All the current Formula Two drivers competed in karts at some stage of their early careers, but who was the most successful?
The entry point of a motor racing career can start from virtually anywhere. These days there are even some careers that begin online behind the wheel of a racing simulator and this has recently been highlighted due to the Covid-19 virus. The conventional and most common starting category over the past couple of decades remains that of karting.
Many successful racing drivers have begun their careers at a very young age behind the wheel of a kart. Even the great Ayrton Senna started in karts and achieved much success in his early racing days. There were some interesting techniques that he learned during this time which he carried through his motorsport career.
A kart based on a tubular chassis without suspension and is usually propelled by a small but powerful two-stroke engine. The power from the engine is transmitted directly to the axle. In the past, the engines operated as direct drives and had to be push-started to get them running. Nowadays the engines are water-cooled with electric starters and most have a capacity of 125cc. Although to the eye a kart may look uncomplicated, these machines are quite sophisticated and continuously evolve with technology.
With karting being regarded as the most simplistic form of motorsport, the key focus is on driver ability with the main performance advantage being the way the setup is done on the chassis to best suit the conditions being faced. Karting has evolved over the years with aerodynamic bodywork now being the norm. There are various categories which are mostly determined by age and engine size.
I thought it would be fitting at the start of the 2020 season and have a look back at some of the more successful karting careers of the current Formula Two drivers to see where it all started for them.
Shwartzman started his karting career at the age of 5 and claimed most of his titles in Italy. The highlight was finishing 3rd in the KFJ World Championship in 2013 which was held in Bahrain. In this race, he was leading during the final lap but a scrap between himself, current Formula 1 driver Lando Norris, and Formula 2 compatriot Nakita Mazepin saw him drop to 3rd. Another memorable moment was also in 2013 when he won the WSK KFJ Final Cup beating F2 compatriots Daniel Ticktum, Nikita Mazepin, Jehan Daruvala and Marino Sato.
Jack was aged 7 when he began his karting career racing at Buckmore Park in the UK. His best achievements were third in the British Super 1 National Mini Max championship and runner up in the Rotax Junior Max Euro Challenge both in 2010.
He competed in numerous kart championships in Brazil and Europe. He won numerous titles in Brazil in the junior categories and in 2015 finished 2nd in a round of the WSK Champions Cup, WSK Super Master Series and European Championship all in the KFJ category.
Christiaan comes from a motorsport family and is the Son of European Rally champion Henrik Lundgaard. He started with karts at a young age and won three championships across Scandinavia and Europe between 2012 and 2016. His main achievements were winning the Cadett Junior Cup South ( Denmark ), the KFJ South Garda Winter Cup, and the CIK-FIA European KF-Junior Championship.
Callum started his career in 2008 and was one of the most successful karting drivers of his generation. In 2011 he won the KF3 Formula Kart Stars and finished 3rd in the German Junior KF3 karting championship. He won the WSK Masters Series and the WSK Final Cup, and finished runner up in the WSK Euro Series and CIK-FIA World Cup during the 2012 season. In 2014 he won the WSK Super Masters Series and the CIK-FIA European Championship in the KF category. “My Dad would take the train every day to travel to work in London. Gazing out of the window he would see the Rye House kart track and eventually it got him thinking that I might like to try it. He was a motorsport enthusiast but we weren’t a racing family so he didn’t know exactly how you got started. One autumn weekend we piled in the car and drove down there to find out more. It was just before my seventh birthday and I still remember how exciting it felt to be driving and in control. That feeling has never gone away.”
He started racing karts in China when he was 8 and moved to the UK in 2012 when he was 13 to enhance his motorsport career with a more competitive racing environment. In 2013. Zhou won the European championship in the Rotax Junior MAX and Super 1 Rotax Junior Max categories. He was also third in the Rotax Junior Max Grand finals. In 2014 he finished second in the Rotax Senior Max Euro Challenge.
Jehan began karting in 2011 at the age of 13. Between 2011 and 2013 he was the champion in the Yamaha Junior All-Stars Malaysia championship, KF3 Asia Pacific championship and the KFJ Super 1 National Championship. In 2013 he was 2nd in the KFJ International Super Cup. In 2014 he finished second in the German kart championship and third in the CIK-FIA World Championship driving in the KF category behind Lando Norris and Nikita Mazepin.
Marcus started karting in New Zealand in 2010 and won seven karting titles before racing on the international stage. In 2015 he finished second in the South Garda Winter Cup - in the KF category and then competed in the shifter class for the 2016 season.
Luca began his karting career in 2008 in Italy. In his first season, he entered the European Cup where he finished 11th in the KF3 category but also won the KF3 Champions Cup trophy on his first attempt. He also participated in the Spanish KF3, European KF2 and World Championships thereafter.
Dan started kart racing in 2010 at the age of 8 in the UK. He won the British FKS Championship, the National ABKC Super One Championship, the British Open Championship and also the British Grand Prix championship making it a grand slam. He often found himself teamed up with strong competitors which helped his progression. In 2013 he finished 2nd in the FIA European Championship in KF Junior, tying on points with Champion Lando Norris. Robert Shwartzman, Jehan Daruvala, Mick Schumacher, and Nikita Mazepin were all part of this championship. In 2014 he finished second in the WSK Masters.
Mick started competing in 2008 and because of the media attention and extra pressure of being the son of multiple F1 World Champion Michael, competed under the maiden name of his mother. In the Euro Winter-cup of the KF3 class, he was 3rd in 2011 and 2012. Mick started competing in national and international championships in 2013 and finished 3rd in the International KFJ Super Cup and 3rd in the German Junior Kart championship. In 2014 he finished runner up in the European and World KF championships beating the likes of Daniel Ticktum, Christian Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong. His success in karting quickly caught the attention of team bosses and he soon moved up into single-seaters.
Why has karting been so popular amongst drivers at the start of their careers? For one, it remains one of the most affordable forms of motorsport especially in terms of the initial layout at grassroots level although the costs can escalate quite quickly when the level of competition increases. Karting allows for virtually anyone to give it a try with competition licenses issued to drivers from a very young age (usually from 5 upwards). It is relatively safe and teaches the skill of overtaking.
A lot of professional racing drivers use karting to keep their skills sharp during the offseason. Kart racing is normally very competitive with positions changing multiple times during a lap. This is good practice for when drivers are faced with a close combat situation in car racing. It is also good mental training because of all what is going on during a single lap. Finally, it is very good for physical fitness. The physical strain on the upper body and neck serves as a great way of improving physical fitness in order to drive more powerful race cars.
Some drivers sometimes feel too proud to return to their roots however those that do use karting to sharpen their skills, find it a massive benefit.
So of the 2020 F2 grid, who was the most successful kart racer? I will leave that up to you to decide.