F1 and karting - is there a win win symbiotic relationship to be had?

There have already been a number of really great in-depth discussions on this site over the years as to the conduct of the FIA/CIK with its F1 focus, most particularly karting being used as a pathway to F1 and its detrimental impact on the sport we are all so passionate about.

So, I don’t necessarily want to go over old ground, but I still think a further contest of ideas is warranted given the undeniable and remarkable success of Drive to Survive.

As the CEO of the 2022 Australian Grand Prix is reported to have said back in April, "ticket purchasing used to be 75 per cent male to 25 per cent female. Purchasing for this year was 60-40, so there is a huge increase in female purchasing.”

Moreover, I couldn’t even buy a ground pass on the Saturday or Sunday, which is just unheard of unless you go back to the likes of 1996 when the Australian Grand Prix first moved from Adelaide to Melbourne (there’s a reason why I mention the move, which I’ll get to later).

Yet, while I was on the outside trying to get in, sprint karts were on the F1 circuit undertaking a demonstration run (no, they weren’t racing and it was more show than go, but at least it was something and obviously executed with the full support of the event organisers).

Of course the post Covid opening-up has had its impact, but this shift in demand and interest from multiple new audiences is undeniable. If I’m being brutally honest, two of my kids not to mention the wife had less than zero interest in motorsports (other than being nice to me) until Drive to Survive came along. This has since fundamentally changed in our family dynamic. The third child had previously seen the light and will race with me next year (post school).

So, how can we as a karting community (and I include both sprint and road racing in this characterisation) take advantage of this interest and growing audience/fan base (physically on track and TV) to grow our sport?

Yes, I fully recognise we have issues on the supply (support/access) side. But, for the moment, I want to focus on the demand side. Ordinarily the market will respond to a demand shift (albeit I accept that some considered help may be required to systemically boost the supply side, but a discussion for another day).

So, with the F1 growth reality before us, the question I pose is whether we can achieve a win win symbiotic relationship between karting and F1 rather than just reacting to the arguable pathway threats etc? Can we have both a pathway to F1 (the FIA/CIK approach) as well as karting being seen as a desirable endgame?

I think we can and want to put up an idea for discussion, but drawn from an earlier period and lived experience by others.

By way of background, at a personal level, I race a stock KZ CIK chassis running a 125cc engine on long/road circuits in Australia - specifically a Stock Honda but with some superkart bits added like a nose cone and rain light etc. I’m 57 and only started karting at 51. While a late starter, I am however a very big supporter of inclusive grassroots motorsports given its positive impact on local communities and their economies, particularly through our regional cities. As is obvious to many, karting is central to that endeavour.

A photo below of me racing at Phillip Island through T1 at about 180 km/h (112 mph).

Given in my view karting is the entry to what I see as formula style racing, and, as you guys all know, inclusive and relatively accessible to all (younger or older, male or female), I want to get “karting” back on as a pre-event to F1 events, certainly in Australia, but the big picture is to see it taken up at many/all F1 events. I think such an endeavour would make great race audience and sellable TV product (with proper/professional drivers as well as trained influencers, most particularly the inclusion of females in both categories), with the subsequent cash support to fund prize purses/events/a professional global circuit etc, while providing massive promotional reach for karting (whether long circuit or sprint) for individuals, engine builders and chassis makers.

You may be aware that karts (or more specifically superkarts) were on the Australian F1 pre-event schedule up until 1995. It’s not like this hasn’t been done before. Unfortunately, the move from Adelaide to Melbourne in 1996 killed it. A video link provided below if you haven’t otherwise seen it (and there’s more on YouTube).


While the video is 30 years old, some of the drivers are still actively involved in karting here. Indeed, one of the drivers built and maintains my Stock Honda.

Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting this is the best cinematography and the greatest presentation of karting, but it was from 30 years ago. Just imagine what we could do today.

