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Today, go-karting has become so entrenched in the world of Formula 1 racing that it would be easier to make a list of drivers who didn’t start off racing go-karts. But all the best Formula 1 drivers did, so who would want to read that list?
#1 - Michael Schumacher –Having won seven world championships, 91 Grand Prix races, and holding claim to nearly every record in the sport, German driver Michael Schumacher is the undisputed king of Formula 1 racing. With that kind of resume, it should come as no surprise that Schumacher was behind the wheel almost as soon as he could walk. At four years old, his father had built him his first pedal kart with an engine. At six Michael had won his first go-kart championship race. These early successes quickly lead to professional sponsorships, and by the time he was 18 Michael was both the German and European go-kart champion. Three years later he won the German F3 Go-kart Championship and was hired by Mercedes to drive sports-cars; making his Formula 1 debut by the time he was 22 years old.
#2 - Ayrton Senna – Like Schumacher, Senna was given his first go-kart by his father when he was just four years old. He had his first go-kart race at 13 and blew the competition away. By 21 he was racing single-seaters in the UK, and only three years later made his Formula 1 debut. Within the next 10 years Senna would make his mark on Formula 1 racing, winning 3 world championships and 41 Grand Prix races.
#3 - Fernando Alonso – With two World Championships and 27 Grand Prix wins, Fernando Alonso became the youngest Formula 1 champion in history when he was just 24 years old. His own father was an amateur go-kart racer, and built Alonso’s first go-kart when he was only three years old. At seven, he entered and won his first go-kart race. By the age of 10 he’d already won half a dozen trophies. By the time he was 15 he’d already raced in dozens of competitions, winning most, including a world championship. Several sponsorships later, and he was racing in single-seater go-kart events collecting serious prize money. Then, in 2000 at the age of 19 he made his Formula 1 debut.
#4 - Kimi Räikkönen – Finnish Formula 1 racer, Kimi Räikkönen, was a veritable ancient compared to the others on this list by the time he got into go-karting at the age of 10. But like his predecessors he won dozens of titles in Finnish, Norwegian, and European competitions before making his Formula 1 debut at the age of 21. With one Formula 1 championship under his belt and 18 Grand Prix wins, he shows no signs of slowing down.
#5 - Jenson Button – Jenson Button was another late comer to go-karts, receiving his first set of wheels for his eighth birthday. However, the British prodigy wasted no time and drove the kart to victory in his very first race. At the age of 11, Button won every single go-kart race in the British cadet category, and by age 17 he became the youngest ever to win the Formula Super-A championship. Five days after his 20th birthday, Button was signed to race for BMW’s Formula 1 team. As one of the youngest racers on this list he only has 1 championship and 12 Formula 1 Grand Prix wins, but there’s undoubtedly more to come .
With organizations like the World Karting Association (WKA) giving rise to some of the sport’s brightest stars, Formula 1’s next generation of got-their-start-in go-karts talent is sure to be a promising one. Had your eye on any new racing talent? Tell us about it!