Louis Deletraz, whose father was billed as one of the worst F1 drivers ever, is competing in the Formula Two series
Abu Dhabi-backed racer Louis Deletraz hoping to add to family legacy in Formula One
In Formula One family ties often run deep. For example, racing greats Graham Hill, Gilles Villeneuve and Keke Rosberg have all fathered world champions, in Damon, Jacques and, most recently, Nico.
The latest motor-racing prodigy to attempt to secure a family legacy has a UAE connection – Louis Deletraz is sponsored by Abu Dhabi trading-solutions company ADS Securities.
And the Formula Two driver, who races for Czech team Charouz, has the F1 experience of his father, Jean-Denis, to draw on.
Admittedly, the history here isn’t quite at the level of Hill, Villeneuve or Rosberg. Deletraz Sr competed in three grands prix between 1994 and 1995 for long-forgotten teams Larrousse and Pacific, with one last-place finish and two retirements to his name.
That record led him to being unkindly labelled one of the worst F1 drivers in the history of the sport.
He had the last laugh, however, going on to carve out a successful endurance-racing career, including two class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Born in Geneva, Deletraz Jr, who turned 21 earlier this week, wasn’t even alive when his father was lining up on the F1 grid alongside the likes of Michael Schumacher and Nigel Mansell.
“I've always seen my father racing cars and sometimes coming home with trophies,” said the Swiss driver. “It’s in my blood. The smell of fuel, the tyres … I’ve always loved it.”
It followed, then, that he would jump into the driver’s seat at a young age – 10, to be exact. He celebrated his first title in a Swiss karting championship in 2009, then continued through the ranks – Formula Renault, Formula V8 3.5 – until he made the leap into F2 last season.
The rookie finished 17th in the driver’s standings, representing two different teams, but Charouz is another foot up the ladder – the team has a strong link with Ferrari, even racing in a red livery this season. The aim is clear.
“Everyone wants to go to F1,” Deletraz adds. “F2 is the perfect step up for F1, because we run one or two hours before them or after them.
"You see the drivers in the paddock and most of them are friends because they used to be either fighting against us or a category ahead of us.”
Having acquired his super licence, he is now ready and waiting for an F1 testing opportunity. “Nothing is fixed yet,” he said. “I want to focus on F2 ... but if somebody's calling us for the job, I will take it."
With identical chassis and engines for all of the 20 cars on the grid, F2 is arguably a more entertaining spectator sport than F1.
There are two races per weekend, with the top eight in the feature race reversed for the next grid, to shake up the action for the second, sprint race.
F2 and its predecessor, GP2, have provided a reliable path into single-seater racing’s top formula, with half of the current F1 grid, including defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, having passed through its ranks.
Another graduate is Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who Deletraz considers his friend and “mentor”.
Advice is also on tap from Deletraz’s father. “He knows a lot about cars, and if I do something wrong, he will tell me,” Deletraz Jr says. “That's really good because some people are afraid to tell you – if everyone always tells you it's good, you never improve. He's quite straight with me, but also if I tell him ‘leave me alone’, he will.”
Jean-Denis recalls an incident from his son’s childhood when he realised that racing was indeed in the blood.
“I remember he was with a soapbox [racer], he was really small. He touched the kerb and flipped. Normally when kids do this, they start crying, but he was just smiling, like: 'Please I would like to do it again.'
“At this point, I'm sure he is a better driver than me, because he is more passionate, and he is only focused on this, which was not my case – he's really working hard to achieve his goals. The target is to go to Formula One in the next two years.”
Jean-Denis is bullish about his own time in F1. “For sure, I read really bad things about this period, but people need to read about the conditions.
"I was in Formula One for three races without testing, in really poor teams. I knew that it will be a nightmare, but it was the only chance to drive in Formula One. What should I say? 'No, I don't want this because I prefer to wait for Ferrari?' I have no regrets about that.”
A difficult F2 opening round in Bahrain earlier this month saw mechanical problems confine Deletraz to finishes in 13th and 9th.
So the next two races in Baku on April 28/29 – one of the F2 season’s 12 dual-race rounds, all as support events for the F1 juggernaut, concluding in Abu Dhabi in November – offer a chance to get his F1 quest back on track.
“The season is long,” he adds, “so we can catch up.”
There are easy precedents to provide inspiration: reigning F2 champion, Monegasque racer Charles Leclerc, moved up a formula in the winter to join Swiss F1 team Sauber. And even though Deletraz’s dream ticket would be Ferrari – “there's a big eye on me,” he says of his prospects with the Italian legends – he would love to emulate his friend’s elevation.
“To have a Swiss driver in a Swiss team I think never happened in the Formula One story,” he says. “We are a small country, we don't have a lot of people in motor racing and I think it would be a very great thing to do.
“But it's not my job to focus on this. If I do well in Formula Two, then the opportunities will come.”