Yes, I know F2 and F3 are now doing their thing alongside the F1 main game, but all of that is obviously out of reach for the everyday aspirational driver. Karting (sprint and/or long circuit), is not. Just like Drive to Survive has given F1 a personal insight (with massive audience uptake and interest), so could this endeavour but for karting, and thus accessible and inclusive motorsports.

This may be unfair, but I struggle with interest in F2 and F3 – for me there is no personality. But karting on this stage with the right breadth and mix of professional racers and trained influencers/past racers (who would not kill themselves with this type of vehicle - I’ll get to the proposed configuration later), with professionally prepared distribution content, would be something very different. The content for distribution (TV/steaming etc.) could well include the training and qualification journey for influencers – which itself would be of interest to a wide and growing audience in motorsports following the Drive to Survive success story and the enormity of the F1 event product.

I’m not proposing that we would return to traditional 250cc superkarts. Rather, what I’m proposing is a blend – stock 125 cc gearbox and a KZ chassis but some superkart bits added (like a nose cone, superkart seat and rear rain light); otherwise no aero and completely stock (chassis and engine homologation). This would allow the widest market reach to attract participants, engine builders and chassis makers, makes the whole story accessible and sellable to any aspirational driver, and allows influencers, including females, to run with appropriate training without being overwhelmed. It also allows all the key kart manufacturers to strut their stuff.

My fellow local karting colleagues (some of whom actually raced in the Australian F1 karting pre-event back in the late 80s to mid 90s) say that our glory days of superkarting were when we were on TV in Adelaide. When the move took place in 1996 to Melbourne, and we got cut, it hurt us badly and we’ve never fully recovered. But this does mean that there was a TV audience out there with follow-up sport participation. It also suggests that if we could get karting back on the F1 event schedule (but in a less demanding “hybrid” form), with widespread TV support and professionally prepared content production for later distribution, it really could make a difference to grow our sport - whether sprint or road racing.

So, can you see merit in this idea? It’s been done before, it’s not like it’s new territory. Or do you have other ideas?



There’s a lot here to digest.

I am skeptical a boost in F1 interest has a positive effect on karting on the demand side. I think it’s increases costs but not overall participation numbers, not by much anyway. The most common question I see on reddit, facebook etc… about karting is “I am <insert age over 14> too old for karting?”. That shows to some degree reputational damage.

Lewis Hamilton’s home circuit had to drop the governing body and its club to run independent to survive. It now gets around 60 entries per month which is in the bare minimum range. This circuit often gets featured on various features that F1 produces and has a direct connect with the world’s greatest F1 driver… and it struggles. Karting requires very specific hard-graft.

F1 has zero desire to help karting be seen as anything other than something kids do who want to get to F1. F1 is an all encompassing monster that wants complete and utter dominance. There is no benefit to them to be involved with something that suggests, in any way, that other motorsports generate top talent. The kart demos at F1 events work for them because it’s a ‘feed good’ look at the future type thing and they can pretend they are investing in helping karting. But I can’t emphasise this enough… F1 does not care about karting… at all.

The Adelaide Superkart thing is interesting, but that was a time when tracks were the promoters and F1 itself had slightly less influence over the support classes. Now it’s controlled far more by Liberty. W Series, which you’d think would be awash with money, can’t afford to finish their season on the support-roster of F1 events. To support F1 you have to be bringing millions… and I am not sure how a kart support event could be funded. Also I don’t think you can mandate and reserve grid spots for certain influencers and present yourself as a high-end professional sport attracting manufacturers.

I agree about your general point about having cool broadcasting and something to follow…the intentions are good and it would be great. But we are talking 10s of millions of dollars of investment if you want to mix with the F1 paddock. The fees alone must run into that. I don’t see that level of value in your proposal.

Also, as with the big accident in Superkarts at Adelaide, I think with the specific F1 viewership, which is educated different to what I would consider a karting educated one, would come calls of ‘this is too dangerous’ if anything were to happen. Is that a Pandora’s Box you want to open?

