Adam Carroll: 'I could've run Lewis to the championship'


He beat F1 champions, was praised by Bernie and tipped by many for greatness - where did it all go wrong for Adam Carroll?

CARROLL Adam (gbr) Porsche 911 RSR team Gulf racing ambiance portrait during the 2016 Le Mans 24 hours test day, on June 5 at Le Mans circuit, France - Photo Jean Michel Le Meur / DPPI

Adam Carroll has won almost everywhere he's gone - but few not 'in the know' are aware of him

Jean Michel Le Meur / DPPI

As a career catalogue of near-misses go, there are few to match Adam Carroll’s.

He outpaced Formula 1 champions, left Indianapolis and Le Mans winners floundering in his wake and was cited by Bernie Ecclestone as the most exciting driver he’d seen in “ten years”.

Somehow though, it never seemed to go right. Although he’s highly thought of by many within motor sport, few in the wider world have even heard of Carroll.

The Northern Irishman is an embodiment of the underrated underdog: forever on the verge of greatness that somehow seemed just out of reach.

“I managed a professional racing career running on a Formula Renault budget.”

Carroll has always seemed to be up against it with his equipment from the moment that he and his father fired-up his first go-kart for a baptism run.

“My dad didn’t have a clue!” he remembers. “He could start it but that’s about as far as it went. We destroyed the clutch, blew the engine and had to buy a new one the first day!”

Things got a lot better from there, but despite almost instantaneous success on the national karting scene, what was to be a recurring theme in his career hit home for the first time: money – or rather, lack of it.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 30: Adam Carroll of Great Britain and Super Nova in the GP2 race during the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on July 30, 2005 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Carroll immediately forged a reputation as a thrilling racer in GP2

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

“Some people think I tell porkies about the amount sums involved in junior motorsport, but it costs hundreds of thousands just to do GP2” Carroll says. “Believe it or not, I managed a professional racing career running on just a Formula Renault budget.”

In his early days however, even a Formula Renault-sized wallet was a fanciful notion for Carroll. In a more left-field move, he quit karting and resolved to go straight to la source: the Elf Filière racing scholarship.

The prize included a year’s racing instruction at the Renault racing campus along with a season in the French Formula Renault series.

“I was 15, and can remember thinking ‘This is probably my last real go’”

For the first but definitely not the last time, Carroll’s career was on the line.

“I was 15 and can remember thinking, ‘This is probably my last real go,’” he says.

Judged by, amongst others, touring car ace Andy Priaulx, the teenage Carroll slalomed his way through Silverstone cone courses and skid pans to win the scholarship ahead of 68 others, and was soon packed off to Le Mans.

The year in France went well but, come the end of it, his burgeoning vocation was almost in jeopardy once again – this time due to a public road accident.

“We’d been getting round on these scooters,” he says. “A woman pulled out on me and I had absolutely nowhere to go. I cleared her Peugeot 106, took the dust off its roof!”

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A resulting shoulder injury meant Carroll came back whilst injured for the French Formula Renault finals but still impressed, eventually finding his way, via Formula Ford, to British F3.

He dominated the ‘Scholarship’ B-Class in his first year, before returning in 2004 to claim runner-up spot to the far better funded Nelson Piquet Jr.

The Ulsterman would place above future Indy 500 winner Will Power, 2016/17 Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi and recently announced Peugeot Hypercar driver James Rossiter.

Once more though, it seemed like Carroll had hit a career cul-de-sac. With nothing on the table for 2005, he was surprised to get a last-minute call from the Super Nova team — he was their back-up choice to run in the inaugural GP2 season.

Carroll had also been trying his hand with even faster machinery.

“I’d been signed [as a test driver] for BAR-Honda at that stage, and had already done my first F1 test at the end of 2004 – which was an eye opener!

“Those cars were V10s, 960bhp, 605kg – they made GP2 cars feel like Formula Ford, that’s how much further ahead they were. They were violent machines – it was unbelievable.”

He wasn’t cowed though. Yet again, Carroll had batted away drivers who are now household names.


Brought into BAR by Dave Richards, his boss’s departure spelled the end in F1 for Carroll too


“It was another shoot-out to get the seat. Nico Rosberg was one of them, Heikki Kovalainen, Alex Premat, Piquet – some serious young talent.”

Unfortunately, it was almost over before it started.

“That BAR young driver programme had a lot of traction, but things changed when Dave Richards left,” he comments. “New management came in and certain programmes aren’t other people’s babies.

Carroll might still have been forgiven for thinking he was now technically a ‘Formula 1 driver’. However, he says the reality was far from this.

