When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Driven to win
Motor racing is a young man’s sport, so much so that, by their middle teens, aspiring drivers have to consider their future very seriously.
The Formula BMW Intersteps series is limited to the 15 to 19-year-old age group, and this is the category in which Falcon Motorsport of Faringdon currently competes.
It has four young drivers in its single-seater cars, competing in the 10 races of the UK season and in the later months of the year at events at other international circuits.
“These are young drivers hoping to make their way up to the pinnacle of Formula 1,” said Nick Streatfield, founder of Falcon Motorsport.
“They come to us from karting, where they will already have been competing at national, European and international level. They are already very experienced.”
“Karting can begin for youngsters around the age of eight and, if they want to, they can go on to race there as adults,” said Mr Streatfield.
“But most drivers are looking to progress to higher formulas and at 15 or 16 are moving up to cars.
Mr Streatfield, 51, founded the company in 1989, originally at Great Shefford, near Lambourn, but moved to Faringdon in 1995.
He said: “I was originally in electrical engineering but I also had my own short career in racing, in a car similar to these, in Formula Ford and Formula Ford 2000.
“But I felt I was better suited to running a team rather than driving the car. Initially this was purely on an amateur basis, but it became a business shortly afterwards. Over the years I ran teams for a number of drivers and progressed to bigger and better things.”
The race cars taking part in Formula BMW Intersteps series are manufactured in France.
“We engineer them, and set them up for the various circuits,” Mr Streatfield explained .
At his Faringdon workshops, there is a team of engineers and mechanics — with one mechanic designated to each car and driver. Some of the team are part-time and up to seven travel with the cars to each of the events.
The young drivers often include several from overseas.
This year, 16-year-old Harrison Scott, from Essex, is the only home driver. He has recently joined the trio who have ben with the team since the start of the season. They are Lassi Halminer, 16, from Finland, Nikita Miliakov, 16, originally from Russia but now living in Dubai and Liam Venter, 17, a South African living in London.
Because of the age group involved, there is a quiet period in June, when some of the drivers are facing a different challenge — that of their school or college exams.
After the UK season, which runs from March until October, drivers have an opportunity to add to their international experience by racing overseas. India is one of the countries where entry in an event is being considered.
Mr Streatfield said: “As we are racing in the junior ranks, we see a lot of drivers who come through and go on to be very successful.
“Sebastian Vettel came up through Formula BMW and we have also raced against Lewis Hamilton in his junior days.”
Falcon Motorsport cars and drivers have had their own record of success.
In 2010 Patryk Szczerbinski won that season’s format of their present category and last year — in a more competitive field which included the former world karting champion — finished third. This season so far there have been podium finishes at every event.
Szczerbinski, now 18, is now racing in the Porsche Super Cup for a team in based in his native Poland. Also moving up the career ladder is Danny Watts, who is driving a prototype sports car in the Le Mans series.
Two drivers went into IndyCar racing — Alex Lloyd, who is still driving there, and Katherine Legge. She is Falcon Motorsport’s sole female driver so far.
Mr Streatfield said: “Not many girls come through but some go on to achieve success.”
Sometimes drivers are retained for more than one season while others stay one year before moving on.
Mr Streatfield said: “We try to target drivers we want but they have to bring in finance either from their families or through sponsorship.”
Success at this level can lead to many opportunities. One of the earlier drivers for the team, Andy Priaulx, went on to become world touring car champion for three seasons in succession. He now drives in the DTM German touring car series.
Starting at an early age is essential if drivers are doing to climb the ladder and be able to reach Formula 1 by their early 20s. Sebastian Vettel became F1 world champion at the age of 23.
For Falcon Motorsport itself, ambition has always been the key and Mr Streatfield is already looking ahead to 2013.
“We are looking to expand into other formulas and next year I want to take one or two drivers forward into these,” he said.
“We want to expand into multiple teams, staying in Formula BMW where we are now and also compete in another category such as Formula Renault or Formula Three.
But for now, everything is centred on the team’s next event, which is the meeting at Thruxton, Hampshire, over the weekend of July 29 and 29.
* Contact: 01367 244233