. Moving up to FR3.5 gave me a new challenge and has continued my motor racing ‘education’. I don’t think you ever stop learning in racing, whether it’s new tracks, new car, different people you work with and so on.”
When asked about his aims for 2014, the Malaysian driver insisted he wants to be up fighting at the front in every race, and every session. The extra confidence gained from 2013 is holding him in good stead and that he’s aiming higher than last year.
“I’m aiming to be in the top handful of drivers who feature in every race, although that didn’t quite go to plan in the first race. To do this I have to be on the pace in every qualifying session and race. My target is always to get as many points as possible from a race, as the championship is won over a season, not just one outing. Of course the podium is always a target too, but if that’s not realistic for any reason, then points in the bag is a must.”
Looking back over the first weekend of the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 series season at Monza, Jaafar admits he took away a lot of positives, even though the results did not show his full potential. He was eliminated in a frightening crash on the pit straight with Tech 1 Racing’s Marco Sorensen at the beginning of lap two of race one, and then had a good fight with Arden Motorsport’s Pierre Gasly in race two.
“I took away loads of positives from the weekend, with the strong qualifying in the second race and a good pace in the race, but I think it was also a ‘what might have been’ weekend, as I think we could have had a very strong result in the first race if I hadn’t been taken out,” said Jaafar.
“[Race One] was a disaster. I made up a place in the first lap and was looking good to take another, but Sorensen just turned in on me on the straight and ended my race there and then. He was served a five-place grid penalty for the move, which I feel was only fair but that didn’t help me, as I lost the opportunity to get points. I think I was very lucky to have come out of that with fairly light damage as well considering the speed we were doing. Not a good race for me.
“I didn’t get the best of starts and lost a couple of places [in race two]. It also put me into a fight with Gasly. I got past him but then had to cut the track and give him back the place, which ruined the flow of my race. I also had some bodywork issues, which really didn’t help my aero balance. P7 wasn’t a bad outcome all things considered.
“I scored points, which is essential at every event, so overall it wasn’t a bad start but as they say on the school report, could have done better.
“I know that we can be upfront as I proved in Sunday’s qualifying and that gives me the confidence to go and push for no less than a front row slot. We still have some work to do to get the best out of the car in race trim but with the bodywork issues I had that is a little difficult to predict.”