Is there a such thing as Natural Talent?

Hey Guys,

With my coaching I see drivers of all skill levels get into racing. Some drivers pick it up from day 1, whilst others take up to 12 months (Like myself).

So I try help guide drivers into what sets them apart so newcomers can get up to speed a lot quicker.

How long did it take you to be competitive?


I’m actually working on a booklet that describes the mental driving process, and how to use imagery to ‘edit’ different portions of the process. This is the section that I have for talent in the booklet:


People often attribute displays of exceptional skill or success to talent, but that does a disservice to all of the time and effort that is put into transforming talent (innate potential, or understanding) into skills that others can observe. For example, nobody climbs on a motorcycle, or in a car and sets a lap record in their first few laps. Likewise no one picks up an instrument or brush and produces a masterpiece on their first attempt. Regardless of whether you have aptitude or talent, EVERYONE must learn their craft before they can use their skills to express their talent and unique perspective.

In the arena of racing, I believe that the easiest way to identify a driver with talent is to see how quickly they learn, because that reflects how well you understand the task, how well you can extract the lessons from your experience, and how efficiently you can use those lesson to change/improve your performance. Very talented driver seem to do this instinctively, and they don’t waste time repeating lessons, so they get fast very quickly. We mortals go through the same process, but we have to work harder to discover lessons, and turn those lessons into improved driving performance. Therefore the more we understand about the driving and learning process; the more efficiently we will be able to improve performance.

I started racing cars many moons ago at 18 years of age. I did a three day class and one lapping day. During that time I progressed from being completely overwhelmed the first time in the car to finishing 2nd to the previous year’s champion in my first race, which was the day after the lapping session. I set the lap record my 3rd race weekend (so at that time I probably less than 150 total laps on track). So I guess maybe I could have been called ‘talented’. However, in preparation for being talented I obsessed over racing for 12 years, ran around my parent’s house like I was sliding a race car around, and watched (live at the track) thousands of laps of practice, qualifying, and racing for drivers ranging from Sports Car Club of America driver school students to the best drivers in the world driving CanAm, F5000, and F1 cars. So, I think of myself as having been ‘prepared’ rather than being talented. :joy:


Yes. I was a natural talent at Tennis. All that gets you is the ability to pick it up and manipulate the skill much quicker than most.

I did everything possible to not work at it, to piss my parents of. I rebelled, hard. Even though I hid from it, rejected it, the “talent” dominated when I picked up, unwillingly, the racquet. Despite this, I was very good and successful competitively, while I was still malleable by others desires. However, if I had loved it, like Karting, I would have been substantially better. A lot better. By age 13, I was done, effectively, and was throwing matches to assert my lack of willingness to participate. ( I intentionally tanked the semis of a tournament to go to middle school prom, for example). Imagine intentionally tanking summernats or something (seems inconceivable).

It’s the work you put in and the desire to learn and develop, as quickly as possible, that matters. I think as you get to a certain level, the talent level is a given baseline. How that talent has been nurtured and grown differentiates that group.

And then, there’s genius. That’s the inaccessible peak that is talent+, you can’t develop that. It also seems to coincide with what we call madness, so it appears to be a double edged sword. It seems to “consume” people. I can’t think of many sports examples, but there certainly have been some. Statistically, pre-meltdown, Tiger Woods was off the charts. Bobby Fischer, etc. Their (the geniuses) mastery re-writes or alters our understanding, I think.


Some have said senna was just on the edge of this level of genius. Consumed, obsessed, unreasonably so.

I think it was Martin Brundle or Ron Dennis that said it.


I could see that. Good example. Who else in driving could potentially be a genius? Fangio? Or, was the talent pool too small and not enough history to make that case?

