We chat with 25-year-old British-Korean JACK AITKEN, a reserve Formula 1 racing driver for the Williams team. He talks about how it started with go kart racing and his hopes for the future.
In October 2021, the Singapore Grand Prix was supposed to roar into life around the city streets; sadly, for the second year running, it’s not to be. But the sport is motoring on! One up-and-coming name is Jack Aitken, a Williams Racing Formula 1 Reserve who debuted impressively in the F1 race in Bahrain last year, and hopes to become a full-time F1 driver. He also races for Lamborghini in the GT World Challenge. Jack’s ultimate dream? To put Korean motorsport firmly on the map at the top level. And there’s no doubt that a win on the Marina Bay Street Circuit in the future would do exactly that.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career to date.
I was born and raised in London but now live in Oxford. My father is Scottish and my mother is South Korean, so I have a mixed heritage. I’ve been racing Go Karts since I was seven – I started for fun as my younger brother was also racing. At 13, I began taking it more seriously, competing in international competitions.
I started racing cars at 17. They were single-seaters like Formula 1 but obviously less powerful and smaller. I moved up the categories and have been in a couple of drivers’ academies to Formula 1 teams. I’m now a reserve driver for Williams; so, if a driver gets injured or is sick, I step into the car.
At the end of last year, I did my first race in Formula 1 in Bahrain. At the moment, I’m working towards becoming a full-time race driver for Williams.
How did your initial experience with go karts prepare you for car racing?
There are a lot of similarities with karting. The general structure is the same; you join a team, and they take care of the car for you, set it on the runway, and make it go as fast as possible. They teach the driver a lot of the skills you need for cars.
The main difference with cars is the professionalism. Everyone’s more focused on their roles, and you have to manage everyone and get the most out of them to perform as a team. It’s also more expensive, so you have to find more sponsors or have higher backing.
A highlight for you was winning the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2015. Tell us about that.
It was a big thing for my self-confidence. In a competitive world, you have to have a strong sense of self and exude almost a little bit of arrogance to be the best, but you also need to get results. When I won my championship, it gave me more belief. It also brought me to the attention of Renault Formula 1 for the first time. A year after that, I joined their academy as a young driver. So it put me on the map as a driver.
I really formed myself as a driver at Renault – I knew about driving beforehand, but there was so much else to learn outside of cars, like managing team relationships.
How do you deal with the stress and competitiveness of this profession?
It’s quite simple to go to the gym and be physically ready. But we’re still understanding the mental performance point of view, and it’s tricky. When you’re in the car, it’s a complex thing to get the best out of driving and to put a good lap together. I think of driving as more like golf than like sprinting. In sprinting, you’re trying to channel physical energy whereas in golf or driving, you’re making thousands of micro decisions, whether it’s for a golf swing or going through a corner and trying to feel the grip, and understand the car and its limits. That’s why I think mental performance in the car is absolutely critical. So I do a lot of work on that side of things, and of course on the physical side – you have to stay fit as well.
Does your heritage affect your career in any way?
You need to be able to secure commercial backing in this sport because it’s expensive. So, as a driver, you have to look at what’s unique about yourself and therefore what is marketable. I recognised quite early on that there are a lot of British drivers; it’s a very popular sport in the UK. But I’m really the first driver of Korean heritage to reach this level, and that makes it an easier pitch in some way. Finding companies that want to be involved with the first driver of Korean heritage to get to Formula 1 is potentially a better strategy.
How has the pandemic impacted your training?
We’re quite lucky that motorsport for the most part managed to continue. Formula 1 still did around two-thirds of the championships last year and they’re trying to do nearly the whole schedule this year. Things are more difficult for sure; travel is more stressful, with documentation and periods of isolating. Hopefully, restrictions will be lessened, but the rules are the rules – they’re what we have to deal with.
Not long after our interview, Jack was unfortunately involved in a multi-car high-speed crash in a Lamborghini at the start of the Spa 24 Hours event in Belgium. While he suffered a broken collarbone and a fractured vertebra in the incident, he said, “All things considered, I feel fine, and quite lucky.” Happily, he’s back in the racing seat already! You can see his latest updates on his Twitter feed (@JaitkenRacer). We wish him well for his return to competitive racing and the Williams team.
Karting in Singapore
Got a budding F1 driver in your home who’s keen to start on the same journey as Jack? Try these karting options!
The Karting Arena
Alongside a 500m, nine-turn track with electric karts at The Grandstand in Bukit Timah, The Karting Arena has just opened a second track in Jurong. The latter is a 700m, 11-turn track designed for petroleum-powered go-karts for karters of all abilities – including those who take their motorsport a little more seriously. It also plans to establish a race academy for budding motoring enthusiasts to compete in a fun, safe environment. Each track features different variations of technical corners, sweeping turns and long straights.
• Block B, 511 Upper Jurong Road | 8800 9580
• 200 Turf Club Road, #01-01B The Grandstand | 9627 6771
thekartingarena.com | @thekartingarena
This karting company also has two offerings, including its latest at Expo, which is Singapore’s largest purpose-built fun-kart circuit, measuring 750m, and with 16 corners. Meanwhile, the KF1 circuit in Kranji was converted from a underutilised carpark and is the only dual-directional CIK-certified circuit. KF1 also maintains an indoor racing track at Resorts World Sentosa – it’s currently closed for upgrading.
• 1 Turf Club Ave, Kranji
• Singapore Expo, Carpark H, 1 Expo Drive
6891 1191 | kf1karting.com
This article first appeared in the October 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!