Formula 1

How to become a Formula One driver

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It is the dream of so many young hopefuls to emulate their heroes and make it to the promise land of Formula One. The rise of Lewis Hamilton and the title winning campaign of Jenson Button delivered real inspiration to so many looking to become a Formula One driver.

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Long and winding road

But the pathway to Formula One is a long, winding and complex road. Though the route is always changing, what remains constant is the difficulty of breaking into the elite division of the motorsport world.

And like many of the current stars on the grid, it all starts in a Go-Kart. From the age of just eight, you can begin your racing career. In the world of karting, young drivers learn to adjust to the life of speed in gradual steps, from the Cadet division all the way to the far greater powered KF2. Competing all around the world, learning the art of overtaking.

Once graduated from Go-Karts, the world of single-seaters awaits. But motorsport is an expensive sport. And if you have done well enough to finance yourself through your karting days, then you have been seriously fortunate. A year of karting at a serious level with a competitive team can set you back up to £100,000. But single seater racing, financially, takes it to a whole new level. 

As the budgets increase, the number of those who can afford to compete, inevitably falls. Money is power in motorsport. Yes you can make it without direct wealth behind you, but having it gives you a far greater opportunity and shortcuts. 

It opens doors, and acts as a springboard to opportunities which would take a far longer process. It is not to say that money is the be all and end all in making it to Formula One. But it is certainly going to give you a stronger chance.

Big budgets

An average budget of a drive with a respectable Formula Three team for a season will cost you from £250,000- £500,000. Going on to Renault 3.5 and GP2 where a car to give you a chance to impress will be approaching £750,000-£1m+. 

So obviously sponsorship is key. But of course it is not always the best drivers who have the backing behind them. And therefore, in many cases, weaker drivers are able to progress through the junior ranks of motorsport, due to their access to funds. 

And with the current financial climate in Formula One, with many teams struggling to survive, the prominence of the pay driver has given the opportunity to more and more drivers to make their way on to the grid through financing themselves and their team. Teams are having to sacrifice quality for a driver who can bring sponsorship. 

Pastor Maldonado reportedly brings with him around £30m to secure his drive with Lotus, while Max Chilton is another example of a driver paying his way.

But there is still hope. While pay drivers have increased, so too have the emergence of young driver programmes. And if you can get spotted by a Formula One junior team at a young age, your route to the top will become a great deal clearer and they will support, mentor and finance your every step. 

Max Verstappen, the new Red Bull junior recruit, has displayed this. He is set to race for Toro Rosso next season at the age of just 17. He currently races in the European Formula Three championship and will skip seasons in the usual Formula One feeder categories Renault 3.5 and GP2.

With the age of Formula One drivers falling so dramatically, the time you have to get there is also. One piece of advice any aspiring F1 driver is to get a move on - and maybe find yourself a multi-million pound company to start investing in you.

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