A top motorsport exec says the world’s best race car drivers have one skill that sets them apart, and it’s identifiable from a young age

A composite image of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo on the track, and next to each other. Photos by Clive Mason / Mark Thompson / Getty Images
  • Elite drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo displayed key skills from a young age, which meant they were likely always destined for the top.
  • Trevor Carlin, a leading motorsport executive who has worked with Vettel and Ricciardo, told Insider that it is not just about going fast, but also about self-belief and determination.
  • Carlin said his firm – Carlin Motorsport – is developing more youngsters who might one day win prestigious Formula 1 races like Vettel and Ricciardo have gone on to do.
  • According to Carlin, a “feisty” 19-year-old Japanese racer called Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala, a 21-year-old from Mumbai, are ones to watch when racing resumes as they could be the stars of tomorrow.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

LONDON – Elite race car drivers all have one skill that sets them apart from others, and it’s easily identifiable from a young age.

That’s according to Trevor Carlin, a leading motorsport executive whose firm, Carlin Motorsport, has teams competing in IndyCar in the US, and endurance events in Europe and Asia.

Carlin has seen some of the sport’s most successful racers up close when they were youngsters passing through his firm’s doors. They include notable Formula 1 drivers like the four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, who has won seven races during his eight full seasons at the top.

“It’s stating the obvious in a way because the first thing they have got is this ability to go fast when it counts, and it seems effortless,” Carlin told Insider.

“You can be doing a full test program when they’re going around, doing good lap times, doing the job … then you say: ‘Right guys, now we’re going to put a new set of tires on and see what the car can do. And all of a sudden, bang – they go to the top of the time sheets.”

“And the good guys, the Vettels and Ricciardos, always can rely on them to go to the top of sheets,” he said. “That doesn’t matter if the car’s fantastic, medium, or bad. They always get a lap time out of it. They will come back in, and if the car’s not very good, they will say: ‘I managed to do that, but it’s really difficult.'”

“They will love it when you give them a perfect car because they’re even quicker.”

He added that the “greats” can’t just rely on good technical ability – their mental strength is also key.

“Initially, it’s that ability to go fast in any circumstances, at any time, with any equipment. And then it’s just that quiet, self-confidence that the greats have,” he said. “They just have no doubts and always believe they can be the best. Those are the biggest things.”

“Normally, in our industry, the super fast guys are super nice, so confident, want to bond with the team and work really hard with the team. It’s as much about the personality. You just get a gut feeling with the quick ones.”

Carlin has a gut feeling about other young racers coming up

Carlin told us it’s hard to tell who’s up and coming right now as the coronavirus pandemic means there’s been little driving.

He was, however, able to name two drivers he’s got his eyes on: a 19-year-old from Kanagawa, Japan, and a 21-year-old from Mumbai, India.

“We’ve got some good kids in Formula 2 who have been taken on to the Red Bull Program,” he said. “There’s a real feisty Japanese lad called Yuki Tsunoda, and he’s a real character.”

“He’s done one year in Europe, raced in F3, and fast-tracked to Formula 2. His race craft is exceptional. If he qualifies eighth or ninth, then he’ll effectively be guaranteed a podium finish. He’s tiny, that’s the funny thing. He’s probably only just 5-foot-1, so he’s a pocket rocket.”

Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala
Yuki Tsunoda, 19, and Jehan Daruvala, 21. Photos by Xavier Bonilla / Getty Images

“Then we’ve got a bit of a sleeper who has not really been on people’s radar but is a lad we’ve known for a while called Jehan Daruvala, who is an Indian driver and he was actually a teammate of Lando [Norris] when he was with us in F3 in 2017.

“Most of the time Jehan was on a par, pace-wise, with Lando. He didn’t quite get the run of luck and results which Lando got, so it took him a bit longer to get up the ladder.

“From a speed point of view, he’s within a tenth of Lando most of the time. So he can be a dark horse to make it to F1 in the coming years.”

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