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Open to Debate

 

Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, Tony Brooks, Stuart Lewis-Evans, Cliff Allison, Graham Hill, Innes Ireland and Roy Salvadori all plied their trade in cars that were capable, on paper at least, of actually winning races. F1 in the sixties was dominated by Jim Clark, John Surtees, Graham
Hill and Jackie Stewart. Many other British drivers from the sixties, such as Alan Stacey, Chris Bristow, Peter Gethin, John Miles, Jackie Oliver, Richard Attwood, Vic Elford, Mike Hailwood. John Love, Piers Courage, Mike Parkes and Peter Arundell also joined winning teams. Clark, Collins, Lewis-Evans, Stacey, Bristow and Courage paid with their lives for the privilege.

Hawthorn, Hill and Hailwood were killed in accidents away from the circuit. Death was a real possibility for any driver who put his car on the grid in those days. Consequently, those teenagers with F1 aspirations tended to be few and far between. Many of my schoolmates aspired to becoming professional soccer or rugby players, but I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning Formula 1 as a career choice. After winning his 3rd British junior kart title at Shenington in 1968, Terry Fullerton said that he wanted to become the world champion. Just about all of today’s competitors in cadet and junior classes express similar ambitions. Whereas Fullerton was referring to a CIK world karting title, however, these young lads have their hearts set on the F1 version.

Paradoxically, the odds against any British
driver actually finding a competitive F1 seat are massively higher today than they were 50 years ago. Over the last 35 years we’ve seen just seven Brits, Nigel Mansell, Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton earning places in teams that had championship winning potential. There have been others, such as Paul di Resta, Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell, Allan McNish, Justin Wilson, Ralph Firman, Anthony Davidson, Max Chilton and, most recently, Will Stevens who raced in F1 with cars that never really stood much chance of winning. It’s a sobering thought that, on the law of averages, we’ll see just one potential F1 winner arising from British karting every five years. Such a statistic certainly puts into proper perspective the boast that certain championships can take drivers from karts to F1.

As a means of attracting greater publicity for the sport, such exaggerated claims are all well and good. Even encouraging young people to
hold onto their dreams for a little longer might not be such a bad idea. However, there are now lots
of parents themselves who actually swallow such propaganda. They truly believe that F1 teams will be attending major karting championships in Britain, literally falling over themselves to get little Tommy’s signature on a contract. That brings me around to last month’s interview with Carolynn Hoy from Formula Kart Stars. There’s no doubting that Carolynn knows a thing or two about organising high prestige karting events. She has a list of contacts that must be the envy of every race promoter and her presentational skills are rivalled in karting only by Mike Mills. I also believe that her attempt to introduce equal equipment into FKS is to be admired. Unfortunately, providing such equipment, and transporting it to venues all over Britain, has an impact upon costs. To many, the entry fees of £30,000 in cadets and £42,000 for Juniors will be prohibitive.

I’m not altogether sure what the prize for Super FKS of a “funded year in single-seater racing” actually adds up to. I note that the important adjective “fully” has been omitted here. I’ll confess to a little personal prejudice. I’ve always argued that karting should be regarded as a sport in its own right, rather than a first step upon the motor racing ladder. When Paul Fletcher was running his Sheffield bakery, he didn’t advertise Hovis bread or any other rival product. Some years ago, when a Formula BMW team offered to display their car during the TV Masters weekend at PF, Paul very politely declined. Karting championships that offer prizes aimed at luring away young drivers do the sport a disservice in my view. Speaking of prizes, if there was one on offer for acrobatic skills then the personnel at Motor Sports House would be firm favourites, because they are certainly adept at standing on their heads.

I’ll always believe that it was a dereliction of principle to award Formula Kart Stars official MSA status. The fig leaf pretence that it is merely a “club championship” doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. This sorry episode has damaged MSA credibility and I’m not sure that FKS has gained very much out of it, either. There may be some leading Rotax contenders who are persuaded to make the switch, but it would certainly be surprising if more than a handful of our top IAME cadet drivers actually take part. Those with relatively large budgets who want to race in a professionally organised, high profile Series probably won’t be disappointed with what Formula Kart Stars can provide. However, if your aim is to win a lucrative deal with one of our top F1 teams then I’m afraid the statistics are very much against you.