Every driver in the Formula One pit lane has one thing in common: they’ve come through the ranks and graduated from their early karting roots. Here we feature the drivers from Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams.
In the last three events of the 2004 Mexican Rotax Max Challenge, a new face emerged to take on the national karting scene making his karting debut at national level. Gutierrez continued in the class for 2005 and successfully competed in the Grand Nationals across the border into the United States. Finishing third there gave him a place at the World Finals in Malaysia. The confidence gained from this served him well back home in the Camkart Challenge in 2006 where he won every race in the series, as well as racing once more in the Mexican Rotax Max Challenge in the Junior championship, which he eventually won. The Mexican Grand Nationals saw him finish 4th position in what would be his final season of karting before moving to an incredible single-seater career, although he did return to compete in various Rotax Max Challenge events in his native Mexico, racing as recently as 2009 during his spell in Formula 3.
He became the youngest ever international series winner at 17, in Formula BMW after two seasons, before moving to Formula 3 in the Euroseries and winning the GP3 Series in 2010. Two seasons in GP2 followed, before his F1 debut with Sauber in 2013.
In 1997, 14-year-old Sutil decided against following in his family’s musical footsteps and started his karting career in his native Germany, initially at club level before moving onto just a solitary season of major European competition. Having begun in the various regional karting series, he went on to finish 3rd in the German ICA Karting Championship in 2000. He moved on from national karting as many talented youngsters do to the Italian karting scene, racing in both the Andrea Margutti Trophy for Intercontinental A, and the Formula A Italian Open Masters. Whilst it’s true he never set the world on fire in karting, he certainly seemed to have the determination to move on to cars and the success he found there would probably have never occurred had it not been for his karting roots. Winning every single race in the 2002 Swiss Formula Ford championship was the perfect way to move from karts to car racing, and prove his true worth.
From there he moved to Formula BMW and then the Formula 3 Euroseries. He went onto race for Team Germany in A1GP and to clinch the Japanese Formula 3 crown in 2006 before getting his big break with Spyker in 2007.
Russia’s new F1 star started kart racing in his native, but it wasn’t long before he and his family realised that if he wanted to race in international competition he would have to start young. The family moved to Italy and set up shop in Rome to give Daniil his best chance of progressing, beginning in Italian KF3 and 100 Junior Championships in 2007. He raced sporadically the following season either for Chiesa Corse or Morsciani Racing taking multiple victories including three KF3 trophy races, and eventually finishing 3rd in the CIK-FIA European KF3 Championships and 2nd in the CIK-FIA Asian Pacific KF3 Championship, all in 2008. Two more KF3 Cup wins, another third overall in Euro KF3 and taking 2nd in the WSK International KF3 Series in 2009 was more than enough to convince Red Bull to offer him a scholarship and send him into cars at just 15 years old.
Formula BMW Europe was first up with two wins in the Pacific Series in the same season. A year later, he was in the top 3 in NEC and Eurocup Formula Renault before winning the 2012 ALPS Series. He then became champion in GP3 shortly after being announced as a Toro Rosso F1 driver for 2014.
Vergne was well placed to get started in motorsport as his dad owned a kart circuit near Paris. At 4 years old, he tried it and wanted more. In 2000 he was a first-time competitor and went on to become the French “Minimes” champion in 2001. It wasn’t too long before he was rising through the ranks, winning the French Rotax Max title in 2004 and a year later he fought with British racer James Colado for the European ICA Championship. In his final season of competitive karting, he was runner-up in the French Elite Championship, he ran competitively in European Formula A and he finished in the top ten of the KF1 World Championship in Angerville near his home in Paris. He made the switch to cars at 16 with a wealth of knowledge and experience to guide him forward.
It was in 2007 that he became a member of the Red Bull Junior Team and he spent three seasons in Formula Renault in various regions with titles in both the Campus and French national series, before winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 2010 and he was beaten to the 2011 World Series by Renault title by Robert Wickens before signing for Toro Rosso F1 in 2012.
Brazil’s national karting scene has garnered many major talents to international motorsport and young Felipe Massa began a seven-year journey through karting at the age of eight. Ironically, most of Felipe’s major successes in karting have come after his junior career (not much of which is actually recorded) but at just 16 years old he claimed the first of his three wins at the 500 Milhas de Granja Viana kart race in 1997. Five years later as an F1 driver he won it again with his third success coming in 2009 before his near-fatal crash at Hungary. Massa’s contribution to Brazilian karting has been exemplary in other areas, as he has been running the International Challenge of the Stars race for the last ten years mostly run at Florianapolis. The event has been won by some of motorsport’s greatest racers including Felipe himself, as well as Rubens Barrichello and twice by Michael Schumacher himself.
After switching to cars at 17 and winning the Brazilian Formula Chevrolet title in 1999, he moved to Europe and became Italian and European Formula Renault champion before heading to the Euro Formula 3000 series which he blitzed on his way to joining Sauber for 2002.
Bottas started racing karts at 6 years old, and over the next decade would amass a collection of championships and trophies to put him on course to be the new ‘Flying Finn’ of Formula 1. His ability even earned him a seven-year spot on the national karting squad of Finland. He started gaining major attention with the 2004 Finnish ICA Junior title, moving on to the senior category a year later where ended the season in third overall following a win in the Viking ICA Trophy. During his formative years he was also in the top ten of the Karting World Cup, where he raced for PDB Racing. His magical karting career had a perfect ending with three major titles in 2006. Two of them were in his native Finland in Formula A and Intercontinental A, but the third was the WSK Formula A International championship which became the ultimate starting point for spring boarding him to superstardom. It was time to take the next step, and into Formula Renault he went.
The NEC and Eurocup titles followed in 2008, and after moving to Formula 3 he won the Masters back-to-back in 2009 and 2010, before claiming the GP3 Series title in 2011 and signing for Williams F1 in 2012.
As you can see, every single racer in the 2014 championship owes a lot to the world of karting. In fact ahead of this season, we got an insight into the personalities of the F1 grid and how their karting lives have remained part of their motorsport DNA.
When drivers were permitted to pick the racing number of their choice, a vast number of drivers, namely Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez, Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Massa, all picked numbers they raced with during their karting years. So in that sense and in many others, it would appear an F1 driver never truly leaves karting behind.