Karting has firmly established itself as the de facto route to get into single-seater racing. While back in the day, drivers could reach Formula One via a variety of disciplines – five-time F1 champ Juan Manuel Fangio grew up contesting torturous Dakar Rally-style races in his native Argentina, while 1964 champion John Surtees was a motorcycle racer – now, there isn’t a driver in the F1 paddock who didn’t start their career in a kart.
That means that if you want to build a serious career in circuit racing, chances are that career is going to start at your local kart track. From the outside looking in, karting can look intimidating – full of kids with flashy helmet designs who seem to know exactly what they’re doing. But don’t worry – RedBull.com is here to guide you through the basics of what you need to get into karting, with the help of Lando Norris.
If you don’t know Lando’s name now, you will soon. Having started his motorsport career when his dad bought him a kart at the age of seven, Lando recently followed in the footsteps of Jenson Button, David Coulthard and Dario Franchitti by winning the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award. That capped off a 2016 in which he’s won three (three!) junior single-seater titles: the Toyota Racing Series, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0.
Lando has also emulated a certain Max Verstappen by claiming a CIK-FIA World Championship, winning the 2014 KF title a year after Verstappen’s victory in the KZ class. Who better, then, to show you the karting ropes? Over to you, Lando…
I started karting when I was seven. One day after school my dad took me and my brother to the local kart track, which was Clay Pigeon, for a round of the British Super 1 Championship. As soon as I saw it, I told my dad that I wanted to have a go. When I started in karts, I was just one of the guys driving around the local track for fun. At that point, I didn’t have an ambition to get to the sort of level I’m at now. I just started and then got more and more into it.
I think it’s a good thing to have your own kart. It doesn’t necessarily have to be all-new – it can be a second-hand kart. Then you can go to the local kart track and just start driving around.
Go at your own pace to start off with
When I was eight, I joined the local kart team called B.R.M. at Clay Pigeon. It was a very small team, just one or two drivers, people like me who were doing the local kart races, plus the team owner and a mechanic. I think it’s good to go at your own pace to start off with, and once you’ve got to a place where you’re more comfortable, then join a team. Unless you’re very professional from a young age, you don’t need to go with a top team; just find a decent team who are maybe competing in the national championships. They’ll teach you a few things and give you more experience in karting. Then you’ve got some building blocks. But just start off racing in your local club races, then once you’re at a higher level in your club racing, you can enter the British or national championships.
I finished 14th overall in my first year in the British Super 1 Championship. I was never really the fastest – it wasn’t like I went in and dominated or anything. Then I started doing the national and British Championships, and I think in my final year I finished P4 in the championship. At the end of my cadet ‘era’, we took on a manager and they gave me a plan of how the following years up to now might go. That was the point where it got more serious and professional, when I was 11 or 12.
You have to start believing you can win – then you get used to it
Until you get to Formula One, you always look at the guys who are winning in the category above you and think, ‘They look really good – I’m never going to beat them’. But then when you step up to the next category and do start to beat them, you realise that it is possible. I think you have to start believing you can win – then you get used to it.
I never did any KZ karting, which is with gears, but I do think it’s a very good thing to learn before you go into cars. KZ karts are much faster than normal karts and require a very different driving style. I think there are some things that you can take into car racing from geared karting which help. From what I’ve heard from a lot of people, it’s definitely a good thing to do. But it’s very tough, especially at the European and World Championship level – it’s a very tough category to win.
I recommend wearing rib protectors in karting. They’re a bit of a must, and safety-wise they’re a big plus. Some people wear neck protectors. I tried one a few times, but I couldn’t drive with it on! Other than that, you just need your helmet, suit and boots – and obviously your kart, tyres, fuel, engine. If you start going to a few different tracks, you might want to buy a new set of tyres, or start changing gear ratios. If one track has a long straight and another is just tight corners, your gear ratios start to make a big difference. If you want to be fast, you have to be precise and decide if you need one tooth more or one tooth less on the gears, just to make sure you’re finding every bit of time everywhere.
My favourite kart track in the UK is PFI International. It’s a very well known track in karting, and probably one of the biggest, most professional tracks in England. Everyone knows it and drives it a lot, and because of that it’s always very competitive when you go there. My all-time favourite track is Bahrain, though. It’s pretty big, up and down, tight and twisty, so it’s very cool and very different to a lot of tracks.
Lando Norris’ five tips on how to be quick in a kart
1. Be smooth
I definitely think you have to be smooth – that’s a key factor. Of course sometimes you have to be aggressive and really force the kart, especially if it’s wet. But in the dry, and especially at the European tracks where there’s usually more grip and it’s hotter, you really do need to start being more smooth with your driving and never break the grip that you’ve got. I think that’s definitely a key to going fast.
2. Get lots of seat time
Do as much as you can around your local kart track, or racing. The more you do, the better you become.
3. Learn how to drive in the wet
When it rains, the rubbery racing line becomes very slippery and therefore slow. To be fast in the wet, you have to avoid those rubbery lines, whether that’s going all the way around the outside of a corner or going on the inside of a kerb or braking in the middle of the track rather than on the outside. You might try going wider on a corner and realise it’s grippy, so then you do it on more corners and you find more time. That just comes with experience and from being with people who know what they’re talking about and who have experience of karting.
4. Be prepared to adapt your lines
Trying different things is one of the keys to being fast – not just doing one thing and sticking to that lap after lap. Try to brake later, try to get on the power earlier. Like that, you learn and find time. And if you take all of that experience and knowledge into cars, it’s definitely a positive and can help you a lot.
5. Hard work will make you go faster
You really do need to put a lot of hard work into karting and dedicate time and effort into wanting to improve yourself as a driver. I think that’s what some people don’t realise; you do need to work hard, even in the lower levels of karting, if you want to get known or recognised. That’s definitely something you need to know.
So remember, the keys to being quick in a kart are…
- Be smooth
- Get lots of seat time
- Learn how to drive in the wet
- Be prepared to adapt your lines
- Hard work will make you go faster
And if you’re serious about starting karting, follow these guidelines:
- Think about buying your own kart, even if it’s second-hand
- Invest in a rib protector, helmet, karting suit and boots
- Start racing in club races at your local kart track, then progress on to more competitive championships
- Consider joining a team, even if it’s not a top-level one. This can help you develop as a driver – but if you’ve just started karting, spend time learning how to drive the kart on your own
- Start taking an interest in the mechanics of the kart – fine-tuning things like gear ratios can help you find lap time