It probably comes as little or no surprise that many of today’s top F1 drivers began their racing careers in karts. Recent world champions Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso all cut their racing teeth in competitive karting, progressing through the ranks on to the pinnacle of world motorsport.
Indeed, two of the most famous and successful F1 drivers of all time were kart champions. That’s right, both Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher were highly successful kart racers. Senna is said to have still sought out the thrills of karting throughout his stellar F1 career, up to his untimely death in 1994.
Let’s get back to the current cream of the crop and Capital Karts’ favourite, Lewis Hamilton. Lewis provides an ideal case study in the progression of a racer from karts to F1 championships. Hamilton began his karting career at a track near the Hertfordshire town of Hoddesdon, a far cry from Monaco but great preparation for it, nonetheless. The track at Rye House is a twisty, turny circuit, designed to cram as much track as possible into a tight space.
Hamilton was a diminutive seven year-old when he took to the track at Rye House for the first time. Naturally, his father, Anthony, was close by to observe the would-be world beater and offer his advice.
In fact, the Hamiltons soon became a fixture at the track, pitching up there every weekend. Lewis was found behind the wheel, pushing his not-so new kart to the limit and Anthony was found just inside the hairpin, acting as a braking point marker for his precocious son. This is where Lewis picked up and perfected his hallmark late braking racing style. Lewis, perhaps more so than any of the current crop of karters turned F1 drivers, has retained much of the kart racing style, judging by the degree his car steps out of line when exiting corners and allowing for rear slide without causing a skid.
Hamilton took his first steps in racing aged eight and he soon drew the attention of potential backers. Martin Hines was a businessman and builder of karts. He had a son, Luke, who was also an aspiring race driver. Indeed, it was a fourth place finish in his first race that brought Lewis Hamilton to the attention of Hines. He could see, in that one race, that Hamilton had natural talents for kart racing. Lewis was five feet tall, yet had plenty of physical strength. He already had that steely mental strength, too, allied to an unyielding desire to win. He was also cool under pressure, and seemed instinctively capable of calculating where he needed to be on track.
Hamilton joined Hines’ Zip Young Guns Karting Team and from there took a conventional, though uniquely fast-tracked, route through Cadet and Junior Yamaha kart racing. From there he progressed from Intercontinental A to Formula A then Formula Super A, landing at McLaren as the youngest ever contracted F1 driver.