Jann Mardenborough, the boy racer who moved into motor sport after winning a nationwide Playstation tournament, will take a big step towards his ultimate dream by making his debut in Formula 1 feeder series GP3 this year.
The former GT Academy winner announced today that he has signed with the championship winning Arden International team in a series that shadows the F1 circuit through its European stages. The breakthrough will mean Mardenborough can show off his talents to the big bosses of Ferrari and McLaren while current constructor champions Red Bull, home of four-time F1 champion Sebastien Vettel, have also asked Mardenborough to join their driver development programme.
Speaking to The Independent having just returned from New Zealand, where he finished second in the Toyota Racing Series with three wins and seven podiums from 15 races, the 22-year-old spoke of his delight at joining Arden, whose team principal is also the Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner.
“I first tested the GP3 car back in November and really liked it,” said Mardenborough. “The team is very experienced with guys like Julian and Andy Rouse who have raced themselves and know what drivers are going through on the track. Everyone’s very focused on what they’re doing.”
Prior to competing in New Zealand, the Darlington-born driver, now living in Cardiff, had been competing in Formula 3. To give an idea of the jump he is making, he will now be sitting in a GP3 car that has double the horsepower of his previous single-seater engine.
F1 2014 car launch - The era of the 'anteaters'
F1 2014 car launch - The era of the 'anteaters'
1/17 McLaren - MP4-29
The Woking-based outfit launched their MP4-29 on January 24, with drivers Jenson Button and rookie Kevin Magnussen joined by reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. However, the main talking point was the absence of team principal Martin Whitmarsh following the return of Ron Dennis
2/17 Williams - FW35
Williams were the first to unveil their car, albeit a computer-generated design. The real thing is yet to roll out of the garage at Jerez, with some last minute adjustments holding up its debut. Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa joins the team to try and return them to the top of the sport, and he will partner Valteri Bottas who is retained from last season
3/17 Ferrari - F14T
The Italian manufacturers have pushed Red Bull hard in the past few years, but they hope the F14T will finally surpass their rivals and give either Fernando Alonso or the returning Kimi Raikkonen another World Championship to add to their collection
4/17 Ferrari - F14T
Raikkonen gets reacquainted with the Ferrari cockpit after a four-year absence from the prancing horse, but...
5/17 Ferrari - F14T
His joy is short lived as he becomes the first to suffer from unreliability as his car stops on track, requiring a lift back to the pit lane. He certainly won't be the last though
6/17 Sauber - C33-Ferrari
Sauber have followed the 'anteater' nose design for 2014, and hope for a more successful year than last with Adrian Sutil joining Esteban Gutierrez at the wheel
7/17 Lotus E22
Lotus launched their 2014 challenger, the E22, on the same day as team principal Eric Boullier left the team, with Gerard Lopez replacing him at the helm. With Romain Grosjean now the team leader, many will be watching how he and livewire Pastor Maldonado get on this year. Thta's if they turn up, as their absence from Jerez doesn't bode well
8/17 Mercedes - W05sup
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton unveil the Mercedes W05sup at Jerez, which thankfully avoids the 'anteater' nose
9/17 Mercedes - W05sup
Many are tipping Hamilton and Rosberg to take the fight to Red Bull this year with the W05sup undoubtedly one of the nicer looking cars on this season's grid, but will it be as fast?
10/17 Red Bull - RB10
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are going for a record-equalling fifth straight drivers' and constructors' championship. They have also avoided the 'anteater' nose, and rival Mercedes for the best looking car of the year award. Is there anything Red Bull don't want to win? Daniel Ricciardo makes the step-up from Toro Rosso to replace the now absent Mark Webber
11/17 Toro Rosso - STR9
Toro Rosso's design sure isn't pretty, but they have taken a step into the unknown with rookie 19-year-old Daniil Kvyat. The Russian impressed in practice towards the end of last season, but how will he get on against his more experienced team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne?
