Kevin Foster, Théau Keryjaouen, Julien Soenen, Oscar Py, Antoine Broggio, Pierre-Andréa Verreaux; these are all drivers with a career-defining opportunity, as the fastest of them will join French F4 without spending a single penny.
By Perceval Wolff
Last year, Dutchman Robert De Haan won the FEED Racing Challenge and secured himself a seat with the VAR-Monlau Motorsport Spanish F4 team, free of cost. FEED Racing France is a competition to promote the careers of young drivers without the financial investment required to nurture their progress, a program established by F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve and ELMS champion Patrick Lemarié. This year, a similar opportunity is again presented by FEED Racing after its collaboration with the French Federation Academy (FFSA). Speaking with F1 Feeder Series, co-founder Lemarié praises the FFSA for its continued support of young drivers and cites this as one of the main reasons for partnering with the renowned institution.
There is a real structure that is capable to help them and support them to make the next steps after F4Patrick Lemarié
“The FFSA is the only national federation that is motivated to help young drivers, as they did with Gasly, Martins, Hadjar, etc. There is a real structure that is capable to help them and support them to make the next steps after F4, for example. We are really happy to have this new partnership with the FFSA, we want to build on the long term with them. We are also trying to see if we can help one of their young kart drivers…there are several ideas, and we hope it’s only the beginning.
“Last year, it was De Haan’s decision to go to Spain, to drive for Van Amersfoort as he is Dutch. We only had the budget for a French F4 season, and they had planned from the beginning that if he would win FEED, he would pay himself [for] a part of his season. We agreed but we don’t want to do that anymore, it’s not FEED’s spirit. All the next winners will join French F4, and it should be really exciting.
Now we can see a real win-win situation between us and the FFSAPatrick Lemarié
“We didn’t want to have a partnership with the French Federation at the beginning back in 2019 because we wanted to show first that we were a solid organization that could welcome 50-60 students every year by itself. We didn’t want to be begging [for] any help. Now we can see a real win-win situation between us and the FFSA, so it was the perfect moment.”
With De Haan in Spanish F4, but also last year’s finalists Elliott Vayron and Enzo Peugeot stepping on French F4 podiums, FEED Racing is well represented. “We still continue to follow them, it’s really gratifying and it shows the level is always really high. We are really involved to help every driver that asks for our help, not only our finalists, but all of our drivers. When you see that Elliott Vayron, who lost the Finale [by] two thousandths of a second, put our logo on his race suit it shows drivers thank us for giving a total equity and that we are there to reveal the best drivers”.
Sticking with Gen 1 F4 cars
Despite the creation of the F4’s new generation cars, FEED will continue using the older cars for the moment. “The main point of FEED is equity. I prefer using a material that is 3 or 4 seconds slower if all the cars are at least in the same tenth. It’s the key of a driving school. Young drivers want to have the same material and show they are the best”, explains the former F1 test driver.
We don’t want to sacrifice equity to be faster. That would not bring much to the driversPatrick Lemarié
“At the moment, it’s really hard to work with the Gen 2. First because of the turbo. As we drive a lot during the summer, we know that it’s really complicated for the turbo in hot conditions. And there is the halo, that is not really handy because drivers step in, step out of the car all the time. So for the moment, the material we have is adapted. We don’t want to sacrifice equity to be faster. That would not bring much to the drivers. And if you win, you will drive in the new car anyway”.
21 years is not too old to start single-seaters
FEED Racing always has welcomed all the drivers from 14 to 21 years old. But, having 21-year-old drivers presents the possibility of an F4 debut at 21 or even 22 years old, an age usually expected for a F2 driver.
“With Jacques [Villeneuve], we are strongly opposed to this age system. I don’t see why we would be slower at 21 years old, and quicker at 16. We both arrived in F1 at 25, 26 years old and it would mean we were bad? That’s nonsense. I would go even further and say that if I was a driver’s parent, I don’t know if I would put my child in an F4 at 14 years old. It’s really young.
If you arrive in F4 at an older age but you crush everybody, nobody will care about your agePatrick Lemarié
“FEED is an opportunity. We have some 18-year-old youngsters that work to be able to pay for our Volant. They work to be able to dream, as Alexis Giroud did [during] our first year in 2019. It’s fantastic to see stories like him.”
