The long hard path towards professional driving and the top series sometimes already starts from karting, when some talent scout puts his eyes on a very young skilled driver.
The last one in chronological order is the close relationship between Tony Kart and the Ferrari Driver Academy: a partnership that has been set up to form tomorrow’s champions and helping them through from the start guiding them long their first steps towards international karting. But, is this a novelty? Absolutely not, there are lots of cases where young skilled kart drivers enter the orbit of official teams.
So we have dug into the menders of programs for young drivers whose roots go back to karting.
McLaren Young Driver Programme
McLaren in the person of Ron Dennis, ex team principal of the Woking team, was one of the first organisations who believed in a karting breeding ground: in 1998 young man called Lewis Hamilton went to the English manager and asked if he could race for him and, seeing that seeing the skill of this young driver capable of finning with karts that weren’t the top, Dennis agreed and offered him a contract building up a program for him that went up to his debut in F.1 in 2007 and he won the world title in 2008 always in force with Woking. Lewis’ youth meets another young blonde driver from another social background, very different to his, Niko Rosberg’s son. The two live together under the MBM tent (MBM and for Mercedes-Benz-McLaren) which was run by Dino Chiesa and under the patron’s (Giancarlo Tinnini) watchful eye. The manager from Padova is the reference point of another talented driver in the McLaren breeding round in 2010: Nyck De Vries. The Dutch driver starts karting and stands out in 2007 in KF3 when he came second both in the Belgian championship and in the Dutch and got a place of honour in the Rotax Junior too. T following year he became the German champion and also won in the WSK. In 2009 he takes home the continental title, the WSK and the German title always in KF3. His career in karts continues up to 2011, the year when he passes to KF. At the moment the Dutch driver, born in 1995, is in force with the ART GP team in GP3 where he’s spending a very hard season, he’s having difficulty in letting his talent come through as it should.
The opinion of Dino Chiesa, team principal CRG
A brief but necessary flashback on the two year period 2000-2001 and some differences between Rosberg and Hamilton:
“MBM was set up at the end of 1999: already from 1997 Nico Rosberg was with CRG, and Keke asked me to set up a team for Formula and with the help of AMG in which he lets Lewis Hamilton, already a McLaren protégé, makes his debut in international races. The team was to continue for three years, but already after two yeas the wins were sufficient for the two drivers to go on to car racing. We could say that the team had a double soul: a McLaren that responded to Lewis and an AMG/Mercedes represented by Nico; however, there was no intromission in running the team.
Lewis was pure talent: Nico was a brilliant tester and was very good at setting up his kart. If we go over Rosberg’s career it’s true that he was an eternal second, but look at who his team mates were: Robert Kubica in CRG from 1998 to when he moved to MBM, and Robert was another crystalline talent; Lewis Hamilton in MBM and then also in F.1. Before being with Hamilton in the pit Nico had to deal with the likes of Michael Schumacher! If Hamilton hadn’t been from that generation of pilots, maybe now Nico would be three times world champion...!”
In 2010 McLaren takes on another young kart driver, Nyck De Vries.
“It may seem a paradox, but Nyck is the perfect union of two different characters like Lewis and Nico: he’s perfection, and that is what he looked to every time that he went near a kart. Already at the age of 13 he was a professional driver and he still is. This is the reason why he has won all there is to win: he is pure talent and leaves nothing to chance. The rest has come by itself. After an excellent season last year in WSR 3.5 by Renault he has had to work hard to get used to a car again, which is slower, like the GP3: McLaren had set up another budget for another season in WSR, but having become a private series (run by Alguersuari Sr.author’s note) they decided to change, but the budget was too low for GP2 and the has fallen back on GP3. It has taken him a while to get used to it, and leady luck left him on several occasions, otherwise he’d be up front fighting for the title.”
Lamborghini and Ferrari have recently officially entered the karting world; and the manager had something to say:
"It’s good to see that there is interest in the car racing world for karting, but I’d hate to think that these programs are simply face value operations. I hope that the results will be concrete. Lamborghini doesn’t have any previous experience in this sense, instead Ferrari with its Ferrari Driver Academy does, even if not officially in karting. Yet the program for young drivers at Maranello hasn’t managed to take anyone to the maximum formula… Instead, things are different for the programs set up by Red Bull, which has reached its aim, even if it has left behind a long trail of pilots. Helmut Marko has always told me that he isn’t interested in entering actively in karting: if they are fast once they have entered for the minor formulas, then they will think about it. Karting and cars are more distanced than what one may think.”
What characteristics should a driver have to be noticed by a talent scout?
“By now just speed isn’t enough: it could be a phenomenon, but intelligence and the will power to work are essential qualities. You only have to look at an F.1: they are jets! First of all with all those controls on the steering wheel, if you want everything to work well, first you have to be an aeroplane pilot and then for cars if you want everything to work as it should! If you are a pure talent, maybe you can make it in karting, but going on to cars there are a lot more parameters and it means you have to work on them, if not you won’t get very far, and those who look for new Hamiltons for the future are aware of this. Karting still has a bit of allowance but car racing if pure professionalism.”
