Skip to main content

Go-kart crazy: Where F1 dreams begin

By Chris Murphy, CNN
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
Red Bull's Mark Webber is one of the biggest names in Formula One. The Australian has vast experience on the grid but the origins of his motorsport career lie in go-karts. Red Bull's Mark Webber is one of the biggest names in Formula One. The Australian has vast experience on the grid but the origins of his motorsport career lie in go-karts.
HIDE CAPTION
In focus
On your bike
It's go time
Big break
Straight from the kart
Senna's seal of approval
Back to my roots
Home is where the kart is
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Red Bull's F1 driver Mark Webber tells CNN of his love for go-karting
  • The Australian cut his teeth on karts at the start of his motorsport career
  • Webber says legendary Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna was a huge fan of karting
  • The 36-year-old says karting is a "pure" form of racing and is "very, very raw"

(CNN) -- It is the ultimate breeding ground for any Formula One star of the future, and a medium endorsed by one of the sport's greatest drivers, Ayrton Senna.

Right up until his tragic death in 1994, the three-time world champion from Brazil still raced go-karts, a rough and ready forerunner for those youngsters hoping to make the giant leap to the multi-million-dollar arena of F1.

Senna's passion for karts is shared by Mark Webber, who started on his path to stardom as part of the all-conquering Red Bull team by speeding round miniature tracks as a teen.

According to the Australian, who still squeezes his giant frame into a go-kart every once in a while, there is no better place to see if kids have what it takes to thrive in the fast-paced world of motorsport.

"Karting is very purist if you like, it's very basic," Webber, who was second fastest in practice for Sunday's Indian Grand Prix, told CNN. "Ayrton Senna was still a huge fan right until the end.

"For him he really enjoyed it and he said he had some of his best racing in go-karts and he had some of his toughest opposition in go-karts, so there's no better endorsement than that.

Mark Webber back in the go-kart
Red Bull Show Run
Red Bull unveils 2012 car

"I suppose it's like learning new languages when you're young. Karting is the best way for you to get a feel of how to race each other, dealing with the competition, dealing with winning, dealing with losing, and you soak up so much at a young age and learn very fast."

All of F1's stellar names, such as double world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and seven-time drivers' championship winner Michael Schumacher, started out on karting tracks.

Senna, one of the sport's most dynamic drivers, became transfixed with an improvised go-kart made for him as a four-year-old by his father using old parts of an old lawnmower.

And though there can be little comparison between the speed and the danger of the two driving disciplines, Webber insists the challenge presented by karting is one that still excites him.

"The difference between go-karts and Formula One is obviously quite extreme. It's from the junior, the most basic form to the most extreme form," the 36-year-old said.

"But a lot of Formula One drivers, including myself, still love driving karts because it's very, very raw.

"They still give us a great feel of adrenalin and sensation of speed even though they're not as powerful as what we race week in, week out, but we are low to the ground, you've got to be very precise -- all the things we have to deal with in our profession."

Talent on the track is one thing but Webber says it is vital to have an understanding of the financial workings of motorsport even from an early age.

Anyone who reaches the top will reap the rewards that come with F1 success, but it can be an expensive hobby to fund at the start of a driver's career.

"It's not a cheap sport, obviously, so you've got to try to find sponsorship if you can to help mum and dad pay for your go-kart tires and go-kart engines," he said.

A lot of Formula One drivers, including myself, still love driving karts because it's very, very raw
Mark Webber

"If you can, have a good nous and good awareness for the sponsorship side of things as well. I know they're only young but it's important for them to understand that."

Webber's first love was motorbikes, but his switch to four wheels as a 14-year-old paid instant dividends as he won his state go-karting championship in New South Wales.

But aside from the titles, the thing he most cherishes about his time in the junior ranks of motorsport was traveling round Australia with his father, who was otherwise kept busy at work.

It wasn't until Webber started to enjoy success on a more prestigious stage that he thought his dream of becoming a Formula One driver could turn into a reality.

"There was definitely a moment when I was young and it clicked and I wanted to be a driver at the highest level," he said.

"I was completely dreaming then and every day I was dreaming about how far I could get in the sport.

"No-one's that arrogant when they're racing go-karts that (they think) for sure I'm going to be a world champion one day or I'm going to race Formula One or I'm going to do this.

"It's just a process and you get more confidence and you win and you keep moving up. I think it's not until you start getting to Europe and winning races over there that you feel that you can go all the way.

"Because it's in your wildest dreams that you'd ever get to race a Formula One car when you're racing karts."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Track the buzz of the 2014 Formula One season, race by race, with all the latest social reaction from motorsport experts.
He's the best of the rest -- Daniel Ricciardo has been Formula One's surprise package in the first half of the 2014 season.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Formula One is not likely to go hungry in Hungary as master chefs cater in volume for drivers, teams and VIP guests.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
It's the elephant in the room of Formula One. What's the prognosis legendary driver Michael Schumacher?
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
It stimulates all five senses, creating an unparalleled experience for drivers and fans alike. Take a tour of Monaco with Mark Webber.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
To be a champion you must win a title -- but to become an F1 legend you must win races at Monaco, the calendar's most testing circuit.
May 21, 2014 -- Updated 1459 GMT (2259 HKT)
Caterham F1 reserve driver Alexander Rossi takes you on a tour of the Monaco racing circuit.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
The Formula One driver transcended his sport and even 20 years after his death, Ayrton Senna commands the adoration of fans worldwide.
May 1, 2014 -- Updated 1500 GMT (2300 HKT)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY IN ARABIC BY SUHEIL HOWAYEK: (FILES) Brazilian F1 driver Ayrton Senna adjusts his rear view mirror in the pits 01 May 1994 before the start of the San Marino Grand Prix. Senna died after crashing in the seventh lap. Some 45 drivers, including Senna and Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, have been killed during Formula One races whose tracks are dubbed by some as the 'circuits of death.' AFP PHOTO/JEAN-LOUP GAUTREAU (Photo credit should read JEAN-LOUP GAUTREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
F1's greatest racer was killed during the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1 1994. The sport hasn't been the same since.
April 30, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Just four F1 drivers turned up to Roland Ratzenberger's funeral after his death during qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix on April 30 1994.
April 25, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
For a championship with a distinctly Iberian streak, it is no surprise that South America should be high on MotoGP's list of territories to conquer.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Susie Wolff, pictured, will become the Formula One's first female competitor in 20 years when she takes part in the first practice sessions at the British and German grands prix in July.
Too weak. Can't handle the pressure. Susie Wolff has heard it all -- but she is determined to become the first female F1 driver in 20 years.
ADVERTISEMENT