Karting has been the accepted starting point for youngsters in motorsport for the last 30 years of motorsport. But just how much of an influence has karting had on the top drivers in world motorsport?Scottish racing legends like Allan McNish, Dario Franchitti, Paul di Resta and David Coulthard all began their careers at Larkhall in Scotland, whilst Anthony Davidson, Gary Paffett and Johnny Herbert were all stars in the junior karting world. The modern relevance of karting to top-level motorsport can never be underestimated, so let’s take a look at the current Formula One grid.
When Marcus strolled into Frederik Ekblom’s kart circuit in his native Sweden and nearly broke the lap record aged 9, it was enough to convince him to back this talented youngster through the national championships. Ekblom managed to persuade his father to invest in a kart, and so for the next four seasons he ba led through the national leagues of karting and was instantly a success as Rookie of the Year in Swedish Formula Micro in 2000. He went on to become Swedish Formula Mini champion in 2003 and ICA Junior champion in both the Swedish and Nordic championships in 2005, and a year later he was spo ed at a race in Gothenburg by none other than Kenny Brack who convinced Fortec’s Richard Du on to put him in the team’s Formula BMW line-up for 2007, and the rest as they say is history.His karting career took him to the British Formula BMW championship in 2007, followed by Formula Three in the UK and Japan where he won the title. Following a test with champions Brawn GP at the end of the season, he then spent four seasons in GP2 with Super Nova, iSport and DAMS before sealing his drive with Caterham for 2014.
His fi rst full season was also at 9 years old, fi nishing 3rd in the SL Takarazuka Tournament Cadet class, and this set him on a charge to four Japanese karting titles. He won the next two seasons of Cadets he competed in (SL All Japan in 1997 and JAF Cup West in 1998) which spurred him on to take the D Class title in the S Stock category of the SL All Japan Tournament in 1999. He then clinched back-to-back titles in the Suzuka Kart Championship and the All-Japan ICA Championship in
consecutive years, with a dual campaign to fi nish runner-up in the Asia-Pacifi c ICA championship. The Esso Formula Toyota Racing School took him on as a scholarship racer and convinced him that a European karting campaign would be the perfect sign-off to an incredible karting career.The Formula Toyota Series beckoned and after a single season he set up shop in Europe graduating through Formula Renault in Italy and then the Eurocup, before heading onto Formula Three and finally sealing the GP2 Asia Series crown alongside a Toyota F1 reserve driver role in 2009. He shortly got promoted to a race driver role and signed up with Sauber for 2010 as a full-time Formula 1 driver.
When Fernando’s father failed to tempt his 8-year-old daughter Lorena into karting, 3-year-old Fernando was next in line and he was hooked. Things got really serious for young Alonso once he turned 12, and four straight Spanish junior titles followed between 1993 and 1996 which a racted enough a ention for this li le lad-and-dad operation to continue on the national stage. It wasn’t long before they moved on to the Junior World Cup which he duly won at the end of 1996. He moved up to Inter-A for 1997 and won the Spanish and Italian titles in the same season, and in 1998 he took the Spanish Inter-A title again alongside a European Championship campaign in which he was the runner-up. His decision to stay on in karting until the age of 17 paid dividends.After his maiden season in cars in the 1999 Euro Open Movistar by Nissan Series in which he won the championship, a test with Minardi’s F1 team beckoned in which he lapped quicker than either of the two race drivers! A single F3000 campaign in 2000 which included a win at Spa was the final step to signing for Minardi in F1 in 2001 as the third youngest F1 racer in history at that time.
Kimi’s karting career was almost as flamboyant and gutsy as his Formula One career, and from the age of ten was making a name for himself in the Finnish and Nordic ICA championships, but on his maiden karting voyage abroad to Monaco, he proved from the start that he was something very special. He raced valiantly until the end despite his steering wheel breaking, alerting his mechanic to the situation by waving it in the air on the home straight! At the same race a year later, his kart got knocked over the barrier and he continued on racing after lifting his kart on to the road again and incredibly recovered to finish in 3rd place! He went on to win the Finnish Formula A and Nordic ICA Championships in 1998 and then a solid campaign in the European Formula Super A championship gave him the runner-up spot and sent him on his way to an incredibly short spell in cars.After winning the British Formula Renault Winter Series in late 1999, he went on to repeat the feat in the full championship a year later before being sensationally snapped up by Sauber’s Formula 1 team after just 23 car races. He became world champion for Ferrari in 2007.
