Here's how you become a Ferrari driver
Many dream of it, but only a few succeed. Becoming a Formula One driver or simply a racing driver is a long and difficult process, and one which must be based on one assumption: “At the base of it all, there has to be a desire to have fun.” These are the words of Marco Matassa, Head of the Ferrari Driver Academy, the nursery of young talents of the Maranello team, which has been running for more than ten years.
What is the right age to start attending driving school on the track?
The question is not a trivial one, because the right compromise is necessary. As with all sports, the sooner you start, the better. Driving cars is a sport like many others, and if you start off as a child, you have an advantage due to the fact that your learning skills are most developed at a young age. However, you should also keep in mind that motorsport is extremely demanding and can come into conflict with school commitments. For F4, which is the starting category for the single-seater, you need to be 15 in Italy, which coincides with the first years of secondary school. It is essential not to forget and not to neglect school commitments, and the right balance between sport and school is required.
So you start at 15. Is it right to start with go-karts?
Yes, definitely, because karts are a very educational category. You can even start before the age of 15 in karts. The mini categories have drivers who are 8 or even younger, although on our part, as we observe the drivers with a view to upgrading them to F4, the interest starts at around 14. At that age, the biggest difficulty is to identify talent, because it is difficult to distinguish when a boy is just precocious or when he has real talent.
Karting school, as it has evolved in recent years, is the most valid way to start. In terms of track time, but also as preparation for the event or data analysis, it is now quite similar to the professional world. I have been a guest of Tony Kart during several championship engagements and I can say that in terms of driver preparation, there are many similarities with our Formula 1 drivers. Obviously in the proper proportions.
What are the basic characteristics a racing driver should have?
Talent comes first, it is the basis, but would-be racing drivers also need to associate talent with other characteristics: the humbleness of knowing how to take on the challenge, the desire to improve, team spirit and the ability to adapt to any situation. In the single-seater category, generally, those who adapt the quickest go the furthest.
What can be learned and what can't?
Nowadays being “only a champion” racing driver is no longer enough. Those who start off fast are only ever fast, unless they hone their skills over time. You have to learn some notions, such as sports regulations, you have to know your car technically, you need to know how to manage anxiety, but also how to speak in front of a camera or speak several languages because we live in a cosmopolitan world. These are the ingredients that make a champion, on and off the track.
How do you teach how to tackle a bend?
Two words: braking and trajectory. Before reaching the bend, the driver must always know what he wants to do, the line of trajectory the car has to follow. The starting point, therefore, is the management of braking before the bend, that will then allow him to keep the desired trajectory. The skill lies in being able to perform it.
How do you deal with speed?
To withstand the acceleration of single-seater cars, you need to have good physical preparation, both at neck level and at arm level. To tackle certain circuits, such as Mugello or Silverstone, where the difference in speed comes from cornering, the driver has to be in tip top condition. Besides, the driver's speed can be seen in the way he corners. The exact same car can tackle a bend at different speeds, because the confidence threshold is different: what I mean is that it's also a question of having the nerve to do it, and confidence in your vehicle.
A tip for those who want to embark upon this journey?
Have fun, the kids have to have fun. Those who have that special light in their eyes, which can only be recognised later, will definitely become champions.