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Moving On Up: The Road To Formula One

19th September 2016

Courtesy of Christian Sylt at Forbes.com:

Ask most young boys what their dream job is and “racing driver” is likely to be high on the list. However, the interest usually dims on finding out about the training commitments, travel and investment required just to get a foot on the ladder. As Forbes has reported, the cost of getting from scratch to the door of Formula One is estimated at around $8 million. So what drives these young racers and what is life like for them? We ask the leading lights of junior racing to find out.

The road to F1 is twisting with no official route to the top and a number of different junior series in each key market. One of the most established is the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Northern European Cup (NEC). It has a track record of producing F1 talent as previous Eurocup drivers include reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, his Williams rival Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo and Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat. So who could be next?

One to watch is Belgium’s Max Defourny who is currently second in the Eurocup standings and last year became one of the youngest race winners in the history of Formula Renault 2.0. He finished with two race victories to his name and was the highest-placed rookie.

Defourny drives for the junior team of ART which has won four titles in F1’s feeder series GP2. It was co-founded by Nicolas Todt, son of Jean Todt, the president of F1’s governing body the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

With a goal of not just getting into F1 but becoming champion, Defourny has set himself a lofty but very clear goal. That may be just what is needed.

How do you prepare for a race weekend?

In the week leading up to a race weekend, I will go on a special diet in order to be in the best possible physical and mental condition before and during the weekend. Then I will go to the team factory for a pre-weekend briefing and simulator session to familiarise myself one more time with the track.

Can you describe your schedule at a race weekend?

I will usually arrive at the track on Thursday to complete a track walk with my engineers. During a typical race weekend, I will wake up at 7am, eat a high energy breakfast and then do a physical warm-up once I arrive at the track. I will then get in the car 20 to 30 minutes before a session starts and then debrief with my engineer after each session by studying my video footage and vehicle telemetry.

Who are your sponsors and what coverage do they get on the car/you?

My sponsors for the moment are Ticketmaster, C-Live, Eurofit and Emri. They each receive brand coverage in different ways, ranging from brand decals on my car and apparel, to more sophisticated campaigns offered by my management at DCM. Based in London, they provide tailored solutions for my sponsors.

What do you do for sponsors at a race weekend and away from the track?

When I am hosting sponsors at a race weekend, I will welcome sponsors into the paddock, introduce them to my team and explain what I get up to during a race weekend. This is an opportunity to see my car up close and in action on the track from unique vantage points including the pit wall and roof terraces overlooking the pit lane and other sections of the race track. It’s my goal to show sponsors that there is a great deal of brand visibility and image transfer benefit associated with the technology and competition side of my sport. It’s also my job to represent my sponsors in the best way I can in and out of the car, so I am committed to my own innovation in the representation I deliver for different brands.

What attracts your sponsors to you rather than your rivals?

I believe this is a combination of my race performance and my effort in contacting sponsors. Likewise, sponsors need to find an athlete that fits with their brand image. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg represent two drivers with very different personalities. The bad boy image of one and the conservative image of the other will appeal to certain types of brand. Daniel Ricciardo is a great fit for Red Bull Racing because he has a fun flair of excitement in his character which works well with the Red Bull brand.

In my case, people always seem to remember my face because of my long hair and my personality through my racing style. My management have recently created a new hashtag #MaxAttack which probably summarises my racing quite accurately! Some professionals in motorsport have recently compared my racing battles to those of Ricciardo and Bottas when they raced in junior single-seaters. I have warmly received these compliments, as I greatly admire the personalities and skills of these leading F1 drivers.

How long have you been with your partners and what is the secret to having a long relationship with them?

Some of my sponsors have been with me since the start of my career and I think the secret to longevity is to be who you are not try to be someone else. I have always been honest and transparent with my sponsors, so they understand my vision and next steps. In turn, I have had to learn a lot about my sponsors, their products/services and their business culture. This has been a fascinating experience for me and the amount of work I have to do with sponsors is increasing all the time as I rise through the motorsport categories towards F1.

What has been your biggest break so far?

Becoming the rookie champion of Formula Renault 2.0 NEC last year and winning races ahead of more experienced drivers has enabled me to make big strides forwards in my career.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The highlight so far has been winning on my home soil in Spa-Francorchamps. I managed to beat a number of Eurocup drivers and took pole position, fastest lap and race victory which was an incredible feeling for me.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

The biggest challenge has been the mid-season change of team during my 2015 season. I started the year with Strakka Racing and by the second round the team decided to pull out of Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and I had to find another team just three days before the next race weekend at Silverstone. This was a big mental challenge as I had adjusted myself with Strakka Racing and then had to join the ART Junior Team and fight for pace as best as I could.

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