Where are all the Australians?

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Australia has produced two world champions but where are its stars of the future? Jack Butler looks at the past and future of Australians in F1 in this guest post.

Australia is a big country. It’s one of the biggest, in fact. And yet it’s only produced sixteen F1 drivers and two world champions (Jack Brabham and Alan Jones).

Only four Australians (Brabham, Jones, Mark Webber and Tim Schenken) have scored points in F1. Granted, the size of a country does not guarantee F1 successes, as shown by the fact that there have been no Chinese F1 drivers from over a billion people, but Australia is not a developing nation – so why is there only one Australian driver in the field?

The only Australian in F1 today – Mark Webber – got to European racing through the Australian Formula Ford Championship. However, none of the winners of this series have ever gone on to F1, and it’s been running since 1973.

One reason for the lack of Australians in the world’s premier racing series could be that the vast majority of Australian racing drivers go on to touring cars, something which is not considered to be very high-level in Europe, despite prominent series like the British and German Touing Car Championship. The preference for touring cars doesn’t quite add up either, though, as there are no Australians in the BTCC or DTM.

It could also be attributed to the fact that Australia isn’t really the place for F1 racing anyway. The season does traditionally start in Melbourne, but that’s a street circuit, and the geography of Australia (desert outback) doesn’t really lend itself to permanent race tracks.

What it does lend itself to is rallying and road cars, and in Australia there are several series available for sports cars, sedans and touring cars. However, this still means that there isn’t anywhere for potential F1 drivers to learn their trade, unlike in Europe and the USA, where there are tracks all over the place.

Webber is proof that the transfer from Australian kart racing to European single-seaters can be done, borrowing large amounts of money to scramble his way into tests in England, where he proved he deserved his place.

The other recent Australian drivers to come through were the two younger Brabhams in the early 1990s, but this does not vindicate the Australian motor-racing structure as it’s a lot easier to get the budget to run Formula Three in Europe when you’ve got a three-time world champion and national hero behind you.

Australian motor racing is run by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), and from looking at their website it seems they’re heavily interested in promoting the V8 Supercars series in Australia, as opposed to any single seat racing. The most prominent open wheel racing in Australia is the Australian Formula 3 series, which, again, has produced no F1 drivers (according to Wikipedia).

It’s not just that there’s no established Australians in motorsport either – there’s none on the way. Apart from John Martin, who races for Australia in A1GP and is doing British F3 this season, and Chris Atkinson in the WRC, there is no-one. None in GP2, none in Euro F3, none even in Formula Renault.

Surely it’s time the CAMS formed an infrastructure for drivers to make it into F1? A few more Australians in the world’s premier racing series and Bernie may withdraw his threats to relieve Melbourne of it’s Grand Prix, perhaps?

Read more about Australian F1 drivers:

This was a guest article by Jack Butler. If you’re interested in writing for F1 Fanatic look at the information for guest writers here.

28 comments on “Where are all the Australians?”

  1. theRoswellite
    2nd June 2008, 5:26

    Does Australia have an active karting program? It would seem to be an avenue for very early development.

    We need more Aussies at The Party………..any party.

  2. and the geography of Australia (desert outback) doesn’t really lend itself to permanent race tracks.

    Huh? While there sure is a lot of desert in Australia, there is no shortage of suitable environments for race tracks in Australia. Indeed there are many high quality non-street circuits around Australia.

    As far as Australians in Motorsport, there have been plenty of Aussies doing very will in the two-wheel variety.

  3. “Australia is a big country. It’s one of the biggest, in fact”

    Huh? By land area yes. But I don’t see how that’s got anything to do with it! By population it’s only the 53rd biggest – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population.

  4. Jonesracing82
    2nd June 2008, 8:02

    simple explanation here!
    this country doesnt care about any sport here besides AFL.
    open any paper at any time and there is all AFL (even in the off season) and bits and pieces of the rest of sport at random parts!
    the GP here isnt well promoted, i live 40mins drive from Albert Park in Melbourne and there’s barely any advertising!
    i ask for time off to go on the friday n the response i get “oh is that coming up is it?”
    Casey Stojner is our top rider? only time i heard his name last year was when he’d clinched the MotGP title!
    he’d been winning all year and nothing, not one mention!
    we do have some motorsport programs but barely enuff to invite ppl to enjoy the wonderful sport it is……..

