The Mark Webber-backed teenager who hopes to become the first F1 Kiwi since the mid-Eighties. Simon Arron spoke to him
Blink and you might have missed Mike Thackwell’s Formula 1 career. Despite the rich promise of his youth, the 1984 European F2 champion started only a couple of world championship Grands Prix – and the second of those, Canada 1984, was the last in which a New Zealander graced the sport’s top table. For a country buoyed by the exploits of Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme, the drought has been long. There are many, though, who believe a remedy is nigh.
Auckland-born Mitch Evans was one of the younger drivers in the 2013 GP2 Series – he turned 19 last June – but he doesn’t lack for experience. “New Zealand is quite flexible when it comes to giving youngsters a competition licence,” he says, “and I did a couple of Formula Vee events aged 13…”
He’d served a solid karting apprenticeship by then, supported by his racer father Owen – long-time holder of New Zealand’s land-speed record. “Dad put me in a kart when I was four,” Mitch says. “I was miles off the pace, but absolutely loved it. He then bought a kart for my sixth birthday and things went from there.”
They went pretty well, too.
“After some success in karts,” he says, “I had a choice between pursuing a racing career or playing rugby league, at which I was pretty good back then. I played for Auckland representative teams, but opted for motor racing.”
After that Formula Vee flirtation, he switched full-time to cars in 2008, finishing second in the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, second in the 2009 Australian Formula Ford series, second again in Australian F3 (2010) and then scooping the following season’s Toyota Racing Series, during the course of which he won the New Zealand GP at Manfeild… aged just 16. The runner-up? The not-much-older Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso’s new F1 recruit.
While competing on the 2009 Australian GP support programme, Evans had a chance meeting with Mark Webber. “He gave me a tour of the Red Bull garage,” Evans says, “and for me that was huge – I was 14 and had always followed Mark’s career, because it seemed unusual to have somebody from our part of the world in F1. I subsequently tried to get in touch, to thank him for his time, but didn’t know how! Fortunately, though, I had a really good season and Mark contacted me. He and his partner Ann Neal wanted to give me some help. They began mentoring me in 2010 and started managing my career the following year.”
He now rents a house at the end of Webber’s drive and the two frequently train together. “Mark has become a bit of a big brother over the past couple of years,” Evans says, “and he’s been able to give me all sorts of useful advice, which is great. He’s given me a bit of financial help, too, and I also have a few Kiwi sponsors, including the Giltrap family [Kiwi businessman Sir Colin Giltrap is a well-known motor sport benefactor].”
Evans made his European debut in 2011, racing for MW Arden [co-owned by Webber] in GP3, and instantly established himself as a front-runner. He led the championship for a while, but a string of misfortunes stifled his challenge in the season’s second half. Staying put, he lifted the title in 2012 and remained with Arden for the step up to GP2. In his first season he notched up podium finishes – and might have won at Silverstone, until he was penalised when an electronic glitch caused him to break the pit speed limit.
“If we can stitch together another budget,” he says, “the plan is to do a second year in GP2, challenge for the title and see where that takes me. I’m not going to get to F1 by buying a drive, that’s for sure, so it’s down to me to prove I deserve a chance…”
Career in brief
Born: 24/6/1994, Auckland, New Zealand
2008-09: 2nd, NZ Formula Ford
2009: 2nd, Australian Formula Ford
2010: 2nd, Australian F3
2011: 1st, Toyota Racing Series; 9th, GP3 Series
2012: 1st, GP3 Series
2013: GP2 Series