Imagine, you’re a talented young kart racer at a European race meeting and you’ve just won the Final. You’re standing in the paddock, chatting with friends when a message is passed to you that a rival team’s boss would like a word. This is no ordinary team owner. This is Ronni Sala of Birel and, before long, you’re on a plane to Milan. It’s a dream come true but it doesn’t just stop there. A few weeks later the phone rings and you’re invited to another meeting, this time with a British former-Formula 1 driver. Things are moving quickly. While competing in Rome, our ex-Grand Prix racer shows up again, this time with his mate, and they both ask you to sign for them. None of this is a fantasy, this is how Will Stevens said ‘Si’ to Ronni Sala and ‘Yes’ to a contract with Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell’s 2MB management company. Using Autosport International as a backdrop, 2MB announced the launch of their management deal with the 2005 British Junior champion and I used it as the opportunity to catch up with Will to find out more.
Karting magazine: You’ve just signed with 2MB, why did you do that?
Will Stevens: Well, because they’re the best people to go with for the future and they’re going to direct me in the right way in cars, so it’s a step in the right direction for my career.
KM: And how did it come about, did they approach you?
WS: Yes, they approached us and it went from there really.
KM: And how did that happen?
WS: Just through talking and then they made the approach.
KM: What, so an ex-motor racing legend just walks up to you in the paddock and says, ‘Can we have a chat?’
WS: Yeah. That was pretty much it.
KM: And who was it? Brundle or Blundell?
WS: Both of them.
KM: And am I right in thinking that you’re the first karter that they’ve signed?
WS: Yes, I’m the first one.
KM: So, if they’d been looking for a kart racer (to sign) had they been going to Super 1 races or going abroad?
WS: Well first of all, after we first started speaking to them, they came out to the Champions Cup in Rome, watched me and it
went from there.
KM: So how do you see 2MB benefiting your driving career?
WS: They know a lot of people in the Formula 1 paddock and that means I can get my name around. They’re the best two people I can think of to guide me in my career in the later stage.
KM: So F1’s the long term ambition?
WS: Yeah, definitely.
KM: And how did the Birel deal come about?
WS: After the Val Vibrata race I was approached by Birel and so we had a couple of meetings with them over in Italy and it all
went from there.
KM: How does it feel to have two ex-F1 drivers and then one of the most important people in karting, Ronni Sala, identify you as
someone they want to work with?
WS: It’s definitely great to be known and for them to come up to you and say that, so it’s a privilege to be working with such great people.
KM: Did you have to pinch yourself? Or did you think, ‘this is a wind-up’?
WS: (Laughs) No, hopefully it’ll all end up in the right way, where I hope it’s going to.
KM: And where is that?
WS: Formula 1 of course is the goal but anything at the top level of motorsport will do.
KM: What is the deal with Birel?
WS: Basically I’m going to get factory support from them for the whole year round and then we’ll go from there when I move into ICA. It depends on how this year folds out.
KM: So effectively you’re semi-works with a view to going full-works?
WS: We’ll run as a satellite team under JRP’s awning. Mark Berryman’s building a relationship with Birel and is moving to Italy
to run the team from there.
KM: And do you think you’ll get equal equipment to the works boys?
WS: Yeah, definitely.
KM: Tell me about your race programme for this year, it looks packed.
WS: (Chuckles) I’ve not got many weekends off this year! Virtually every single race is in Europe. I think I’ve got a couple of races in England but my main objectives really are the Italian Open and European races.
KM: I’ve heard you’re going to be racing over 11 months.
WS: Yes, starting from the 5th of February.
KM: That’s going to be really, really tough. How are you going to keep in peak condition and stay focused? Have you had to change
WS: I’ve got a personal trainer and we’re working flat-out at the moment, every single day I’ve got to do something. Basically I’m getting my fitness up and I’ll always do stuff when I’m racing, when I’m out in Italy I’ll still train.
KM: What about your education, how does that fit in?