Alan, as usual some tough but valid points.

To counter (and taking the view for the moment that you are on the whole are more right than wrong, but perhaps others will have a different view, let’s see), I would say that unless we as a grassroots motorsports community are prepared to pushback, then the status quo will continue and that’s predominately on us. However, I say that we can have a voice and be influential over Liberty’s/F1 thinking and conduct if we are focussed and co-ordinate our endeavours.

There is a political element to this.

In the case of the Australian Grand Prix, our Victorian State Government presently tips in about US$40 million a year to cross-subsidise the event. In other words, post the licensing fee to F1/FIA/Liberty, our event loses about US$40 million a year. That’s my personal taxes at work.

I’m sure there must be other jurisdictions out there dealing with the same reality.

Obviously we want the GP to stay here (at least most of us), there are positive downstream economic multipliers and no doubt competitive threats everywhere (as I’m sure Liberty keeps reminding our event organisers and the State Government every time the deal comes up for re-negotiation). So, I accept we’re not really in the box seat. But that doesn’t mean we have no voice at all - not when we’re cutting a cheque north of $40 million year on year (and that’s just here with one race event).

Grassroots motorsports is important to our regional communities and their economies. Also, the want to get much greater female participation in visible motorsports has never been more intense (but is failing). We have some leverage (not perfect, but some).

We just need to use it.

As to accidents - well, not ideal, but it is motorsports and that image is used for a reason (I know the driver who hit the wall - she was back at the same event the following year).

I am against state subsidy of F1. I think tax payers shouldn’t subsidise, and in fact that very mechanism is what causes GP hosting fees to be inflated beyond their natural market rate, and this makes it very difficult for private events like Silverstone to survive.

but, to be pragmatic, if you want to apply political pressure, I think karting is going to be a dead end. The state doesn’t care about karting. You get your little demo lap or two, and that’s it. Box ticked. A full on event is a different ball game. I would say you almost have no voice. Certainly not one big enough to cover the investment that’d be required. You have to bare in mind a one-off race isn’t he proposal, we’re talking a multi-round affair for there to be any discernible ROI.

The female thing. Karting has a history of top-quality female competitors. Barbera Hepworth was a dominant figure in Aussie Superkarts, we’ve had Susanna Raganelli as a FIA World Champion, Lotta Helberg as well and others. Focusing on promoting karting to everyone properly will yield results, as it did in the past.

I have looked at what it would take in the UK to have a one-off Superkart festival, similar to what it could do in the past, unlike now where they have to bolt onto whatever car racing club is having a meeting at the time. That idea alone runs into the hundreds of thousands, nearly millions. The F1 circus… just a different league. And what series has to be removed to fit you on the bill? I know the Aussie GP has the supercars and stuff, so it is unique in a way, but I don’t think karts could generate enough revenue from sponsors and entry fees.

These ideas, as great as it is to have them and discuss, need to be fleshed out and costed. Once you do that the possibilities do constrict a fair bit. I am not a fan of the 125cc gearbox idea. I think unless it’s 250 Div 1s in he mix it won’t translate that well to TV. KZs would look a bit lost with a TV production. I think KZs are great as a starter into l/c karting, but in terms of the show, somewhat limited.

I would like to add these conversations are vital because we need as much idea generation as possible. I believe we both have the exact same intent. The more active people in the promotion of various aspects of the sport the better.


I think there’s win/win to be had between F1’s audience expansion and karting, but it’s probably not going to be at the actual events if that makes sense.

An F1 event strikes me as a red ocean when it comes to trying to get on the schedule, the sharks are already there and it’s brutal. I cant imagine what it would cost after you jump over the political hurdles. If there was a good ROI for F1\FIA, they would already be doing it is my thought.

There’s really little to no value add to the organizers and promoters of the F1 race. Until that can be fixed in a way that still makes it worthwhile for the karting side it’s kinda dead in the water.

