Wisdom of Matthew Solomon: Hong Kong teenager forced to learn fast as he chases Formula One dream
After a testing campaign in Europe, 19-year-old Matthew Solomon returns 'home' to fulfil a boyhood ambition by competing in Macau Grand Prix
The learning curve has been steep and humbling in Europe, but Hong Kong teenage racer Matthew Solomon is far from discouraged as prepares to take on the big boys at this month's 62nd Macau Grand Prix.
Solomon learned the harsh realities of racing at the top as he struggled to hold his own in the European Championship, the toughest F3 event in the world, but he can look forward to racing on his "home" track in the blue riband race on November 22.
While many would be discouraged by the less than inspiring race results Solomon notched up in his rookie season in Europe, the 19-year-old is excited that he will finally be racing in the F3 race on the Guia track he has admired as a boy racer.
"This year in F3 has been an incredibly steep learning curve. I've had to adapt to so many new things being thrown at me race in, race out," said Solomon, who drives for Double R Racing and finished 28th overall out of 42 racers in the European Championship event.
"The list is endless, things such as managing traffic in qualifying in a 30-plus car field, getting the tyres up to temperature in very cold temperatures, learning about downforce and other things.
"While it can be a handful sometimes, I've undoubtedly come out the other end a better driver," said the Australia-born racer, whose best result was 13th in Pau, France, in May.
The Eurasian - his mother is Chinese and his father Australian - is not discouraged by his first season in an ultra competitive competition.
"It's hard not having had the same amount of preseason testing as some of the other rookie drivers, but it has not deterred me in any way.
"My sights are still fully focused on reaching the pinnacle of motor sport and, in a way, a tough season like this has made me more determined than ever. I still have a lot to prove to myself and I know, given the success I've had in the past, that I can race at the front in F3.
"In Macau, it will be a very similar field as it was in the European Championship this year, and I'm excited.
"We've proven we can qualify in the top 10 and our finishes in the top 15 this year have shown some of our potential as a team. I can't wait to see what we can do in Macau."
The European Championship is the most prestigious of all the F3 series. This year's championship was won by Sweden's Felix Rosenqvist, who will also defend his Macau Grand Prix title later this month.
In 2014, the European Championship was won by France's Esteban Ocon with Briton Tom Blomqvist second and Dutchman Max Verstappen - who has gone on to become the youngest-ever F1 driver - third.
Solomon said he would be more than ready for Macau, boosted by the years attending - and observing - race weekends with his father, Peter.
"I've been preparing mentally and physically for this race for a long time. The team [Double R Racing] are also finishing off the last few stages of the prep work, so it's coming along nicely.
"The fact I've been there [Macau] so many times and having raced in the Formula Masters China Series around the Guia circuit in 2013 [he finished sixth] will put me in a good frame of mind going into the race. Macau definitely feels like home, and I'm determined to deliver the best result I can," he said.
Solomon's affinity with Macau started when he was just seven years old. Armed with a track pass, young Solomon's eyes were opened to the fascinating sights and sounds of racing. He was immediately hooked and has dreamed of racing on the famous track since.
He met many top drivers as a youngster in Macau and is inspired by current Formula One stars such as Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who were attempting to cut their teeth in Formula One at the time.
"I've met Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Robert Kubica, Bruno Senna and many more. I've basically met most of the drivers who have competed in the Macau GP since 2003. A few of them have shared their insights, but no one gave away too much," he says with a laugh.
"I know every corner and all the characteristics of the track. It won't give me a half second advantage [over the other racers], but I know where I am going. It will be home advantage."