On May 10th, 1970, a former Swedish karting champion called Ronnie Peterson made his F1 debut at the Monaco GP.
He was the first driver to reach F1, having risen from karting’s ranks. Many others followed shortly aft?erwards, including Britain’s Roger Williamson and Tony Brise who were both killed within a few months of their F1 debut appearances. Peterson, too, had his life cut short during the 1978 Italian GP at Monza.
Initially Nigel Mansell had a difficult transmission from karter to F1 star and resorted to selling his house as a means of raising the necessary finance. Nigel survived to tell the tale, however, and his single mindedness paid off in 1992 when he became F1 world champion. Three other British drivers, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Bu?on have since joined him.
Ex karters reaching the top tier of motor racing ceased to be newsworthy decades ago. A?er sharing the Le Mans winning Porsche with Nico Hulkenberg and Earl Bamber this year, Nick Tandy made Monday’s newspaper headlines for a rather novel reason. Tandy had won one of motor racing’s top prizes despite never having taken part in a karting event. He’d learned his trade on oval tracks, racing in Ministox events.
What significance might Tandy’s success have for cadet racing? There’s a small chance that it might encourage more would-be stars to look at different avenues other than kart racing. I’d actually welcome such a development. There’s only one certainty in F1 right now and it is that the next few world champions will have all come from karting backgrounds. Anything that changes this scenario in the future can’t be bad.
The simple truth is that F1 stars are no longer gambling with their lives every time they venture out onto the circuit. That’s a good thing, but it has led to parents pursuing F1 careers for their kids. Furthermore, they are happy to spend lots of money in doing so. I know of several families that have followed Mansell’s lead and remortgaged their houses as they chase a?er success. Six figure sums are being spent in a madcap dash for British Championship glory. Outsiders would shake their heads in sheer disbelief, and such antics aren’t confined to an elitist group. There’s been a knock on effect cascading all the way down to club racing. It’s not a healthy situation, in my view, which is why I’m hoping that Nick Tandy may just have started a ball rolling.