12/17 Toro Rosso - STR9
The 'anteater' nose of the Toro Rosso SRT9, likened to a sex toy by lingerie makers Ann Summers
13/17 Force India - VJM07
The ever-impressive Nico Hulkenburg returns to the team he left at the end of 2012 having missed out on a seat at Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren. The German will have a point to prove once more, but he'll have a difficult enough time to beat team-mate Sergio Perez first
14/17 Caterham - CT04
After a short delay which saw their early morning unveiling cancelled, Caterham eventually rolled out their CT04 in the afternoon, with another rookie in Marcus Ericsson at the wheel, while the returning Kamui Kobayashi took the picture
15/17 Williams - FW36
Williams finally got their FW36 running after a delay on day one of testing at Jerez, with Valteri Bottas taking to the track
16/17 Marussia - MR03
Two days later than scheduled, Max Chilton eventually left the garage in the Marussia MR03 for its first run at Jerez
17/17 Marussia - MR03
Chilton brings the car back in after completing an installation lap
Since its inaugural year in 2010, three drivers have gone on to compete, or are competing in Formula 1, including former champions Esteban Gutiérrez and Valtteri Bottas for Sauber and Williams respectively, and Jean-Éric Vergne for Toro Rosso. Mardenborough, who has come a long way in a short space of time since winning the 2011 GT Academy, descibes it as “a perfect shop window” for getting people’s attention.
“GP3 has a big reach on TV as well, it’s watched by people all over the world,” he said. “I want to be challenging for the podiums and improving every single race. I’ve got the right team behind me and will be listening to them all the time. I feel ready for GP3. Formula 3 has taught me so many things, both in the car and out of the car, both mentally and physically. It was a great stage in my development and I’m sure the skills I’ve learnt there will help me in GP3 and beyond.”
In the last two seasons Mardenborough has competed and excelled in a variety of vehicles: from GT cars, Le Mans Prototypes to single-seaters. His podium finish at Le Mans in 2013 came two years to the day after he reached the final stages of the Nissan-sponsored GT Academy in 2011. He is now joining a team with a championship winning pedigree with a proven track record of sending drivers into Formula 1.
Russian racer Daniil Kyvat, who won the GP3 title with Arden last year, will be the fourth from the series to make his F1 debut, aged just 19, racing for Toro Rosso when the season begins in Melbourne next month. Former three-time Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert, who has been a mentor to Mardenborough since 2011, said his time to breakthrough is now.
“When you have a chance you have to grab it by the horns,” the ex-Benetton driver told the Independent. “That’s where you stand out. Jann’s 22 now, so he’s at that age where you feel if he is going to make it all the way to Formula 1, something has to happen soon. I don’t see Jann having any problem moving up to GP3 from Formula 3 though - and it is a massive jump - because you can see from his Le Mans performances that he has the sheer speed. He impressed a lot of people there.
“Now he has the chance to do the same in front of the F1 world. He has the Formula 3 experience and racing the Toyota Series in New Zealand will stand him in good stead. Jann has to really dig his heels in and give it all.”
Mardenborough, whose father Steve was a professional footballer for lower-league clubs, has a background far removed from Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton’s, whose parents were able to spend the vast sums of money needed to support the future stars through karting tournaments - the traditional route for F1 champions. Instead, Mardenborough has become the poster boy for all those who believe excelling at a computer game can one day result in a professional racing contact.
Herbert said: “I have been mightily impressed with what Jann has achieved since winning GT Academy. For someone with Jann’s experience doing so well is very rare to see. Last year he raced in the European F3 series which is hell of a tough challenge during your first season; the fact that it was Jann’s first season in any kind of single-seaters is incredible.
“Whilst he has had a very successful first year in GT racing and he has now got an amazing result at Le Mans 24 Hours under his belt, he is competing against drivers that have grown up with seasons of karting and single-seater experience behind them. The only question that remains unanswered is ‘Can a gamer make it all the way to F1?’”