By Alexa Shkuratova at the Miami Grand Prix

In the world of Formula 1, talent knows no borders, but opportunities sometimes do.

Sean Kelly spoke to the Cyprus Mail about the challenges and potential pathways for aspiring talents from countries like Cyprus and Greece.

He shares insights on the complex journey drivers from less represented countries face on their path to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Kelly is a renowned Formula 1 statistician with a career spanning over two decades in motorsport. In live F1 broadcasts, he provides leading TV channels with information sourced from his extensive knowledge.

One of the most formidable barriers to entering Formula 1 is financial. Kelly points out that motorsport, uniquely among global sports, allows for entry at the highest levels through substantial financial backing.

This reality creates a daunting challenge for talented drivers lacking the necessary resources. Kelly is candid about the financial realities of climbing the motorsport ladder. “If you’ve got two million euros a season to spend, you’ll get there,” he states, pointing out that financial backing is often a critical component of a driver’s journey to Formula 1. 

“Until you get to an F1 team, you must be paying the money so even in F2 you’re still paying seven figures a season which is insane. But once you get to F1, even if you don’t have a long F1 career you then can get other jobs in IndyCar and other motorsports and you will get paid in that role. It’s a long way to the top but once you get there then it might start to pay off”, he mentioned.

“80% of the job as a racing driver is putting money together. I’ve known so many drivers who quit and say that they’re sick of being on the phone raising money and that they want to drive. So if you have a Red Bull pick you up then it’s great but if you don’t – it’s a really difficult thing”, Kelly added.

“The barriers to entry are primarily financial, but there’s also a significant cultural obstacle for many,” Kelly explains.

A good example is the story of Zhou Guanyu, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber driver, who moved from China to the UK at a young age that demonstrates how he faced a substantial cultural shift and language barrier, when he had to learn English to be successful in his F1 career.

Yet, these are the challenges that Kelly believes can prepare drivers mentally, especially those from nations where English is not the first language. 

Despite the barriers, Kelly highlights the potential for success, drawing parallels with smaller nations that have produced celebrated drivers.

“There is no reason that Cyprus can’t have a big-time Formula 1 driver and there are small nations that produce great drivers like the Netherlands. If I said 10 years ago that a Dutch driver would be winning every race, you’d laugh at me.”

This statement, referring to Max Verstappen, the three-time F1 World Champion, shows how unpredictable motorsport can be, where talent and opportunities can lead to unexpected outcomes.

Another significant factor for an aspiring driver is access to motorsport infrastructure. If you are a Cyprus based driver aiming for F1 what you really need to do is move to another country with developed karting and other motorsport facilities. 

When discussing how motorsport can better support emerging talents from under-represented nations, Kelly stresses the shared responsibility between individual federations, the nations themselves, and the FIA.

This is where national federations, governments, and sponsors can play a pivotal role in supporting aspiring drivers, making the dream of racing in Formula 1 a more achievable reality.

A proposed Mediterranean Grand Prix has the potential to elevate the sport’s profile in regions like Greece and Cyprus. While the practicality of such a race hinges on significant financial commitments from host countries, it could serve as a catalyst for increasing interest and investment in motorsport within the region, potentially opening new doors for local talents. 

For nations like Cyprus and Greece, cultivating a Formula 1 driver is not just a dream but a potential reality, provided there is a concerted effort to identify, support, and promote young talents.

The path to Formula 1 is fraught with challenges, particularly for drivers from less represented countries.

However, Kelly’s insights show that with the right mix of talent, financial support, and strategic investment in motorsport infrastructure, overcoming these hurdles is possible.

As the global motorsport community continues to evolve, the dream of a more diverse and inclusive Formula 1 grid remains within reach, offering hope to aspiring drivers around the world including Cyprus and Greece.