The slogan fits perfectly with all sports discipline or environments in life where a natural selection is required. We like thinking that selection is based on merit, it isn’t always like that, however, Robin Frijns’s story – third driver in Sauber Formula 1 team, chosen in 2008 by Vroom to move his first steps in single-seaters – is all about hard work, commitment, dedication and success.
Robin Frijns, one with a heavy foot chosen by Vroom to step into single-seaters a few years ago, has recently made the headlines after taking up the position as third driver for Sauber Formula 1 team for the 2013 season.
Everyone knows that the dream of 99% of those who take up karting is always the same one: race in Formula 1! The problems for young kart drives are many, as they often encounter the biggest one, the saddest truth in modern automobile sport, money. And the dream vanishes. Well, this doesn’t apply to Robin Frijns.
We left him at the Licence Course organised by Formula BMW awarded to him by Vroom in the selection organised in 2008. And now here he is, with Formula 1 Sauber team, as third driver, after four successful seasons in the lower classes. The first big goal achieved – and we are proud about it – seeing the talent of this young Dutchman who managed to stand out thanks to his “heavy foot” that enabled him to get respectively: Rookie of the Year award at his debut in Formula BMW Europe 2009; the championship the following season; Formula Renault 2.0 championship in 2011; and the title in the World Series by Renault last season. All not certainly paid by any rich godfather.
“In fact, I have not had any important sponsors up till this point of my career. After winning in Formula BMW in 2010, F.Renault 2.0 was the only championship that I, well my father, could afford. And I knew from the start that if I hadn’t won the championship, with a prize-money of half a million euros for racing World Series the following season, my career would have probably ended there.”
This must have given you a stronger motivation, but also greater pressure…
“That’s how our sport goes. If you haven’t got much money, you have to learn to live with the pressure and come to terms with the fact that if you don’t get the results, you could end you racing career in a wink. And often this does not depend on talent only, what you need is also a good bout of luck. I know a lot of skilled drivers, many coming from karting, who for several reasons just haven’t made it. One wrong season can really compromise your entire career.”
Tell us how you managed to get a test with Sauber F1 team at Abu Dhabi.
“The test with Sauber was built over the course of last season. First I had a test with Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull RB6 (the car from 2010) after the World Series round in Moscow thanks to my strong results. Then stayed focus and continued to do well. In the World Series I managed to stand out immediately by taking some wins, and my manager who has contact with Sauber conducted the deal. But it was a gradual thing, the more I won and I was up front, the more Sauber’s interest in me grew. Then they asked me to take part in the test in Abu Dhabi last year in November, and after I was added to the team. I am grateful to Sauber for the opportunity and for offering me the role of third driver.”
This is the dream of all those (or nearly all) who take up karting. Can you tell us about your emotions while testing the F1 car and how the test went?
“The test went very well. Obviously, the main aim was to try out various components, especially electronics for the 2013 single-seater. Apart from a few technical problems, which are normal when you are testing new components, the test was very good. I got to have a few free laps in the afternoon, but I am very happy about how things went. Emotionally speaking, it was great. I thought it would be very tiring, seeing the power you have in F1, especially the aerodynamic load and G force, but cars used in the World Series are not too different in performance to those in F1, so obviously my preparation for the test was adequate. I think I have taken a decisive step towards Formula 1, however, my goal is to race, duel with rivals on the track and hopefully win the title.”
There is something prodigious about your progression, just four years after your last season in karting you are a member of a F1 team…
“Actually it hasn’t taken long, but I have worked hard, figuring out race after race, weekend in weekend out. To be honest, if Sauber hadn’t given me this opportunity my career would have probably ended because I couldn’t afford the expense of racing in a World Series or in GP2 for another season. This is just to tell you how luck is very important. Even if I will not have the chance to race, I’ll use this season as a third driver to learn as much as possible especially for what concerns the dynamics of working within a Formula 1 team.”
Let’s talk about something that seems to have hit agenda of the international federation, that is age limit for moving from karting to cars, now set at 15. You went to cars at the age of 17, so you were in karting for about ten years. Do you think it was the right age for you to move up to single-seaters? And do you think the current age limit should be raised?
“I don’t know if it is right or wrong, I can only say that my experience has worked for me, and at 17 maturity and your perception of risk is different to when you are 15. It may seem daft, but in two years you do pass from an age of adolescence to the early phase of adulthood where a young person’s ideas and perceptions change.”
Let’s go back to karting; do you still have contacts with that environment? Do you still feel connected to our sport?
“I am still in touch with some people, especially the mechanics that used to help me on the track. Until a while ago I used to go to the circuit in Genk to help young drivers, I like helping those who don’t have the means, those like me who can’t afford it. But it’s been a while since my last kart race and I still don’t feel like getting back at it, at least until I have achieved my goal to actually race in the Formula 1 championship. I’d hate to lose this chance through bad luck, say an accident while racing in a kart. However, I must say I do miss the immediacy and excitement that you get in karting.”
So far your career has been fantastic, can you tell us who has backed you and supported you over these past four years in Formula?
“My parents, obviously. I am very grateful to them for all they have done. Then there is another person who has never left me and is very close to me, my brother in law Peter. He has always been a great support since my early days in Formula BMW, I owe part of my success to him. Together we have won three titles in four seasons and probably if he hadn’t been there things would have gone very differently. Then I must thank all those who believed in me starting from Vroom that allowed me to take my fi rst step in a formula car thanks to the selection with Formula BMW, my thanks to BMW for having given me the chance to race two seasons in their championship, Renault and last but not least Sauber team for this last (in order of time, obviously) great opportunity.”
Interview by S.Murtas – realized and published in January 2013