With a promising start in Portugal and some setbacks in France, Vivien Keszthelyi always managed to score points in her rookie Euroformula season so far. We spoke with the Hungarian star after the latest round, as she enters the third round in the Ardennes.
Vivien Keszthelyi might be just 20 years old, but she is no unknown name to followers of women in motorsport. The young Hungarian talent made her debut in race cars at 13, and was runner up in the Swift Cup Europe at her second season – attracting the interest of German manufacturer Audi.
Joining the Audi Sport Racing Academy, Keszthelyi was then part of the TT Cup field in 2016: at her first season, she took titles in the sprint and endurance series, becoming a 2-time Hungarian champion at 15. She would continue to impress and scored points in the international series the following year, before stepping up to the Audi Sport Seyffarth R8 LMS Cup.
On the DTM platform, Keszthelyi continued an impressive progression and was outright vice-champion in her first season in GT4 machinery – also claiming the Rookie title.
At 18, Keszthelyi was selected in a reserve-driver role for the first ever season of the all-female W Series championship, which also marked her first season in single-seaters. To prepare for the leap, she competed in the Asian F3 Winter Series, with both series using the Tatuus F3 Regional chassis.
The young Hungarian showcased remarkable speed in practice and W Series gave her the chance to start in selected races. She would become the only reserve driver to score points in the 2019 season.
After a forced hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic difficulties, Keszthelyi made a noteworthy comeback when she announced that she would join top-team Motopark for her debut in Euroformula Open. The series has among its graduates some truly elite profiles in championships such as F1, FIA F2, FIA F3 – as well as in endurance and GT cars.
Making her return to Formula 3 machinery after a partial campaign in 2019 was a challenging task, but with a solid testing program and the support of Motopark, Keszthelyi showed really promising speed at Portimao, Portugal, at the 2021 season opener.
With the series supporting F1 at the Portuguese GP in Algarve, Vivien was able to score her first points and had an encouraging start of the season. The second round at Circuit Paul Ricard proved to be more difficult, as the young driver struggled with the performance of her car. Nevertheless, the goal remains to collect as much track time as possible in the Dallara F3 car and improve through the year.
We spoke with Vivien after the first two rounds and asked her to sum up her season so far.
"When you enjoy it and you put the car on the limit, I can say that you bring so much potential out of yourself."
We had last met Vivien at the final W Series race and the realization that it was now almost two years before, it was a strange feeling. The amount of track time – and of top equipment – that is required to be competitive in single seaters in junior categories is something that the casual follower will mostly fail to grasp. Vivien's season started with a testing program, but the lost season will inevitably translate into a longer learning process.
"We did all the winter tests and everything." – she recalled. "Obviously we were lacking a lot of mileage because I didn't race properly for two years; last year I missed the whole season and in W Series I only had done a few races."
"So I can say that for two years I wasn't racing properly. I think compared to these guys - who are basically living on race tracks – I think in the tests we improved a lot. [At Portimao] I was really expecting to be in a good position when we were testing there, but it was raining all the time, so we didn't really have any mileage on dry. When we got there, we had the two official free practices – which were also a bit of a rollercoaster, because everytime we tried to improve the red flag came out – so luck wasn't on my side."
"In the races I was fighting for P9, sometimes P8. So it was really a decent weekend. I was really happy that we could have been within nine tenths. It is still quite a lot obviously, but for me it is all about the mileage that I'm lacking. So I think it was a pretty strong pace."
"And from that weekend I really expected to just go upwards, as we improved a lot and I got more feeling for the car. But at Paul Ricard it has been quite a nightmare, because we just went in a really wrong direction with the setup and we also had some engine issues. We were lacking so much top speed – something like eight or nine kph. That wasn't helping obviously."
"Usually I am easily adapting my driving to the car or the setup, so when something goes wrong I can still perform on the same level. But to be fair, at Paul Ricard everything was really all over the place."
The relationship between a driver and their engineer is always something of a crucial point in a team's dynamic. Keszthelyi's engineer leaving the team after the beginning of the season surely posed one more difficulty in the driver's approach to her second round.
"I had way too many inputs from different people on what to do, what not to. I mean, everyone is trying their best and I really like it, but my previous engineer left at the beginning of the season and it was difficult to adapt myself. I really have all the respect for every engineer and mechanic in my team - they do a great job – but sometimes you just have a special connection with an engineer that also knows how to handle you mentally."
Ahead of the next round at Spa Francorchamps, though, Vivien Keszthelyi is ready to turn the page and find again her rhythm from pre-season testing, where she also visited the Belgian track – always one of the drivers' favourites.
"We had a test here. It was also a bit difficult test as I had never been there and we had some issues over the two days. But I really like the track, it's really challenging."
"I think after such a difficult race weekend I really learned a lot and to change my driving style to adapt to the situations. [Paul Ricard] has a lot of high speed corners and you have to brake into the corner at quite high speed and you feel the car moving. I think that track is good because there's a lot of run-off area so you can try a lot of things and this definitely gave me a lot of confidence. So I think Spa will be better – much better than how we went at the tests. But what I really see for the future is that Barcelona will be one of the best for us."
Among the highlights of her first rookie season in Euroformula, there will likely also be her home round at Hungaroring – which is coming up next after Spa Francorchamps - and the experience of racing alongside Formula 1.
"Racing together with Formula 1 was really good. It was the first race weekend and I knew that it would have been even harder and tougher. Free practice and qualifying went by so quickly and you have to perform on that specific lap – which wasn't my strength before, but it really worked out well to be fair."
"I just enjoyed driving and I wasn't focusing on the thing that I had to perform because I was in front of F1. It really worked mentally – you have to enjoy it and have fun.
It sounds wrong probably for many people who are not in racing, but when you enjoy it and you put the car on the limit, I can say that you bring so much potential out of yourself."
The third Euroformula Open event will take place from 18th to 20th June at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, where Vivien Keszthelyi will try to bounce back and score more points in her first full-time F3 season.