That Formula One is about more than just racing becomes very apparent when you visit a Grand Prix, especially the one in Abu Dhabi where expensive cars, super exclusive yachts and hotels are found everywhere around the track built in the beautiful Yas Marina harbor.
Earning your way up the racing ladder and through all its politics is not easy, I’ve tried it myself. So I sat down with two promising test drivers at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to understand more about what it takes to reach the ultimate racing dream, something they’re just about to do.
Giedo van der Garde is the reserve driver for Caterham F1 team. He’s been at the top of every competition he's raced.
"As a race driver you need the full package, it's not only about driving cars fast"
Caterham reserve driver, Giedo van der Garde
The 27-year old Dutchman became Karting World Champion in 2002, won the World Series by Renault in 2008 and has been a top driver in the Formula One feeder series GP2 ever since 2009. But working his way up the ladder has taken him longer than others he says.
"As a race driver you need the full package, it’s not only about driving cars fast", he says.
"Next to the track you need to work day in and day out on physical and mental training, simulator racing to learn the tracks, to work with the team and to go through all the procedures, it’s a lot".
Giedo continues, "It’s not like a football player who can play every day with a football", indicating that every minute of track time is a big opportunity to learn the car and to showcase yourself as a driver in the chase for your next contract.
Max Chilton, a 21-year old Brit, was announced as the test driver for the Marussia F1 team at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He completed his first official laps on Friday’s practice.
Max started to achieve notable results just recently in GP2 with two pole positions and two wins.
"You need good determination and you need to put time and effort into it. If you don’t believe in yourself you won’t be able to do what the other drivers will do", he says.
The turning point
The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has established itself as a regular for many international racing series. Both drivers have raced here before and said they always enjoy coming here.
Talking more about Giedo’s career he said, "The talent was always there, but to make my package complete took me some more years than others".
His turning point was in the middle of 2006.
“Before that I was struggling at home, my parents split up, but after that I decided to go for racing 100%. I started working massively hard and that was when the good results started to come," he tells me.
Talking to Max about his way up the racing ladder he explains, “We left karting early and always stepped up as much and as fast as we can to race against the best". He adds that "It paid off well this year" and that’s the key reason he’s here today.
| Giedo van der Garde hopes to score a primary seat with Caterham in 2013 [Al Jazeera]
Being backed throughout his career by his multi-millionaire father, Grahame Chilton, has obviously contributed to moving faster up the ladder without needing to wait for the results to help him.
But on Thursday, Max told the Press Association: “I've managed to get two sponsors together for next year, to get the whole budget together, if the seat is available, which means as a family we don't have to put a penny in."
It’s clear that both of these drivers are about to reach their dream - a seat as a primary Formula One driver. They’ve just done so in two very different ways.
These scenarios, however, are not uncommon to Formula One or any other racing discipline of higher rank and can easily be correlated to many of today’s top drivers. That’s the reality.
But in the end, when your package, your sponsors and your determination have brought you to the track you need to perform, or you won’t have a chance at signing your next contract. Most drivers know that, the hard way. Giedo and Max have both earned the package to get there, now it’s time to prove themselves.
Max made a very solid impression during his Friday practice ending up within a second of his team mate Timo Glock. Max already has the finances sorted for a primary seat in 2013, but will his track record get him there?
Giedo, however, could only complete one lap on Friday’s practice because of electrical problems with his car. His previous racing career combined with several solid appearances as reserve driver this year proves him ready. But will he be able to put the budget together?
Only one thing is for sure, you should keep an eye on both these driver, because it’s inevitable that they have the determination to reach a primary Formula One seat, one way or another.
Dick Olsson is a freelancer working for Al Jazeera. He’s had a career as a successful karting driver winning the Swedish Karting Championship and placed 4th in the North European Championship in 2006. Read more about him on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Olsson