Reece Ushijima believes that nothing can replace the feeling of standing on the podium during a Grand Prix weekend.
Ushijima began his motorsports career at the age of 13. Despite a late start, he quickly rose up through the ranks and got a Formula 3 seat in his third season in car racing.
The 19-year-old admitted that the small amount of time available for going through various things in his career was the most difficult aspect of his motorsports journey.
“I think the toughest part is that a lot of people kind of don’t know that I didn’t have much time. I spent three years in karting and three years in formula cars now,” Ushijima said in an interview with ASN Motorsports.
“When you compare that to everyone else I’m racing against, I’m quite on the back foot in terms of experience. The hardest thing was probably just needing to go through everything that I did in such a short amount of time.
“I moved away from Japan to come to the UK to pursue racing. I was racing pretty much every week and I was fortunate enough to do so but at the same time, it’s very stressful because you have to go through all the emotions in such a compact amount of time.
“It wasn’t [the] case [for] a lot of these other drivers, they started racing [when] they [were] a child, they go through it over time and it’s not as serious, whereas I made the choice when I was 13, that was when I wanted to do it. From a young age, I had to go through all the stresses but I’m very fortunate to go through [them]. Although it’s difficult, I couldn’t replace it for anything.”
Ushijima joined Van Amersfoort Racing for his debut season in Formula 3. He did not have big goals before the season but they gradually changed as the season progressed.
“Obviously I want to win everything, but being realistic, I think it was going to be very difficult [for] me to come in and be competing for wins and everything.
“With the team being new, me being new, I think that was a precedent anyway that it was going to be difficult for both of us. I think I’ve been very fortunate to be with VAR because they learn very fast.
“For me, the goal was just to be in the top 10, compete in the reverse grids, whereas now I feel we’re in a very good position to be able to compete in both [races]. Obviously, in Hungary, my qualifying time was deleted but it still showed I had the pace to be there which is a comforting thought for me and the team.
“I had my goals at the beginning to look at it as a two-year program but I think kind of the expectations I had on myself, [were] like, ‘I want to be on the podium,’ and obviously I want to win a race by the end of the year, but [thinking] on the journey so far, it’s been going good.”
Adapting to new machinery is not a quick and easy process. Ushijima had to get used to a heavier and faster F3 car which produces more downforce than the GB3 car that he used to drive before.
When asked whether he felt more comfortable behind the wheel after two-thirds of the season, Ushijima said: “Yeah, definitely. I think after Silverstone there was a definite change in my understanding of everything.
“The way I drive, I drive a lot based on feeling. At the beginning of the season it was a whole new feeling: heavier car, it’s a lot faster, a lot more downforce; it took a while for me to get used to it but now I feel like I’ve really started to understand everything.
“Before Hungary, I felt like I was just on the verge of understanding the tire for qualifying and everything like that. And I think obviously with what happened in Hungary in qualifying, it showed that I’m starting to understand everything and it’s a good step towards what I want to be doing next year, where I want to be competing.”
One of the highlights of the season for Ushijima is the Silverstone round. He started the Sprint Race from pole position. Though he did not convert it into a race victory, the VAR driver crossed the finish line 3rd which was his first podium in Formula 3.
A day later, Ushijima got his second top 10 of the weekend with a 10th-place finish in the Feature Race. He reflected on his experience on the Silverstone podium.
“It was a crazy feeling because obviously I was on the podium before in GB3 and karting but there’s nothing that could replace the feeling of being on the F1 podium.”Reece Ushijima
“I remember when we were going on the track walk, they were building up the podium, putting all the signs up and everything. I just told my manager, ‘Imagine if we were up there, imagine how cool that would be.’
“As you walk out, you see everyone. Honestly, you see so many videos of people on the podium, and when I got up there, I didn’t really know what to do. I had to make sure to do everything like [taking] the hat off [during] the national anthem.
He added: “I didn’t know how to spray champagne! I was trying to figure that out. So I looked at the other two [drivers] and the other two weren’t spraying champagne. So I was like, ‘Ah, they’re just going to save it for tomorrow.’ But then they started going and I picked it up and I was trying to figure out how it worked. Luckily, there was no bottle cap on it, so it was easy to do.
“I was like, ‘Maybe I should do something like Lando [Norris].’ If I won the race, then I would. But I wasn’t in that big of a position to do so. But I’m a bit scared of doing what Lando did because I hear stories of people smashing the glass and they get the glass in their hands.”