WS: I’m going to be privately tutored. I’ll have a tutor at my house and they’ll be with me most of the time when I’m at home and then I’ve got stuff to do on the internet when I’m away.
KM: And when do you find time to do that?
WS: I’ve always got time. When I’m in the hotel at night, on the plane when you’re flying out to a race, you just find time to do it.
KM: And when do you do your exams?
WS: In June, next year.
KM: And you’ll sit them at a kart track?
WS: No I’ll have to go back to my old school, Thorpe Hall, and take them there hopefully.
KM: What are your ambitions this year?
WS: To become European champion and the Italian Open Masters champion as well. And to hopefully win a few of the single race
events as well.
KM: Like Kartmasters?
WS: Yeah that’d be nice to come back to England and win.
KM: And have Birel given you a brief, like ‘we want you to win this race and that’?
WS: Not really, they don’t want to put too much pressure on my shoulders, so it’s more relaxed and I’ve just got to go out there and do what I can.
KM: But do you feel under pressure now that these deals have come about?
WS: I’ve got to perform but it’s all quite easy going really.
KM: And how are you getting on with the Birel camp? Have they been welcoming to you?
WS: They’ve been very helpful so far.
KM: And do you get advice from Cesetti and Lancaster?
WS: I’m good friends with Jon, so yeah, he helps me where he can.
KM: And how’s your Italian?
WS: It’s come along well actually and when I start my private tutoring I’ll be learning Italian as well.
KM: So when you sit down with Italian mechanics, is the debrief in Italian?
WS: Not at the moment but that’s certainly the plan for the future.
KM: In five years time Will, where are you going to be?
WS: Hopefully on the fringes of Euro Formula 3. That’s the plan.
KM: Let’s go back to the early days. How did you get into karting?
WS: I got introduced to karting by a friend who was racing already, we went along and watched them and it looked like he really
enjoyed it. So we bought a kart and did a few club meetings around England and from there we joined JRP and started the British
championship and realised I was good enough to be at the top level.
KM: And this was in Cadet, what year did you start?
KM: And what were the early results like?
WS: I won every novice race bar one, so that was quite good. And then I didn’t do too many club meetings but we tested quite a lot and did Super 1 and Stars of Tomorrow.
KM: Being that good in Cadets, and it’s where Jenson Button started to make a name for himself, have there been any comparisons made that you’ve become aware of?
WS: Not so far really and I hope no one starts. I don’t want to be compared to anyone because I don’t want to follow their footsteps, I just want to go my own way.
KM: Does that mean that you don’t really have any heroes in motor racing?
WS: I don’t really have a hero, more a benchmark. So Fernando Alonso is definitely the benchmark right now.
KM: Well he’ll be an old stager by the time you’re in Formula 1 so you should be able to whup him by then.
WS: (Laughs) Yeah, hopefully!
KM: And right now in JICA, who’s your most respected rival?
WS: As I’m now racing in Europe there’s Arthur Pic, he’s very good, Peter Antonfeld, the factory driver for Birel as well and Felix
Da Costa for CRG, they’re the main European rivals.
KM: How do you stay focused?
WS: To stay focused you mustn’t get sidetracked or let things bother you. If you feel you’ve got too much pressure on your
shoulders then you start worrying, you’ve got to try and stay calm.
KM: How do you do that?
WS: Chill out at weekends, just don’t do anything too strenuous.
KM: Do you listen to a lot of music?
WS: I find music does chill me out quite a lot, James Blunt’s album is the best by far.
KM: (In disbelief) James Blunt! So that’s the tip, if you want to win in karting buy ‘Back To Bedlam’?
KM: You say that Birel are very relaxed in their expectations but what do you expect from them?
WS: To give us the best equipment they’ve got and to help us as much as they can.
KM: Now, what’s your favourite circuit?
WS: I don’t really have a favourite circuit because there’s a lot of technical ones and physical tracks, long and short circuits as
well. But I do prefer the long and flowing ones, so La Conca I really like. Val Vibrata’s really good as well.
