Maite Cáceres: "I started the second half of the season with a lot more confidence in myself"
After scoring her first points in Zandvoort, F1 Academy driver Maite Cáceres approaches the Monza weekend hoping for another big step forward.
Uruguayan talent Maite Cáceres, 20, scored her first points in the all-female F1 Academy championship in Zandvoort, the latest round of the inaugural season.
With a tenth place in race 3, Cáceres equalled her best finish in the series – claimed in race 2 at Valencia, where only 8 drivers scored points – and therefore completed a breakthrough weekend as the series reached its half-way mark.
Cáceres is at her first European campaign, having made her F4 debut last year in the US-based championship. She also took part in selected rounds of the USF Juniors, which employs the same US-spec Ligier F4 car, but the jump to the new generation Tatuus F4 car would come in 2023, when she entered two round of the Formula Winter Series – respectively at Valencia and Barcelona.
It was her very first taste of the European racing environment, in a new car, new team and on new tracks. The Uruguayan showed promising pace and was soon in the top-ten at her first weekend – before she announced her debut in the first ever season of the F1-supported F1 Academy.
Having joined Campos Racing – alongside Nerea Martí and Lola Lovinfosse – Maite knew that her first season would be a learning-oriented one, focusing on familiarizing with the car and with all the new tracks on the calendar. And her progression through the first half of the season proves that she is on the right path.
The curtain-raiser at Red Bull Ring brought some extra challenges, as an accident in the pre-event test meant that Cáceres missed most of practice and had to learn the track in qualifying, in wet weather conditions. The tricky start inevitably hampered her whole weekend, as Maite had to regroup and build again her confidence into the second round at Valencia.
The races at Circuito Ricardo Tormo were a big step forward: she would run in the top ten in practice and qualified within the top ten for all three races. Cáceres battled in the pack and showed good racecraft, making passes and eventually finishing P10 - albeit points kept slipping away from her. In Barcelona she continued to reduce the gap and, session after session, Maite was closer to the drivers ahead.
The real breakthrough performance, though, would be in Zandvoort – one of the toughest and most physically demanding races on the calendar. A technical and twisty – yet fast – track that often rewards experience. Most of the drivers running at the front had in fact previous mileage at the Dutch circuit, a few having competed in either F4 or Formula Regional machinery. New to the track, Cáceres started off her weekend by learning its features in the first practice, while a very shortened second practice was a big blow for her track time. Nevertheless, Cáceres improved by 1.3 seconds from her morning personal best – and she continued the trend into qualifying, with a hugely impressive 3.3 second improvement from her first practice. A further half a second improvement followed from Q1 and Q2 – highlighting the potential as she amassed track time. In the three races, Maite again battled in the pack and made a few good passes for position. A good tyre strategy paid off in race 3, as she was able to earn her first point with a highly-deserved tenth place finish on possibly the most demanding circuit on the F1 Academy schedule. "Scoring in Zandvoort meant a lot to me", Maite told us. "First of all, because of all the hard work that I am putting into it, and also because free practice had not started in a great way in Zandvoort", she explained. "We knew that this track was going to be tough because of how it is and you need to have a lot of confidence." "The jump that I did from free practice 2 - despite the shortened session - to qualifying was massive", Maite continued. "We did a different strategy because that was what I needed, and it paid off in race 3." "It was also a bit bittersweet because I knew we had the pace for P8. I was with the pack there, almost overtaking when the safety car was deployed and that affected my tyre management as I got a lot of pickup. That screwed the other laps as I had to defend. But that is also racing and I'm here to learn about it." Adapting to the very different tracks as well as racing environment compared to her previous experiences will be a process, but Maite has put in great efforts throughout the first half of the season. A student of chemical engineering, Cáceres is clearly a methodical and analytical approach and her work with Mercantile Campos Racing is paying off. "I don't want to make excuses because I like to compare myself with the highest level and I'm hard with myself on that – but coming to these European tracks is really different from the US tracks", she said. "I really need to build the pace and maximise this track time that we have."
"We knew that at the first races were going to be a little tough on me, but now that I get the environment and everything, I started the second half of the season with a lot more confidence in myself, working really hard."
Very positive in-season testing at both Valencia and Motorland Aragon were further proof of her pace potential, finally capitalizing on for the first time at Zandvoort. "In Motorland I showed really good pace, and in Zandvoort again", Cáceres continued. "I'm hoping that in Monza we can do another big step. Obviously I don't want to put a lot of pressure on all this, but I have to push myself." Ahead of the fifth race meeting at Monza, Cáceres will have another chance to carry momentum. The Temple of Speed, as it is often nicknamed, features long straights and hard braking, with legendary corners such as Lesmo, Ascari, Parabolica. Having trained extensively at the simulator, Maite will tackle for the first time the Italian circuit this weekend, once again with the aim of progressively improving session after session – now a bit more confident of being on the right path.