Alexis Giroud was a 21-year-old butcher who had never driven a kart and still managed to progress, day after day, to finish 3rd of FEED Racing. He then had an F4 test with Cram Motorsport, but the COVID pandemic has diminished his single-seaters dreams since then.
“If you arrive in F4 at an older age but you crush everybody, nobody will care about your age. We start watching age when we find excuses because we are slower than the others. If we have an exceptional talent, age is less important”. The recent history of French F4 corroborates what Lemarié says as 2020 champion was 19-year-old Ayumu Iwasa, who is now a F2 race winner.
Can sim-racing become a feeder series?
FEED Racing has a long tradition of welcoming sim-racers. R8G eSports’ Thomas Scibilia and Thibaut Cazaubon progressed to the finale last year, and so will Julien Soenen this afternoon. F1 eSports Pro Series race-winner Nicolas Longuet also went to the semi-finals earlier this year.
“Like in karting, there is a real step between e-sport and the real world” says Lemarié. “It’s a really great detection system because it’s open to much more people than in karting, as [there] are less financial constraints. We are really thinking to do some sim-racing selections to have [a] free 5-days training course with us. But we will never think about winning an F4 seat just with a sim-racing competition because we [would] have no idea how they will adapt on track.
If we do some sim-racing selections, it will only be to qualify for our Volant FEED RacingPatrick Lemarié
“Some sim-racers don’t have any problem to adapt IRL (in real life). But for some others, it’s a new stress, to break a real car, to have real danger. So if we do some sim-racing selections, it will only be to qualify for our Volant FEED Racing. Then, they will have to prove themselves, because nothing can ever replace reality.”
Will Volants Save Motorsport?
These last few years, F4 Volants have been developing to offer a free F4 season to the best of a tournament with Richard Mille, Winfield, FIA Girls On Track and, of course, FEED Racing. What is the main asset of FEED? “I won’t criticize the other Volants, because they do a great job, but we are complementary with what they do, we don’t do the same stuff”.
I think our main asset is that drivers test a lot with us, with at least five days…A 2-day training course would have never revealed a driver like Alexis GiroudPatrick Lemarié
“The more solution they are for young drivers, the best it is. When I was younger, there were 7 Volants in France, I miss it” explains the 1987 Volant Elf finalist. “But to answer to your question, I think our main asset is that drivers test a lot with us, with at least five days. We let talent the time to bloom. A 2-day training course would have never revealed a driver like Alexis Giroud, and I think that for the price and all the track time we propose FEED Racing is a great option for any driver.”
An F4 season for…100 Euros?
After the 3rd edition, FEED Racing already has ideas to develop and grow in the coming years. For several years already, the French driving school organizes a shootout karting race with all 600 Junior High School students of the Nièvre department, where FEED is located. The winner of this karting challenge gets granted a free place for the 5-day training course to have a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals. FEED wants to continue in this way.
Even if we are really attractive given our cheap prices and the track time we offer, it’s not enough, we can do even morePatrick Lemarié
“We would like to do it in the whole Europe. To detect young drivers, by karting or by sim-racing and to offer them a place at FEED Racing. We want to make FEED even more accessible, to welcome even more talented drivers, because I’m sure they are so many hidden talents that don’t have the budget or simply the opportunity to join us. Even if we are really attractive given our cheap prices and the track time we offer, it’s not enough, we can do even more.”
The example of Canadian-Korean and FEED Racing’s finale favourite Kevin Foster is maybe the most interesting, as he comes from these kind of shootout karting races. “Kevin hasn’t paid a single dollar to drive at FEED Racing. Everything has been financed by those who organized this karting race in Canada. It’s a talent that would have never got his chance without this.
“We want to do some larger selections, we want to really democratise motorsport and organise some karting shootout races for like 100 euros, or some sim-racing competitions, to get a free ticket at FEED and have a chance to go to F4.”
This model is inspired by the French ‘Rallye Jeunes’ success story, the operation organized by the FFSA for several years now. This competition is open to every driver aged from 18 to 25, for only 20 euros, and has launched the career of drivers like 8-time WRC champion Sébastien Ogier.
“Rallye Jeunes is fantastic. We cannot run F4 for only twenty euros, but this is the way to democratise motorsport. Having some karting shootout races all over Europe to then join FEED would be a great step to make single-seaters accessible.”
Header Photo Credit: Gregory Lenormand / DPPI
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