KM: Do you have any pre-race rituals?
WS: No not really, there’s nothing I have to do. Let’s say I forget to do something, then when I’m out on track I remember it. It’s best to not having anything to do before a race, just jump in and go!
KM: Now I said to my wife that you have great hair, arguably the best hair in karting. We want to know, who does it?
WS: There’s a salon in Essex called Strangeways and they style it there
KM: And just in closing Will, describe your perfect day for me.
WS: Well, winning the European Championship wouldn’t be a bad one!
A few days after interviewing Will, I caught up with former Grand Prix star, Mark Blundell of 2MB, to find out what he thought
about his latest signing
Karting magazine: Mark, it’s a new company, tell me about 2MB, what exactly do you do?
Mark Blundell: 2MB, as it says in the name, is made up of myself and Martin Brundle, two former F1 guys. It came about when we were involved in the British Racing Drivers Club. We were on the panel distributing funding for young guys and we almost always wondered that, once we’d signed a cheque, what future was going to be ahead of them? So we said that at some point we’d quite like to get into supporting young drivers in a way where we could help them build their futures.
KM: Now, obviously you’ve got a stable of Tim Bridgeman and Mike Conway. Will Stevens is your first karter, why him?
MB: We always wanted to have somebody at the early stages, in karting. It’s taken us nearly ten months of research to find the right person and that person is Will. There are several people we looked at but Will’s got the right balance; talent, marketability, the right temperament and the right family environment. There’s a professionalism surrounding everything which we feel in tune with and are comfortable with to take on to the next step. We’ll take the reins and from this point onwards, Will Stevens has got two surrogate fathers.
KM: So what are the specific qualities you expect from Will now and in the future?
MB: That’s a tough question to try and answer. I don’t know if you’ll ever look at somebody, even champions in Formula 1, and say it’s that actual quality that stood out.’ Normally you find it’s a package. It’s all the ingredients that make a good cake, leave one out and your souffle doesn’t rise and it’s no different in sport. We feel that at this stage, all of Will’s ingredients are already there. We’ve just got to improve the quality of them as we go along. We need to make sure he’s on the top shelf and not the bottom where all the rejects are. His outright qualities are that he’s a winner, you can’t beat that. But when he doesn’t win you’ve got to understand why and look into the reasons for that and then speak with everyone concerned, Will included, and find what their thoughts are. Do they understand why it did or didn’t work and do they measure that to say ‘right, that’s in the memory now, let’s make the next step and go forward?’
KM: What are you going to bring to Will’s career? How are you going to help him?
MB: His karting career is pretty much mapped out and he has good people to take
him forward. Mark Berryman (of JRP) and his team are all good people. Will’s got good associations now with Birel but there’s things we can bring to the table. We’ve more than thirty combined years of experience at the high end of motorsport, I certainly would’ve liked to have drawn on that when I was a youngster. When he goes into racing cars, then we’ll take the pain out of everything. We’ll start to plan out his future, we’ve already got an air of confidence of where we know where we need to be in four years time. Can we open doors? Yeah, you know if there’s more than eight or nine people down an F1 pit lane and we can get an audience with all of them in a management role, that’s as good as it gets.
KM: What advice would you give to people who want to be in Will’s position?
MB: First and foremost, you’ve got to be dedicated. You’ve got to have self belief. If he (pointing at Will) turns round to us and says ‘I don’t think I can get this job done’, that’s of no use to us whatsoever. We can’t make it happen. He’s got to want to make it happen. Anyone who’s got that self belief will get out of bed every day, whether you’re ten years old or thirty years old, and make the best of what’s ahead of them. Yeah, you’re going to have some hard knocks and some difficulties but it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got funding or not, it’s all about knocking on the door and keep knocking. It’s always an easy get out to say ‘if only’. ‘If’ is a little word with a big meaning, it’s F1 backwards! If you believe in yourself, you’ll make it happen.