Maybe you’re right James, I just hate giving up.

Along your line, promotional videos like the one below are, in my view, brilliant - racing, banter, personality. I just wish there was more of them and what we do have were more actively circulated. I hadn’t seen it before today - just went for a look and stumbled across it. Mind you 412,000 views - I obviously have no idea when it comes to search engines and/or moving in the right circles. There’s certainly people looking. But, if the lead wasn’t an F1 driver, would it have the same penetration.


The FIA may not give a rats about karting, but the F1 drivers should/do have a different perspective. Perhaps working that angle more systemically (rather than pressing the organisers) may yield better traction for karting promotion.

Then we need to deal with the supply/support/access side.

I wouldn’t say they don’t give a rats, there’s channels that make sense for both sides and ones that don’t. F1 doesn’t need to present karting as part of the show, there’s no positive ROI for them in that scenario. Plus, as it is people are already clambering for the seats in F1 as it is. I’m not sure what the drivers could do since the event is really down to the organizers.

I’m going to make some sweeping observations here, naturally there are outliers. This isn’t a hit piece on clubs either because I understand they have very scarce resources…

Depending on your goals, you don’t need more content. You don’t even need “good” content. You need the right content in front of the right people at the right time. You also you need an actual process to follow up AND nurture those leads.

The latter part is where karting is broken. It’s rare for clubs/tracks/series to have a cohesive program designed to get in front of, and nurture “leads” for karting.

It’s usually a “posting on social media” effort at best. Yes I’m very cognizant that the sport relies on volunteers.

My experience is that many clubs just don’t want to change how they do things, or they are chasing “new ideas”. They want to argue with modern marketing norms and say that “karting is different”

Karting hasn’t earned the right for new ideas because it hasn’t implemented the basics first.

The kicker for me is that I’ve never been able to make the economics work when it came to promoting the sport. It never quite gathered enough momentum because the delivery side fell down, followup process, experience at the track etc. In some cases the organizer would want $20 per visitor at the gate. Given I was targeting post college adults with kids, that was a hard pass because they would have to shell out $60 with their family plus food to watch tiny gokarts go around. Big failure. It’s important to qualify leads, but there needs to be value for the “customer” when you ask for money.

In the end, I pivoted and used those skills promote my own track and did it my way, controlling the end-to-end “customer journey”. To be fair, I also pivoted to rental karts too which is easier to “sell”.

Actually the first pivot was kartpulse because I figured the time I was spending helping a handful of tracks could have a broader impact if I moved towards a more “karting enthusiasm” angle while also building to make the pavement part of karting visible in web search again.

Maybe some day I’ll try working with a group of clubs/tracks again. But getting people on the same page is like herding cats lol.

So anyway, you need to map out a process of how people come into the sport, what the milestones are and have a way to track progress. Then plug in your outreach program: trade shows, cars and coffee, oh yeah social media too.

Thanks for coming to be gokart Ted talk.


Videos like this, don’t promote karting like you think they might. It’s “F1-driver returns to when they were kids”. This narrative has been played out and exploited to its maximum. It doesn’t scream “come give karting a go”, it’s just entertainment. A novelty. Only Schumacher ever gave me the impression that karting is something ‘he did’ rather than something he ‘used to do’. You will rarely see F1 drivers show really how good and competitive karting is, not publicly anyway. It’s a novelty, a winter training tool, but it’s not something for the general public. That’s the impression I am always left wiht.

Rye House has probably had millions of pounds worth of advertisement through the years via various F1 features, and they get 60 karts a month now at their club race, and this comes after some really turbulent times for them.

get people to buy karts, from a promotional perspective above the natural flow we get, is real hard graft. It’s why rental companies do better. Apart from being cheaper, they are way more aggressive in their marketing etc…


The narrative of “driver xxx” started in karts has been done to absolute death. You have to consider the demographic that attracts too.

When drivers are still karting (Notably as adults) its much more impactful.

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