x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Pole Position: karting puts youngsters on the path to F1 success

Lewis Hamilton almost won an F1 world championship title after persuading Ron Dennis to support his karting career when he was only 13. The trend of supporting promising young kart drivers is in full swing.

The near demise of the local GT championship is possibly down to a combination of escalating costs and the declining discretionary spend of many of its drivers.

By contrast, kart racing is the cheapest form of motorsport and continues to thrive. For only Dh450 you can race in the popular local SWS Sprint series and you don't even need to buy tyres, fuel or hire a mechanic. It's not bad value considering you get a kart, a 15-minute qualifying practice and two 13-lap races. So let's not hear anyone say that motorsport is prohibitively expensive.

Of course, karting can get much more serious and expensive as it is the playground where truly talented drivers learn their craft before going on to be professional racers.

When Lewis Hamilton almost won a F1 world championship title at his first attempt after persuading Ron Dennis to support his karting career when he was only 13, McLaren's competitors had no choice but to follow suit and support promising young kart drivers. That trend is now in full swing.

For example, Anglo-Thai 14-year-old Alexander Albon is now being supported by Red Bull as he makes his first move into single-seaters and is expected to be in F1 after four or five seasons in F.Renault, F3 and GP2. Interestingly, Albon lost the KF1 World Karting Championship to Nyck de Vries, 17, who is supported by McLaren, a company that has also signed up The Stig's son, Tom Blomqvist.

FIA boss Jean Todt's son, Nicolas, has secured backing from Lotus for his ART Grand Prix team and not only has he signed up KF3 Word Cup karter Charles Leclerc, but has started manufacturing karts. Whatever next - a Lotus kart? With Mike Gascoyne now chief technical officer of the Caterham empire and the announcement of a one-make Caterham Karting series, I think we can expect further developments in this direction.

However, there have been some disappointments along the way. Top British karter Will Stevens, managed by Mark Blundell and Martin Brundle, was signed up by the Honda Racing F1 team when he was just 16 only to find the team up for sale nine months later.

Closer to home we have a multiple UAE karting champion taking his next big step on the ladder to professional racing. Edward Jones, born and raised in the UAE and who turned 17 a few weeks ago, is about to take on the big boys in the 14-race Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series this year with Team Fortec.

As part of the World Series by Renault, Edward will get to race at many famous European circuits for the first time, such as Spa and Paul Ricard. As is the norm for well-managed young drivers, he will use the 2012 season to get to know the car and the circuits, then attempt to win the championship in 2013. If he does, he will earn a cool €500,000 (Dh2.46 million) towards a season in Formula Renault 3.5.

At that point though, British F3 will surely beckon, as perhaps still the most competitive race series in Europe.

Pole Position is written by Barry Hope, a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.