Since Tom Pryce lost his life in 1977 no other Welshman has raced in Formula One. But one man is looking to put that drought to an end: 21 year-old British F3 hopeful Alex Jones from Anglesey, North Wales.
After success in karts Alex began racing single-seaters in 2008 with an impressive run to 3rd in his rookie season in the British Formula Ford scholarship class. For 2010 he’s stepping up to British F3, the series that launched the careers of countless F1 racers, including Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen and Jenson Button. Badger spoke exclusively to Alex about his dream of racing in motorsport’s top-flight and his thoughts on F1 2010.
Talking to Alex you quickly get an idea of the determination needed to even consider a crack at F1: ‘I’m so single minded about what I want to do and I’m so determined to get there. If I can’t do this I don’t want to do anything‘. That kind of focus is essential to making it- but it’s only the start. You need to combine it with a host of other qualities, both on and off the track.
He’s got the right attitude to his fitness training: ‘If you want to be an F1 driver you’ve got to train as hard if not harder than them‘. That means two sessions a day, six days a week- just a wee bit more than your average 21 year-old.
He reckons he’s got the technical know-how a modern F1 driver needs too. ‘It’s 90% of the battle, being up on the technical side and giving quality feedback to the engineers. It’s especially true in Formula One these days, with it being such a development race, so in the lower formulae you have to prove yourself to be very good technically‘.
Too true. Williams newboy Nico Hulkenburg spent this winter working on gearboxes and helping out in the aero department to get a fuller knowledge of the technical aspects of his new car. With reduced testing technical understanding has become a must-have for any aspiring F1 driver.
But it’s for all the technical nuance and mega-fitness it’s on the track that a young driver must do his talking. Alex’s two years in cars have been a mixed bag, but ultimately he feels he’s emerged with strong signs of potential.
His debut year in Formula Ford was impressive, with seven wins and thirteen poles on his way to third in the championship. Year two wasn’t all he’d hope for however: ‘we’d wanted to challenge for the championship, but I think there was a bit of immaturity from my side. I was still learning the ropes of the car-racing world. I had some strong performances, but overall the end results weren’t what we’d hoped for. But I still learned a lot, and I think I showed great potential‘.
The key thing of course is to learn and move forward. And that’s exactly what he’s planning to do, by graduating to British F3 for 2010: ‘The plan when we started looking at moving in to single-seaters was always two years of Ford, two years of F3, two years of GP2‘. And then, he hopes Formula One.
‘I’ve learnt a lot in the two years of Formula Ford about the dedication required and I’m putting that dedication in. Whether it’s Formula One, getting to the Olympics or becoming a Premiership footballer you need to put in that hard work. You can have the talent but if you don’t channel it properly you wont get there‘.
Driving style-wise he reckons he’s more Prost or Button than Senna or Hamilton, though he’s still adapting the way he drives: ‘as a young driver my driving style is evolving. I’m constantly trying to change it for the better‘. Why Prost and Button? ‘The way they caress the cars around the track. That’s the style I like, and I think that’s the way you have to drive these modern cars. They don’t like being thrown in to corners and you have to be really smooth with them’. That said he’s also got time for Jean Alesi’s on-the-edge approach: ‘the way he used to drive, particularly on street circuits, was amazing’.
Like many racers Ferrari is his dream drive. ‘I’m not sure if there’s a link between emotionally-charged Welshman and emotionally charged Italians’ he laughs, ‘but since I’ve been involved in motorsport I’ve dreamed of driving a Ferrari race car‘. If he’s fishing for a drive at Maranello in ten-years he might do well to dig that old quote up- Luca di Montezemolo likes a driver with a longstanding love for the Scuderia.
His racer’s perspective on the new F1 season? He reckons Schumacher will be as good as ever, Massa will triumph at Ferrari and Hamilton will beat Button at McLaren. He’s a Button fan though. ‘I like the story. He’s had a real struggle, and I like guys who’ve struggled to make it to the top. I feel like it’s similar to what I’m going through’.
He’s also pretty excited about the return of the Lotus name to Formula One. ‘I think it’s fantastic that they’re coming back and I hope they do best of the four new teams. Virgin have got their car finished quicker but they designed the whole thing with fluid dynamics as opposed to a windtunnel. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes on the track’.
As for Alex’s own dreams of hitting the F1 track it’ll undoubtedly be tough. But then nothing good- especially not anything as good as being a Formula One driver- ever came easy. One thing is for sure: Badger will be keeping a close eye on his progress in 2010.
Further reading: the full transcript of Alex’s interview