  5. ever heard of bathurst?

    one of the greatest tracks in the world!

    and v8supercars is huge here, holden vs ford, what else could be better, besides webber winning ;)

  6. Jonesracing82
    2nd June 2008, 9:28

    Bathurst is awesome! and so r the V8’s!
    the racing is also awesome!

  7. Is there an issue around the likes of V8 Supercars & Utes being on at primetime, and the likes F1 & Moto GP being on either v late at night or with delayed coverage?

    Another up & coming name to throw into the mix are Joshua Scott in UK FRenault

    Also lets not forget that Will Power, Will Davison, Craig Lowdnes & Marcus Ambrose all served single seater time over in Europe before heading back to Australia.

    Equally, prior to his Monza testing shunt, James Courtney looked like he was on the cusp of a career in F1.

  8. theRoswellite
    2nd June 2008, 16:04

    @ Jonesracing82:

    The problem you mention, a lack of interest in the major international motor sports e.g., F1 and MotoGP, is certainly not limited to Australia. The US is also a very nationalistic, even provincial, country.

    It has always been astounding to me that our major newspapers provide less than limited coverage of the world’s number one automobile racing series, which is to say they provide no coverage (this rule will always find exception when a major accident has occurred).

    It is difficult to attempt an explanation of this phenomena without sounding elitist, but I honestly feel that most sports fans are quite parochial. Perhaps this is simply a case of socialization; of being attracted to activities one is exposed to, or perhaps, understand.

    Personal participation in one’s youth should also provide a foundation for interest in adulthood, thus in this country the popularity of stick & ball sports.

    But, that doesn’t explain our preference for stock cars over Formula One cars…..something that always seems….surprising.

  9. If you are looking for a young Aussie to watch the reigning Australian FFord champion Tim Blanchard is currently contesting the British FFord championship which traditionally is a good grounding for F1 drivers. Unfortunately his team mate is a young Northern Irish driver called Wayne Boyd who looks like he is 12 but on the one occasion I saw him drive he totally blew me away with his speed and intelligence. I don’t tend to get excited by drivers at that stage of their careers. The last driver at that level that I went public on my opinion of was Allan McNish.

    Tim Blanchard is running close to Wayne Boyd which suggests that Blanchard is a very good driver.

  10. The main reason for Australia’s lack of F1 drivers (certainly in recent times) is that Australian sponsorship power would only cover about £80,000 in 2002, according to Mark Webber. That won’t get a season in F3 never mind GP2. Unless an Australian driver can secure serious European, American or Far Eastern backing, they will never make it into F1 or any other major European series, no matter how prepared the rest of Australia is to meet such a challenge.

  11. Looking back over my previous post, I should perhaps explain that I meant the amount of money Australian companies are prepared to pay to back a talented racer rather than total sponsorship power…

  12. Don’t forget Ryan Briscoe and Will Power, Briscoe just won his first Indycar race. While not in the same class as F1, Indycar is at the top of the American single seater ladder!

  13. There are a few reasons why.

    One as someone previously mentioned is that Footy is the sport here. All the coverage is focused on football (and by that I mean Aussie Rules, not Soccer) and all the attention, as well as most of the $$$. The only time motorsport gets a guernsey is Bathurst – a 1000 km endurance race around Mt Panorama in October (those of you who can should check it out, its awesome).

    There are numerous codes of motorsport here, we get the GP of course, a round of the MotoGP, as of next year a WRC round, plus there are the V8 lites, Formula Ford, Carerra Cup, Aussie racing cars and various drag events among others. One issue is, as someone else mentioned population. There are only 21 million of us (although I am sure it seems like more sometimes;) ) so when you spread out all the motorsport fans over all the codes, it means that there is not enough revenue or advertising coming in to really make a go of it.

    The other major factor is the old tyrrany of distance. Sure a young driver here can be special, but unless they leave for Europe as a teenager then they have little hope of making it to GP2 or F1. Casey Stoner’s family did just that, living in a caravan for years while he tried to get his break in MotoGP. It paid off with him winning the title at only 19 yrs old last year, but I bet there are few families who are a. well off enough to do that and b. prepared to do it, to take a gamble on their kids career.

