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Ferrari target Asia in search of new F1 driver

The first driver academy programme of its kind for the Asia Pacific/Oceania region has been announced, as Ferrari and Motorsport Australia (MA) establish their partnership. The academy programme is to be based at the Sydney Motorsport Park due to the prospect of finding an Asian Formula One driver to be beneficial for Ferrari and motorsport in general.

Asia have produced multiple talented drivers such as, Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, Alex Yoong from Malaysia and Rio Haryanto from Indonesia, for instance. However, an Asian driver have yet to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari car. Director of motorsport and commercial operations at MA, Michael Smith, has told SportBusiness, “We see this as a development opportunity for the region’s best young drivers to get a head start in their motorsport careers. As the FIA affiliate in Australia, MA has a responsibility to promote the sport locally and give young drivers the opportunity to further their talents and build what will hopefully become a lengthy career in motorsport.”

The academy will be able to attract drivers domestically, around Australia, and the surrounding areas in the North, East and Southeast of Asia, in addition to the Indian subcontinent, making drivers in those areas eligible to get involved with the project.

Smith continues with, “We are still finalising details on how potential entrants will qualify/audition for a place at the academy but there will be a registration process that will include working with the relevant accredited national sporting authorities in our region to identify emerging talent,”

“This process may also include online interviews with the relevant academy staff prior to the program beginning in Sydney.”

The programme is geared to the penultimate test, which takes place in Italy at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, between the best two drivers from the programme to battle it out, amongst other drivers across from Ferrari’s academy. All competing to claim a seat in the European Formula 4 Championship.

Young, aspiring, Formula One drivers often start out driving go-karts, but Motorsport can be deemed to be the most expensive sport to enter, as costs can increase drastically when drivers progress through the levels once their driving ability improves. According to Smith, MA would be working with the FDA “to ensure the costs of participation are kept to a minimum. Like other sports in Australia, we are hopeful there will be some government funding allocated to the programme to help our region’s best prospects show their skills, which will of course help subsidise the cost.”

MA agreed to a one-year deal with Ferrari to create the FDA programme. As part of the agreement, MA will provide hardware for the programme, such as simulators and a fleet of Formula 4 vehicles. Smith has said, “The MA Centre of Excellence which will house the FDA will cost AUS$6.4million (€3.9million/US$4.3million) to construct,”

“However, during the most recent Australian election campaign, the NSW State Government committed to an AUS$33million upgrade to Sydney Motorsport Park,” Smith adds.

The deal between MA and Ferrari will enable the facility to be used for other motorsport purposes. With a prolific background of training drivers for Grand Prix’s in Singapore, Korea, Russia and Vietnam, as well as providing training programmes for international motorsport drivers, MA have a strong background in international training.

The Asian market is deemed to be prosperous, as sales of Ferrari road cars is thriving. In attempt to boost sales in China, Ferrari launched a temporary pop-up store to promote their new car “F8 Tributo” last year. The Asian market can be an influential mechanism, commercially, for Ferrari, as the Italian manufacturer became a publicly traded company on the NYSE in October 2015. If Ferrari are able to unlock impressive and competitive talent, it will only cement what the Italian giants already know about business in the area.

Considering, Asian sports stars attract millions of fans from the region to follow the sport and contribute to an increase in sales, there seems no reason why Ferrari should not invest into the area. According to Forbes, Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka has been named as one of the world’s highest-paid female athletes, earning US$37.4m in 2019 from endorsements and prizemoney.

If Ferrari are able to break into the Asian market along with a competitive Asian driver, they could be a force to be reckoned with.

Author: James Parker