Carlin Racing is one of the most established teams in the motorsport business. Since being founded in 1996, the team has made a name for itself in junior formulae, nurturing some of the most exciting drivers during the early stages of their careers, from four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel, to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takumo Sato, to five-time F1 grand prix winner Daniel Ricciardo. Many top-profile racing drivers learned their trade with Carlin before making their way into a higher, more prestige form of competition, and many have gone on to taste success in various classes.
I was fortunate enough to spend a day with the team, as they prepare ahead of the new season; meeting with Carlin’s drivers, who will be racing in FIA European F3 and British F3, the mechanics and various members of the team. The man who has fronted the team since its inauguration is Trevor Carlin. Trevor began his career in motorsport in Formula 3 in the late-eighties, and was team manager for Bowman Racing. He transferred to West Surrey Racing in 1993 and three years later, set up his own racing team, but the story of Carlin’s humble beginnings is not what you would have imagined.
“I never had any intention of having a team,” Trevor said. “In ’96, we were just doing a promotion business for Williams, so we were not racing as such. And then in ’97, there was a young lad who was a driver, his dad wanted him to have his own sort of team, but he didn’t have any ability to hire any staff or mechanics – so he asked me to run the team. The only thing I could come up with [a team name] was my own name. We did a very small programme in ’98, our first proper was ‘99 so it took a while to get going.”
For 21 of those 22 years, Carlin has mainly focused its efforts in the junior categories, such as British F3, FIA European F3, British F4 and F2. In 2018 however, the team has made its first big step into an open-wheeled series; Carlin will make its debut in the American-based Indycar championship. Trevor explained why he felt IndyCar was the right fit for the team’s next big challenge.
“We’ve done pretty much all the junior categories, we’re an ambitious team, we’ve got a lot of ambitious staff and we want to move up,” he said. “IndyCar, even though it is still very expensive, is achievable. I managed to put a deal together to get us on the grid. It is quite exciting times.”
The team’s success in junior categories, with many drivers who have made a name for themselves in the world’s top racing series, has seen Carlin win 17 championships over the years, stretching back to 2001. Nevertheless, the team has never raced in the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1 and Trevor revealed why this has never been a realistic goal for the team.
“Formula 1 is not possible for us because it is too expensive. It is not something Carlin ourselves could fund. If the new owners Liberty [Media] can find a way of reducing the costs, and if we can find an investor to help put us on the map, then we would love to do it. It’s the pinnacle of motorsport, but at the minute it is just out of reach financially for us.”
One of the drivers leading the team’s charge in FIA European F3 is Indian driver Jehan Daruvala. The 19-year-old joined Carlin in 2017, enduring a successful first season with the outfit as he finished sixth in the FIA F3 championship, and as the second-best rookie behind team-mate Lando Norris, who secured the title last year. He is aiming to produce an even stronger campaign this year but realises there is likely to be pressure on him to deliver results from the outset.
“In a way it would, I had a really good season last year with Carlin,” Daruvala said. “Obviously, I had a really strong team-mate, we learnt a lot together, there is another group of strong team-mates [this year]. Hopefully, we will push as a team together. The main target is to win the championship, but I think the team is strong. We’re going to have a good car. All I have to do is keep doing the best I can on track and hopefully the results will come.”
India is a country that isn’t too familiar with motorsport, with racing yet to really take off in that part of the world. Only two Indian drivers have raced in F1: Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok. Jehan says his compatriot’s success gives him extra motivation to succeed in his quest to follow in their footsteps.
“Yes, it does [give me motivation],” he said. “There is not a lot of Indian’s who have made it to Formula 1. It would be good for me. Hopefully in the next few years I can make it to Formula 1 and inspire young children to do the same.”
A surprise testing addition this season was none other than Billy Monger. Billy’s career was put into jeopardy when he suffered life-changing injuries in an F4 crash last April. Despite losing both his legs from the knee down, Billy was determined to get back behind the wheel and has driven various cars in recent months. Since his accident, Billy has become a national hero for his positive attitude and willingness to not give up his racing dreams.
“It’s been a bit all over the place, a rollercoaster of emotions,” Billy said, reflecting on the past eleven months. “Glad to be back on track now with the boys in blue, picking up where we left from.”
Although a long shot, Billy still eyes a career in Formula 1 in the near future. “Obviously, [to get to] Formula 1 you have to work your way through the junior ranks. It’s going to be a long old process for when I get to F1, I’d probably say at least 5 years. Why not? If everyone else can do it, why can’t I do it?”
Carlin has given Billy the chance to drive a modified F3 car since the start of 2018 in testing, something that has only recently been announced in public. I asked Billy how he found having to adapt to controls that are designed to help him with his limitations on the steering wheel.
“It’s been done in GT’s by Alex Zanardi, he showed everyone what was possible,” he said. “I’ve done single-seater racing before [my accident]. I knew if I was going to get to F1 the eventuality is that I have to get back in a single-seater car. Me and the team have been working hard, figuring out different designs, testing them out on the simulator. We’re still chopping and changing a few bits here and there, but we are learning all the time. Once we got the setup on the car, it clicked and we’re getting there with our pace.”
Carlin’s most recent champion at national level is Jamie Caroline, who clinched the British F4 championship in his second season in the series. His first year had been spent with a rival outfit but Jamie chose to switch Carlin in 2017, a decision that has proved influential.
“F4 itself is a mega championship for young drivers, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it,” Jamie said. “I’d highly recommend the championship to any young drivers. There is no one better, their [Carlin] the best in the business. I used to walk past them in my first year of F4, when I wasn’t with such a good team, just thinking ‘I’d love to drive for them’. I had a good a year with the boys in blue, hopefully we can get a deal together with them again and make it all happen again.”
Britain is producing a vast array of young, talented racers and Jamie is among that group. He says watching Lewis Hamilton win championships in F1 is a motivation to replicate himself in the future, and has his sights sets on a career in Formula 1.
“I look towards the end goal, that’s what I want to get to,” he said. “[Lewis] Hamilton, I’ve always loved. I have watched him for years, he’s most likely my idol. I’ve looked towards what he’s achieved, I’d love to achieve half of what he’s done. I wouldn’t be scared to jump in one [an F1 car]. I’d happily jump in one if I got offered [the chance].
“There’s people who have gone from F3 to F1, I wouldn’t say I have less ability than certain drivers out there. I would love to see myself there in years to come for my family that have put everything in to me and supported me all the way. It would be mega to repay them with what we’ve set our sights on.”
Finally, the work of the mechanics should not go unnoticed during a nine-to-five working day and longer hours while testing and racing. Joe, the number one mechanic, explained his role in more depth.
“My role in the team at the moment is number one mechanic for the FIA Formula 3 team,” Joe said. “That involves making sure the car is running as it should be at all times, and all the number two mechanics are trained up to the level that’s expected so in the future they can progress to be number one’s. Making sure the car runs like clockwork and drivers get mileage.”
Although there is still a month or so to go until the season starts in Euro F3, and only a few days until the British F3 campaign commences, Carlin is pushing flat out to produce another strong car for its drivers. It has recruited a bunch of talented racers, who all have a dream of making it to the pinnacle of Formula 1. Maybe someday, we’ll be hearing their names a lot more often on the grid at the top of racing ladder?