    There have been many drivers who now drive in the V8 Supercar series who have tried to turn their hand at F1. The main reason that they didn’t succeed is a. no one in Europe knows who they are, and few would be prepared to gamble on an unknown driver, even someone well regarded in their home country and b. lack of funds. How does an unknown Aussie attract European sponsorship? ‘Cos you have buckleys of getting any here.
    Mark Webber was smart enough to move to Europe to make a go of it, and also to obtain a European manager too which I am sure helped no end. Plus of course being over here means you are pretty much excluded from things such as the Red Bull driver program.

    Someone else suggested CAMS should do more to promote Australian talent, and you are right, they should do. However, it is always going to be a difficult battle.

    But even with all the obstacles in the way some Aussies do make a go of it. Webber of course, and we currently have 3 drivers in MotoGP, although you’ve probably only heard of Stoner there is Chris Vermeulen and Ant West in there as well. There is Chris Atkinson in WRC, and Ryan Bricose and Will Power in Indy, and Marcos Ambrose in NASCAR.

    Not to mention a few champions over the years; Brabham, Jones, Micky Doohan and Wayne Gardiner. So don’t write us off yet !

  14. I like the paint scheme on Will Power’s Indycar, very catchy and reminds me of Australia’s cricket team colours for some strange reason.
    With only twenty seats in Formula One to choose from, I guess it is impossible for anyone to get a drive, Australian or otherwise.
    Mark Webber is a very talented driver, but Australia does have many more. Great country, great people.

  15. Lets not even mention howe crap the TV coverage of F1 is here!!!!
    we would be lucky to get 2 races live – normally a delay on the delayed telecast due to ‘Big Brother’ running over time!!! OOOPS sorry for swearing – BB is a couple of words not allowed to be spoken in my house…..
    V8 super cars is the focus of many Aussies motor sport attention

  16. OH
    meant to add that the V8s have nothing on F1 – i wish the GP2 was televised also

  17. Brett M, I am *this* close to ringing channel 10 to complain about that !

    When the race doesn’t start until 11pm local time anyway, and then is delayed for 40 minutes after its due start time because whatever cr@p reality show Ch 10 is currently showing, well it gets it bit beyond a joke. No wonder F1 doesn’t have as big a following as it should here.

    Oh, and I forgot to say before – to the writer of this article, Australia is not all outback you know ;)

    Plenty of urban areas with nary a kangaroo in sight!

  18. To be fair to Channel 10, they do a far superiour job that Channel 9 ever did, and there’s not a channel on the planet who would show a relatively low rating sports event such as an F1GP during the prime time ratings period on a Sunday evening.

  19. I think a little more research was needed.

    There is currently three guys competing in Formula Renault in Europe, Joshua Scott (UK), Ashley Walsh (WEC) and Daniel Ricciardo (Euro Cup). Daniel is fully supported by Red Bull. There is also two drivers in British F3 and two drivers in the British Formula Ford Championship.

    Then there is three drivers competing in open wheelers in the US, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and James Davison.

    And over the last 5 years there has been the likes of Will Davison, James Courtney, Michael Patrizi, Nathan Antunes, Barton Mawer and Karl Reindler all race overseas in open wheelers.

    The trouble is to make it to F1, you need to leave Australia at 18 for Europe. At 18 you have to leave home, learn new tracks, new environment, deal with the bad weather and bad exchange rate and try and successfully compete against the best young drivers in the world. Although we might be a big country, we do not have a huge population and when it is AUS$ 2mil a year for GP2,then that doesn’t leave too many people who can afford to make the move.

    Also, there is a organisation called the Australian Motor Sport Foundation, who have only recently been established to try and financially support drivers racing overseas. But the orgainsation is only in its early stages.

    CAMS was the first ASN to run development programs for drivers, and you will find a lot of other authorities like the MSA have copied their programs from CAMS. The CAMS Rising Star Program for example has been a force in the national formula ford championship for 3 years and drivers in that program have also competed in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. So CAMS are doing something, but the problem is money.

    If CAMS received a little more support from the Australian Government (who only want to fund olympic sports), then I am sure it wont be long before another Australian driver is in F1.

    Hoepfully, when it does happen, Australia still has a Grand Prix.

  20. Hi, first post.

    The main reason for the lack of Aussie’s comes down to one thing…dollars. Trying to find Australian sponsors willing to fund a European campaign of FRenault, F3, GP2 promising little or no coverage is pretty hard.

