Go-kart crazy: Where F1 dreams begin

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.

“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.

“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.”