Fangio is “El Maestro” for a reason, but really hard to compare eras and who had similar or dissimilar levels of “talent”. 50s Grand Prix racing was almost a totally different discipline to Senna’s era in the 80s and 90s. Fangio was certainly a master and one of the all-time greats, but hard to say if he was a genius or if he just had a little extra over his competitors in a time when the craft of driving was less understood and more intuitive rather than technical. Also balls… you had to have massive ones. Even up through the 90s you had guys like Mansell who probably was not a “complete” driver, but could brute force a car into submission and find success. Being so proficient at one skill could net you a lot of success, even just a couple decades ago. Modern drivers have to be technically sound in a bunch of factors; they need to be more complete than they did in the past to win.

Back on topic; I started racing and was almost immediately top 5 in my class of 20-30 at the local club, and then I won the club championship my first full year of racing. I thought I was the shit. But it turns out, I just had a little extra starting knowledge from growing up around racing and playing racing games to the point that I understood a few more things than my competitors and was able to do well. Once they caught up in their knowledge, I was no better or worse than anyone else I was racing with. So I had to teach myself how to be better through years of learning and testing and reading and getting my butt kicked and taking lessons from that.

I think there are naturally gifted drivers who have innate built-in feel for the vehicle and can really drive by the seat of their pants. And I think there are learned and trained drivers who need to work at it and think about it a lot to get to a good level. But at the end of the day, you need a bit of both to be great.


Fiendishly complex subject filled with personal biases and what not. Motorsport has another factor as well which is we’re an equipment based sport so that’s a curve-ball that makes it difficult to asses performance (as well as accessibility).

It’s worth noting hyper specialisation at a young age (and success) doesn’t necessarily equal success later on. Motorsport is tricky because lack of success might yield lack of investment, of which motorsport has the highest burden. So including it in this kind of meta analysis would probably not be helpful. however, interesting nonetheless

The finding on later starting age yielding better senior performance is very interesting.


Obviously there is genius, but I feel like what made those athletes above the rest was their work ethic. This ability to go above and beyond, and their unwavering motivation. But is it is off topic.

As for natural talent, I don’t think it exists, at least not when people are starting. Being able to pick up something fast or not (being a fast or slow learner) does not depend on talent imo. It depends on self-confidence

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I have no idea where I fall. But I have been told that if I worked half as hard as those I’m racing that I would be consistently further forward. Unfortunately I just lake the time to get in the seat. However in my first 2 years of karting I have set a track record and got a championship to my name. I still have a ton to learn. As I learned in karting you can’t just drive through bad setup.

But like many I have driven a wide variety of things over the years. I have been at race tracks since I was 6 weeks old and was put behind the wheel of things early in my life.

Unfortunately even being offered drives as a kid my family could not afford to keep me in a seat. Fast forward 30 years and I’m starting to take it pretty serious if not for any other reason but to get the background to help my kid succeed if he chooses to continue to pursue it.

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Yes. However, I submit that when something “clicks” intuitively for you, self-confidence is much more accessible. Talent creates confidence. The rest of us grind it out.

I didn’t answer David’s question but in the case of tennis, I was competitive from the get-go. With driving, since I am not particularity talented, I feel like it’s more like learning a language. The more I study (drive, think, play, absorb), the better I get. I’d say it took two years to get baseline competency and 6-7 years in, I’ve gotten to the point, that I feel like I can converse with the native speakers. I will never be great at this, but I have no doubt that I can be quite decent, if I continue to push myself and work at it relentlessly.

My achievable desire would be to be a mid-pack national racer. I think I could do that (if I had the venue in which to do that in a way that I could afford, but that’s a different story, and time is running short. I started driving at 44ish so that’s a huge limiting factor.)

Natural Talent is a real thing. Some people understand math, some people pick up sports quicker, some people have really good memorization. All these are “talents”. To many of the other comments here, if you want to turn these into something great, it also requires hard work, dedication, and some desire.

I will take a hard-working, motivated, kid with no “natural talent” over natural talent with no desire (Dom’s tennis skill :wink: ) any day.

