In the late 1980s Ayrton Senna, was writing occasional columns for Italy’s Autosprint magazine. In one the then Lotus driver has some advice for young racers looking to become professionals.I don’t know if it has ever been translated before, certainly it is worth reading even if racing has changed much since then.
How to become a professional racing driver
by Ayrton Senna (originally published in Italian by Autosprint in 1987)
Watching a Grand Prix on television is certainly more entertaining than living it from inside a cockpit of a Formula 1 car. Despite that, many young people aspire to become racing drivers. I understand them completely, I was like them once… Those interested in sport at a professional level should consider other disciplines as well, tennis for example, that are more personal, less dangerous and equally gratifying. Those who play tennis have only themselves to rely on, those who race in Formula 1 have to contend with many external factors, like the car.
In any case, racing cars can be very rewarding if you have a passion for speed but racing as a hobby is always more fun than having it be your profession. I started racing professionally in 1981, my first year in Formula Ford in the UK. Before that I raced karts for fun even though I approached it with a passion that seemed professional. It’s not easy to give advice to those who would like to become professional racing drivers. One should examine each on a case by case basis. However there are some suggestions that, in my opinion, can be valid for all.
First: start with karting
This is the best way to get into the world of racing from both a technical and an economic point of view. I don’t think it’s necessary to point out how much you an learn racing karts, it’s been said a million times. Those who are fast in karts have what it takes to go fast in a single seater. That much is a given but it does not mean that you are then ready to become a professional.Being fast is not enough: to become a professional driver you need to find emotional stability, to choose the right team and finally to know how to mind your public relations.
Second: Understand if you are suited to this profession
In the beginning, racing can be something fun and joyous. Then you might realize that to progress you need to dedicate yourself 100%. Not everyone is willing to dedicate days and nights to racing, forgoing the company of friends, going to the pub or to clubs. It’s important to feel that what you are doing comes naturally, that it feels fun and, especially, easy and not just the driving part. If that’s not the case, it’s best to quit immediately, or continue as a hobby, because going forward, difficulties and problems will only increase.
Third: race in the right place
In 1981 I moved to England to race Formula Ford. For me it was inevitable while for those who live in France or Italy, as an example, might be able to race in their very valid promotional series in their own countries. But if you wish to become a Formula 1 driver you must race in England. It’s there where almost all the teams are and you have to race with the right mindset even in the lower series. I’m not referring to the technical aspects of those series but that when you race in Englang you have to learn how to express yourself in English and to live with the British. You become accustomed to being the foreigner racing in front of a British public who is cheering for local drivers. You also have to commit to a big psychological jump: abandoning friends and habits to think only of racing. This is crucial and I recommend packing your bag an moving somewhere else to race.
Fourth: Don’t make mistakes
If you want to get to Formula 1, there is a rapid and well defined route to follow: Formula Ford 1600, Formula Ford 2000 and Formula 3. The driver who can navigate this three year path correctly, that is winning everything, has a very good chance to be in F1 by the fourth year.