    The latest “hopefuls” Briscoe & Courtney both were fortunate enough to pick up some manufacturer support. Ryan’s career after karts was totally funded by Toyota.

    Webber to ran out of cash in F3, borrowed some, & was picked up by Merc for sports cars, he almost missed the F1 bus.

    An Australian can go as far as FFord domestically (although Aussie F3 does exist) but then hits the wall of “how do I get to Europe for a few seasons of F3,WSbR,GP2?”

    Will Power was most fortunate to be funded through two of those formulas before moving to Champ.

  21. well theres also brendon hartley around, the new zealander thats supported by red bull

    even tho he’s a new zealander, can we clain him as ours :P

  22. One of my big gripes about F1 is that people keep saying it is the best 20 drivers on the planet. In all the years I have been watching it there have always been really good drivers who never got a break. McNish and Magnussen have been covered but there are others like New Zealander Mike Thackwell who dominated F2 for 5 years and apart from the odd outing in a Tyrrell when he became the youngest GP driver ever at 19 never had a proper break.

    Tommy Byrne from Northern Ireland apparently totally blew away the McLaren management in his first test but they were unimpressed by his lack of professionalism(I think that is the best way to phrase it) and he never sat in an F1 car again.

    Right now there is a young Scottish driver sitting second in the DTM championship in his second season. The season before that he beat the highly rated Sebastian Vettel to the Euro F3 championship. Despite being Dario Franchitti’s cousin and with all the contacts available to him he can’t raise a GP2 budget. Euro F3 is supposed to be the main feeder seris for GP2 so how can we have a situation where people like Red Bull are throwing drives about like confetti and the Euro F3 champion can’t get a break? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    Dave Scott. Anyone remember Dave Scott? What he did in F3 with a fraction of the budget of the top teams was unbelievable but he never got a chance to step up.

  23. Hi Hellboy

    Ratings period at 10.30pm Sunday night???
    That is all we are asking – not for live telecast at the 9.30ish time that would be real time live.
    I do like the Channel 10 attitute to motor sport in general – but please on the F1 race nights make the 10.30 time slot race time.
    Lets thank god that channel 7 do not have the F1 – look at there telecast of the V8 Supercar Series in between there AFL obligations.

  24. Great post Jack! Since I have been following F1, I honestly had wondered why there are not more Aussies racing in F1 and the top feeder series. I know they can get around the world, so I don’t know if distance is as much of a problem as we may think. Many of them come here to play college basketball- Saint Mary’s in California advanced to the NCAA D1 tournament this season with a boatload of Australians on the roster, and even the archrival of my small college here in Northeast PA had a very good one playing the last few seasons.

    As with talents in many forms of motor racing, money may be the driving factor- It’s tough to get the right sponsorship, even for very promising young drivers. Throw in the popularity of touring cars down under, and it adds up to a smaller number of drivers making it to the F1 ranks.

    theRoswellite,fantastic job of providing an American perspective- I can relate when it comes to playing baseball in the farm/little league years! I think the newspaper coverage is improving a bit- I know some of my local sports editors and stay in their ears about throwing in the odd bits of F1 news and notes.

    I would love for someone to do a similar post about Americans in F1- the current lack of one on the grid, and any prospects for the future. I don’t have anywhere near enough background on the sport to do a good job, but would love to help someone out who dose in any way possible.

  25. Gman – not quite what you’re after perhaps but here’s something with a historical slant: 10 best… Americans in F1

  26. michael counsell
    5th June 2008, 17:14

    Ryan Briscoe just won his first Indycar race for Penske and Will Power was a top Champ Car driver alst year in and is representing KV racing in its first year in IRL this year.

    I don’t think there’s really a problem.

  27. Brett M and Pink Peril, posts 15-17, I can truly sympathise with you. I live in Perth and in order to watch qualifying for the Canadian GP, I had to get up at 3 am! Our video recorder doesn’t work and I’ve got school the morning after, which makes it even worse… sometimes I feel like SCREAMING because channel 10 doesn’t broadcast the races live!!! DX

  28. Daniel Ricciardo is the next big hope. Just won the Formula Renault WEC and came 2nd in the Formula Renault Eurocup season with 15 wins from a possible 33 races! He has Red Bull backing and just snared a drive in the 2009 British F3 series with Carlin motorsport. Keep an eye on him!

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