‘Checo’ started his career as runner-up in his national junior category at just 6 years old in 1996 and a year later made the giant leap to the Youth Class. As the youngest man in the field, he finished fourth in the championship with a win and five podiums. He then won the Junior title in 1998 as the youngest man ever to do so, and participated in both Shifter 125cc and Master Kadets which led to a move to 80cc Shifters in 1999 needing to obtain special permission to do so from the Karting Federation of Mexico. He spent two years in the category with three wins in his maiden season before a switch to the 125cc Shifter Regional series in 2001 and was once again the youngest ever to compete. The Escuderia Telmex outfit offered him support and two more seasons in the Shifter 125cc category earned him more victories. But having won the Easy Kart 125 Shootout and claiming runner-up spot in the Mexico Cup and third in the Telmex Challenge, it was time to move to cars.From Skip Barber he went on to Formula BMW, Mexico’s A1GP team, Formula 3 in Britain and GP2 before arriving in F1 with Sauber in 2011.
In 1997, ten-year-old Nico set off on his quest for Formula One. After multiple victories as a Cadet he tasted his first major success outside his native Germany. A successful European Cadets campaign gave him vice-champion status, whilst in Italy he became back-to-back Italian Open Masters ICA Junior champion in 2001 and 2002 when he was also crowned the German Junior karting champion. It was at this time he was taken under the wing of Michael Schumacher’s long-time manager Willi Weber who saw in him a talent that reminded him of a young Michael. It was he who christened Nico with the nickname ‘The Hulk’ due to his total change in personality behind the wheel. More honours followed over the next two seasons, finishing 8th in the European Championship in 2002 and 5th in the Italian series a year later. After claiming another German title in 2003, followed by the runner-up spot in 2004, he moved on to Formula BMW ADAC. Championship after championship followed including for his country in A1GP in 2007. Formula 3 and GP2 Series titles followed before signing for Williams in 2010.
Romain Grosjean started late in karts and as a result didn’t spend as much time in the discipline as some of his contemporaries, but what he lost in years he more than made up for in results. As a 14-year-old he was eligible for racing in ICA where he spent three seasons of racing with multiple victories, and the French ICA championship in 2001. He dovetailed ICA with Formula A in 2002 which gave him even more knowledge and experience of set-up and racecraft. His final karting season was only his fourth, as in 2003 he decided it was time to start looking at cars. Formula ICA was his last full-time campaign and whilst he struggled to set the world alight in karts, his analytical approach and intellect steered him in good stead for the future and off to Formula Lista he went with confidence. Formula Renault in France beckoned and after winning the title in 2005, he moved on to Formula 3 in which he won the European title in 2007. Race wins in GP2 followed before getting a call-up to race in Formula 1 with Renault alongside Fernando Alonso. But his karting roots are not forgotten as he even raced in the 2011 ERDF Masters Kart Stars event.
The Venezualan was a young star from the age of 7 in national competitions. He claimed four regional and national titles by the time he was 14 years of age, so his talent was clear to see. After several seasons of racing at home, he and his family took the decision that a switch to Europe would increase the potential for a longer racing career. So the family moved to Italy and the results came flooding in. From 1999, Pastor was racing consistently in the European ICA Junior championships, but a brief spell back home in the Renault Winter Series in South America made Maldonado realise that he wasn’t done with karting just yet. Formula A was his next port of call where he raced to varied success with the bronze award in the 2002 Formula A Andrea Margutti Trophy. After tasting success in the Italian, European and World Championships he continued on until 2003 when the moment was ripe to switch to car racing.It would be a long 9 years moving through the ranks of Italian Formula Renault, and after joining the Renault Development Driver Program, World Series by Renault and GP2 followed before getting his chance with Williams in 2011.Grab next month’s issue of Karting magazine for the next installment of our feature ‘From Karting to F1’.