One of the drivers contesting today’s young driver test in Abu Dhabi is a man who’s enjoyed a meteoric rise up the motorsport ranks over the past 12-months: 20-year-old Dean Stoneman. The Brit leaped from Formula Renault UK to the F2 championship this year and won the title with style – thus earning himself a prize test with Williams at the Yas Marina circuit. Badger caught up with Britain’s latest F1 hopeful shortly before he departed for the Middle East.
Tell me a bit about how you got started in motorsport
Back in 2000 we were doing motocross but because of the foot and mouth outbreak it all shut down. So then we went in to go-karting…
In 2006 I won the British kart championship so there was really nothing else for me to go in to that was higher up than what I’d won, so we decided to go in to Formula Renault. I was with a team called Falcoln when we started and it was a real experience for us.
You were close to doing GP3 in 2010 – what or who convinced you to do F2 instead?
Yeah, this season we were aiming to go to GP3 because it follows the F1, but after a phone call from [series organiser] Johnathan Palmer we soon had out minds changed.
In terms of what really convinced me I think it was the track time we got more than anything. Overall it seemed a better championship. There was more track time and it’s a faster car than GP3.
It’s also a lot more affordable. GP3 was looking like it would cost about £600,000 for the season, and we were never going to have the budget for that.
And in GP3 you’re at the mercy of a team, whereas F2 is centrally run so there’s more of an opportunity for driver skill to stand out.
There’s that too. From the time I started in single-seaters I’ve always basically engineered the car myself and so it was great going in to F2 and still being able to do it for myself
How big an incentive was the Williams F1 test to your switch to F2?
At the beginning of the season we weren’t concentrating on the championship, but then when I had the points lead and realised I was going for the Formula One test it was quite an eyeopener really – the chance to be able to drive an F1 car.
So you went from two solid seasons in Formula Renault UK to a hugely impressive title in F2 – what do you think this change in form was down to?
It was a progressive thing really. As you get older you also get wiser. But going back to the two years in Formula Renault we ran the car ourselves and, looking back now, I wish I’d gone with a team. Now I’m higher up it really helps to work with the engineers.
At the beginning of the F2 season we didn’t expect to be where we were. We were just aiming for the top five in the championship. But when we realised we could win the title we just gave it everything we could and pushed all the way through.
Every weekend I had a podium – I had a total of 14 from 18 races. We only had two DNFs, both from car problems and then I was also penalised in one race…
So what’s looking your most likely destination for 2011?
At the moment we’re.. well, we’ll see what comes about from the F1 test, really. We can’t really plan anything at the moment. GP2 is a clear route but we haven’t got a budget for that at the moment.
You contested the final Renault World Series round of the season with the Junior Lotus team. How did that come about and how did it go?
Well, the Lotus Junior Team gave me a call and asked if I would race for them and it was a good opportunity for me to go one step further, in terms of the the aero, towards F1.
We’re keeping all of our doors open for next, but it’s a good championship to go into and I’m sure I’ll do more testing in the car then see what happens for 2011.
Did you test ahead of the race weekend or did you just turn up and jump in?
I did about 20 minutes at Pembrey, just to get used to the clutch and the gears. It was nice – Pembrey in the rain!
Opportunities for young guys like yourself to get seat time in an F1 car are very limited – how do you feel, as a young driver trying crack F1, about the test ban and the lack of testing available to you.
Well it makes Abu Dhabi a good opportunity for young drivers to be able to go in to F1 and have the cahnce to test the car. That’s how I see it.
Thinking about the test, how have you been preparing for what is a pretty big leap in terms of machinery?
I’ve upped my fitness quite a lot and we’ve been seeing a guy called Don who does G2 simulators for your neck, so I’ve been going there, strengthening my neck up for the test.
Actually I’ve already been to Abu Dahbi – I did a Radical race there about five weeks ago and I’ve been on Ferrari’s and Williams’ simulators
Williams are a pretty special team to be testing for what with their fantastic history in the sport – is more exciting to be testing for a team like Williams because of their history?
Yeah, that makes them a better team to be testing with but just having the chance to test with any F1 team is a brilliant opportunity.
Do you know what sort of programme you’ll be running in Abu Dhabi? Is it just a case of trying to turn in a quick lap?
I’m not 100% on what I’ll be doing yet but I’ve got a rough idea. I’m doing aero running in the morning and in the afternoon I basically get to do what I like!
What do you hope to gain from the test?
Well at the moment we’re struggling for sponsorship so being able to put a package in front of people saying I’ve tested an F1 car, hopefully that’ll open up doors
Would you consider doing what your predecessor Andy Soucek did and take an F1 reserve role or do you feel racing is the priority at the moment?
I think at this age you’ve got to be in racing and not on the sidelines, but if we get the opportunity to be a reserve driver well, we’d have to take it.
Do you see F1 as the be-all-end-all or are you open to making a career elsewhere in the sport?
Everyone’s goal is to be in F1. If you can get there that’s great, but if not I think that there are other classes you can go in to that are worthwhile.
What will you be up to, following the test,?
The training continues! I’m going to be in the gym every day – three hours a day – keeping up the fitness.
Just a few quick questions to wrap up – favourite circuit?
I think this season Algarve was the best circuit I raced on. Marakesh was a good track too because there were brick walls within 15 or 20 foot of the track! Also I got my first win there and then I was second in the second race.
Do you have any racing idols…
I get asked this question a lot but I think you have to look at all the F1 drivers – I don’t tend to stick to one of them. I tend to look at it from all angles and at all the different drivers and what they can do.
So did you watch F1 when you were growing?
At a young age I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to it, just because I never thought I’d be in the situation I am now. But I remember sitting there on a Sunday afternoon watching David Coulthard and being a big fan of his.
So just sum up how your career has gone up to this point.
I’d say that every decision we’ve made so far has been the right one and the dream that we’ve always been working towards is coming true at the moment.
Finally, a question Badger’s editor likes to ask all racing drivers: breakfast is the most important meal of the day – what does Dean Stoneman usually have for breakfast?
Cheers Dean – best of luck in Abu Dhabi!