Kart racers and Karting people come from all walks of life and backgrounds. My own Karting journalism and commentaries are a hobby separate from my ordinary job as a lawyer. So, as a lawyer with an interest in motor racing, you can imagine how much I might envy the man who is the Head of the Legal Department in the FIA offices in Geneva. It couldn’t get much better for me. To practise my chosen profession at the very heart of Motor Racing’s World Governing Body.
Well I was to learn that it could get even better than that, because when I tracked down the man in question, would you believe it, he’s also a kart racer.
Sebastien Bernard is 34 years old and qualified as a lawyer in 1996. By then he was already a kart racer. His father’s job as a Motor Sport mechanic at Renault suggested that the young Sebastien would soon be introduced to motor racing. So it proved, and his first kart race was in 1990 at Libourne in France.
His progress was steady rather than spectacular, but despite the handicap of studies for his Law exams, Sebastien has emerged as a very competent racer. His best result so far was his 9th place in the 1997 CIK-FIA Formula A World Championships held at Salbris in France. Amongst the drivers competing in that meeting was Jensen Button bidding to become the Formula Super A Champion.
Sebastien had been a finalist in the Formula A World Cup in Suzuka, Japan in 1995 and again at the same venue in the Formula Super A World Cup in 1998. In all, he’s taken part in 6 Formula A European Championships, so you can see that the FIA lawyer is not short of karting experience.
How much racing does he manage these days? ‘Not as much as I would like. Perhaps 6 Race Meetings and 4-6 testing sessions a year’ he told me. That’s in ICC 125cc and in the Rotax Max Euro Challenge. Indeed it was at the Euro Challenge Round in Salbris in March this year that I was able to catch up with him again having first spoken to him at PFi in Lincolnshire in May 2005.
In fact he had exceptionally bad luck in Salbris having qualified at the front of the grid of the Masters Class only to have mechanical problems on the formation lap of the Pre-Final and have to limp back to the Pits. So a meeting that was so promising through the Heats, produced nothing from either the pre-final or Final
He lives at Sergy in Switzerland near to the FIA Head Offices in Geneva. He’s married to Nathalie who conveniently also works in the same building as an accountant in the CIK-FIA Secretariat. They have a son, Antonin who is 3 years old.
I was curious to learn what his legal work at FIA consisted of. ‘I draw up the appropriate agreements for the conduct of motor sport events worldwide’ he told me. ‘In particular we have to gain the full potential for media and marketing rights to the big events.’ I wondered if there was an extra motivation behind his work. ‘Definitely’ he told me. ‘I want to ensure fair play in motor sport with regulations that are equitable, and I also enjoy solving sporting disputes and the various disciplinary matters’
I have to confess to a moment when I really did feel jealous. I’d have loved to be involved in that sort of work. But then if I was, probably, like Sebastien, there would be far less time available for my own hobby of world wide kart commentating and journalism. I guess the grass always seems greener on the other side, and I should reflect that I am really quite fortunate as things are.
I closed by asking Sebastien if he has any remaining ambitions. ‘Yes definitely. To stay in contact with the various circuits, and to enjoy racing with friends and local organisations. These are a big motivation for working in motor sport’. Once again I had just a tiny feeling of envy.
We agreed to stay in contact. The next time I am in Geneva, I shall be calling in to the legal offices at FIA to say Hello. In the meantime I hope that the next time we meet at a Circuit, he is more successful than at Salbris. He was going really well until I started to talk about him on air. I hope I didn’t put the commentator’s curse on him.