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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

‘There will be an F1 driver from the UAE’: here’s the kart that will help

A host of top Formula One drivers start out in karting and that lineage is set to be helped by a groundbreaking new kart

If you visit the track-straddling Yas Hotel during this year’s Formula One weekend, you are likely to spy what appears to be a scaled-down F1 car on display in its white-walled confines. The new Linford Motorsport Carbon Edition is actually the logical conclusion of go-karting that aims to bridge the gap between those formative track experiences and the world of single-seater racing that has its pinnacle in F1.

I meet Matthew Hackett, the man behind the karts, in a cafe in Dubai’s Motor City within aural distance of the drone from the engines at Dubai Kartdrome. Hackett is partnered with Al Quoz’s high-end showroom Car Vault, and is hoping to set up his own karting series in the Emirates.

The karts bear a striking resemblance to the single-seater racers of Formula Four, the junior racing series sanctioned by motorsport governing body the FIA, and Linford is also working in collaboration with AUH Motorsports, the Motor City-based promoter of the F4 UAE Championship.

“From karting to ‘formula’, it’s a very different driving experience,” Hackett explains. “I did karting from a really young age. I was always playing with engines, taking stuff apart and rebuilding it, but there was always a missing gap between karting and formula-style cars.

“Even cornering, where a go-kart will go on three wheels to corner, a car sticks on four. We’re trying to get the kids to pick up that style earlier when they’re racing. My kart is basically a junior formula single-seater and it handles differently to a [regular] kart.”

The journey to build these groundbreaking karts has been substantial: after “four or five years” of research and development, Linford began life four years ago.

These are serious machines. The top-end Carbon Edition has carbon Kevlar body parts and can hit more than 125kph, while it has an all-in price tag of more than Dh145,000. There is also a fibreglass edition for a spend in the region of Dh90,000.

In case those figures didn’t betray as much, then, karting isn’t only for kids. While the Carbon Edition has a recommended height limit of 150 centimetres, there will soon be options for taller racers, upgrading from the current 30hp 125cc engine.

“We’re bringing out a chassis in January for a senior size, with a larger engine,” Hackett explains. “We will have two engines: 50hp rotary and an electric engine that we’re developing. Different chassis, different engine, with a slightly bigger wheelbase, but the legroom will be a lot more.

“We’ve been swamped with requests from adults to get in the kart, which is what’s prompted me to do this. Karting here is big; it has a nice following. The whole region is motorsport mad.”

While the upper echelons of motorsport remain male-dominated – F1 is still awaiting its first female driver, for example – karting represents more of a level playing field, with plenty of women and girls getting behind the wheel.

And it remains a fertile proving ground for those aiming to compete at the highest level: the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas all started in karting. “It’s a great tool to learn with,” Hackett says. “My kart literally is a scaled-down single-seater. It’s a kart, but it’s very different to a kart in the way it’s constructed and the way it handles.”

With such tools at their disposal, Hackett thinks that it is only a matter of time before the UAE produces a top talent.

“There will be an F1 driver from here, definitely,” he says. “The way things are going, I would say it won’t be very long.”

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