Lamborghini Kart Drivers Program
The newborn Lamborghini Kart Drivers Program has as its peculiarity the aim of allowing kart drivers from the GT to grow for the future of the Sant’Agata Bolognese racing team. In January 2015 McLaren launched its program for GT drivers, but it doesn’t have its roots in karting.
Ferruccio Lamborghini’s firm has made a partnership with Danilo Rossi and his DR Racing tem: the five times karting world champion has been chosen as talent scout and reference team for Lamborghini in the world of karting. The program started around 11th July with the first day of training for DR drivers at the circuit in Adria, where Mirko Bortolotti was coach driver going from kart to the Huracan SuperTrophy to show the young drivers the differences (enormous) between a kart and a top level GT. Danilo’s hard task is to choose the future official drivers for the Lamborghini Racing Team, and we are sure that the expert team manager will do a brilliant job.
Ferrari Driver Academy
The Ferrari Driver Academy has officially entered the world of karting with a partnership with Tony Kart Racing Team. These two realities had already met even if not officially back in the days of Michael Schumacher, very closet o the Robazzis set up: we all remember the participation of the more times over F.1 world champion in the 2001 CIK-FIA world champion where he took second behind Vitantonio Liuzzi. The tradition continues with his sin Mick who has taken his first steps in international karting with the team from Prevalle and his brother Ralf who uses OTK material for his KSM Racing team.
“I am very proud to start my collaboration with Ferrari Driver Academy” says Roberto Robazzi, OTK group patron “we’ll give our support working very hard with the young drivers. It will be a job that requires constancy and foresight, something that we have always believed in and invested in like Tony Kart has. We are proud to have become partners in this prestigious project that aims to form and train skilled drivers. I would like to thank Ferrari for wanting to involve Tony Kart in the FDA project.”
In any case, there is a kart driver in FDA: the present European F3 driver Guan Yu Zhou has been in the Maranello program since June 2014, when he was still driving for Strawberry Racing competing in the Rotax Max Euro Challenge and in he CIK-FIA European championship in KF. Junior champion in 2012 in the Rotax Max Euro Challenge he doesn’t add any more titles to his karting results. After one year’s militancy with Prema in the Italian F.4, the move to the third series comes with the Motopark team.
Renault Sport Academy
With experience in classes like F. Renault 3.5 and F. Renault 2.0 that have forged several professional drivers now on the scene, the transalpine firm was sure to be among those who set up a program for young drivers to train and “draw” up closet to the top racing formula. With this aim in mind, the RF1 Driver Programme was born in 2002, which was then run by Flavio Briatore.
In 2011 the F.1 Renault team changes into the Lotus Renault GP, and the name of the program “follows suit” changes its name to LRGP Academy. The tormented name of this program doesn’t end here, because the following year it becomes Lotus F.1 Team iRace Professional Programme and changes again for the 2013-2015 period Lotus F.1 Junior Team. In 2016 the programme for young Lotus drivers goes back under the protected wing of Renault and the name is Renault Sport Academy.
Sun Yue Yang is the only kart driver now who is in this programme: the 15 year-old from China comes through the 2015 season where he stood out in KFJ in the most important international competitions, to start with, the Winter Cup South Garda then the WSK and then on to the titled CIK-FIA events. The young Chinese isn’t the only one to have been spotted for moving to cars: from 2012 to 2015 among the young talented drivers we see Dorian Boccolacci, racing in F. Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup now. Besides the transalpine in 2014 and 2015 there was Juan Manuel Correa in the programme, he is now with F.4 Italiana with Prema next to Vips and Schumacher.Going further back in time, in 2011, five drivers had signed on together with Alexander Rossi, who had just won the 500 miles Indianapolis: Tanart Sathienthirakul, Matt Parry, Max Klinkby-Silver, Weiron Tan, Senna Iriawan and Daim Hishamuddin.
Sahara Force India Formula One Team Academy
Everyone knows that India is one of the up and coming courtiers for motoring sport. For this reason in 2011 the Force India F.1 team “looked high and low” through the kartodromes in India with the program “One from a Billion” for selecting and promoting the most promising drivers that could race the following season with the Ricky Flynn Motorsport team in the British Super One Series. The winners were Arjun Maini, Tarun Reddy and Jehan Daruvala. Maini now races in the GP3 with the Jenzer Motorsport team, Reddy is in the English F.3 championship with the Firtec and Daruvala team, he’s the only driver still connected to the Force India that races in the F. Renaul Eurocup 2.0 with the Josef Kaumann Racing team.
Mazda Road To Indy Driver Advancement Program
Even if in a softer way without an official race program, also Mazda is looking for young talented drivers for its breeding ground: Andersen Promotion and MAXSpeed Group continue with their Mazda Road To Indy Driver Advancement Program that started in 2014. Two drivers will be chosen for two day’s testing on 8/9th October in the Cooper Tires USF2000 championship Powered by Mazda. All participants who have taken part in a MAXSpeed Entertainment event in 2016 (Florida Winter Tour, US Open and United States Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Nationals) could be chosen after a written request sent to the talent scouts before the 31st August. The selection continues for up to 12 candidates who will have a video conference with a jury that includes drivers from Verizon IndyCar Series and the previous participants of the Mazda Road to Indy program Charlie Kimball and Spencer Pigot. Together with these there will also be Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe and Gabby Chaves.