Yup. Watching and nurturing someone who really wants something and who will do (and more importantly, does) anything to just see how far they can go must be an amazing thing. Even if that kid doesn’t have quite what it takes, what they learn, who they become must be an extraordinary journey for the coach as well.

the issue here is term ‘kid’. We know that early specialisation and excellence in junior sport doesn’t automatically equate to success in later life. Maybe the ‘hard working’ kid will burn out and get bored, while the ‘talented’ non-hard working kid might become obsessive later in life. The issue here is talent is so often tied in with young people and their performance and attitude, and we make life changing decisions based upon our own bias. I don’t offer a solution, just to say the discussion is fraught with complexity, and we all tend to make bold (almost cliché and I am the worst offender) statements about hard working drivers vs talented etc… that I don’t think necessarily hold enough water

Not sure where I read a recent article with Gerhard Berger. He was recounting his days when Senna was his team mate. Berger claimed to have as much natural talent but wasn’t nearly as focused as Senna and felt that was the difference. I don’t agree, though.

I may have not lined my statement in proper context. You do not need to offer a solution because there is no problem. My goal in working with any “kid” (or adult, for that matter) is to have fun doing a HOBBY that we all enjoy. If someone burns out or stops having fun, its that simple. On to a new hobby or something different. Odds tell me I am not going to run into the next future racing star.

I think that one can make a general statement that desire+work+commitment can allow a lesser talented driver to surpass or equal a natively talented but less motivated driver.

I’d also make the statement that someone who loves a thing is more likely to have a successful outcome, longer term (however you want to define that) than someone who is more talented but derives no real growth from their experience because they are fundamentally indifferent to it. It’s not all about podiums but also about where the journey takes you and what you learn about yourself, others, etc along the way. There’s gold to mine for everyone in the quest for mastery, regardless of ultimate “level”. Perhaps the untalented enthusiast derives more “value”(richer rewards) than the less motivated talented driver, perversely.

That assumes ones motivation stays constant and doesn’t change. I think the point I am trying to make is motivation is not a set thing, it can change, ebb and flow. Today’s dedicated kid, might be tomorrow’s burnt out adult. And today’s indifferent kid, might be tomorrow’s dedicated adult. We know that children who don’t specialise early probably have a better chance of success as an adult when they do decide to specialise. Depending on how you view things, the kid who is into a lot of things might appear, to some, as undedicated to any particular sport (when compared to hyper dedicated rivals), yet long term, the current consensus is, that they will be more likely to succeed.

The question I am asking here is that because talent is such an opaque weird term, does it have any use? It somehow means something to all of us, yet when we try to drill down on it, really what it reflects is our own biases. We feel like we all can see talent (I know I think I can… but alas I am no better than anyone else at spotting it), but can we? I dunno.

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as some have stated, i do believe there is natural talent, and it can be at varying levels. with racing, as long as you have good motor skills, and a little talent, you can develop into what others may consider a highly talented driver. I think where “talent” comes into the equation the most is just how fast one improves, once they focus on driving.

is it necessary for someone to have an over abundance of talent to succeed in racing? i don’t think so, especially when you look at the racing world. you have families that race for generations, and it’s highly unlikely they all have superior starting talent, they just grow up with racing, probably have good equipment and family racing knowledge, so they succeed. same with wealthy people. you put in the time, money, and effort, more than likely you’ll do pretty well, and people may ASSUME your success is largely due to talent.

i can also declare … there is definitely some natural NO talent out there, too, lol.


It does seem that it goes both ways. On the opposite end of the spectrum (innate incompetence) they even did a television show. Never saw it, but I imagine it was real in that the contestants were selected from nominations by exasperated family members:


One could argue that they are talented, and that they are as unique and special as the best drivers, just in the opposite way. They are probably as minute a part of the general population as the exceptional drivers. :sunglasses:

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There is no doubt natural talent exists in all forms of sports. In sports such as karting that only goes so far, the machine and financial backing, unfortunately, matter sometimes more than the athlete. Case in point, compare the winter and summer Olympics. In most summer Olympics disciplines the athlete matters much more than in the winter Olympics where the machine (skis, bobsled, skates, etc) is critical to success. The machine requires financial backing too, so talent alone can only take you so far.