“You probably allow yourself to dream a bit too much, because there’s a fence between you and Formula 1,” he comments.

“You might as well actually be on Mars – it’s that far away. You need everything else in place.”

He eventually left the Honda F1 team in 2006, sensing which way the wind was blowing, but in the meantime his GP2 career had got going.

The last minute call from Super Nova left little preparation time. No preseason testing? No problem – he still arrived in GP2 with a bang.

A solid fifth on his debut at Imola in the feature race was followed by a famous win in the sprint, providing a defining moment of GP2’s early years.

Piling the pressure on leader Alex Premat for numerous laps, Carroll managed to scare the Frenchman off the road whilst he himself oversteered through the Variante Bassa chicane, the back end of his black Super Nova stepping out as he sailed on to victory.

The Ulsterman’s all-action style that year had not gone unnoticed.

“We also went from 22nd to second twice,” Carroll remembers. “Bernie Ecclestone said to me ‘I’ve had more enjoyment watching you in the last year than I have had in the last ten years of Formula 1.’”

“Bernie said to me ‘I’ve had more enjoyment watching you than I have had in the last ten years’”

Ultimately a season that was good (he finished fifth) but could have been better, turned out to be the GP2 highlight. The next few years would only bring struggle.

His performances merited a top seat, but as usual…

“Teams needed almost a full budget. I was offered the top drives. iSport offered me the seat that Timo Glock won the championship with.

“They offered it to us pretty much cost price – banking on us winning the championship, using the prize money to make up the difference.”


Carroll rubbed shoulders with Hamilton – when his car allowed it


Still Carroll couldn’t even afford that, and with his chance gone he found himself filling in for part seasons with ever more lugubrious GP2 efforts.

Without wishing to blame outside forces, Carrol knows where the problem lay.

“I genuinely could have run Lewis for the championship”

“It’s all about your equipment. If I’d had that in GP2, I genuinely could have run Lewis [Hamilton] for the championship in 2006. We have very similar driving styles.

“We were right there at certain races, but we just couldn’t do it every weekend – there was set-up change problems, technical failures…”

He finally made a break with the series in 2008 by joining the short-lived A1 GP ‘World Cup of Motorsport’, competing with Team Ireland. It proved to be the short-term shot in the arm his career needed.

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After a learning year in 2008, he hit the ground running in 2009.

“Those Lola-Zyteks [in 2008] were interesting and took a bit of getting used to – they had bits on them from 1993!” Carroll remembers, not fondly.

“But the 2009 ‘Powered by Ferrari’ car, once I drove that, it was just like a glove for me.

“Amazing grip, the actual chassis was really nice, big Michelins and 630bhp.”

Run by a group of old F1 hands and led by former Jordan man Mark Gallagher, the all-Irish outfit meant business too. With car and team both pointing in his direction, Carroll felt right at home.

“It was a group of guys who were so hungry to win – you’re talking borderline mental, they were very, very aggressive. If they were a rugby team you wouldn’t want to play them: 6ft 4in with personalities to match.”

A hard-fought season ended with Carroll crossing the Brands Hatch finish line to win the A1GP title to jubilant scenes, the first time an Irish team had won an international racing championship.

As team boss Gallagher said about Carroll and team: “It’s the result he’s deserved for years. It’s taken us so long because we were saving up for the bar bill!”

Carroll had finally become a world champion, and Team Ireland looked to take this momentum into F1. Could it finally happen?

“I’ve been told twice in my career that I had a Formula 1 seat,” he says.

Ireland's A1GP racing driver Adam Carroll (2-R) celebrates with his chief mechanic after winning the A1GP world cup at Brands Hatch circuit on May 3, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry (Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images)

A1 GP finally brought title Carroll’s talent merited

SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images

“When Lola had the tender in for one of the new teams [in 2010], my name was on one of those cars along with Takuma Sato.

“Knowing people from Team Ireland, there was Martin Birrane, Mark Gallagher was going to cross over – people that make things happen.”

Lola were ultimately denied entry to the championship, but Carroll persevered.

“Then there was Virgin F1. I knew John Booth and the guys who were involved.”

“I was able to pick up the phone and say ‘John, would you be interested in me?’ The answer was ‘Absolutely, Adam.’

“Unfortunately, the reality kicked in with the commercial side. Di Grassi came up with the budget and got the seat.”

It wasn’t over for him in elite single-seaters though. A certain Michael Andretti was running his son Marco’s Team USA in A1GP, and had been impressed by the Ulsterman’s barnstorming performances.

“Marco raced against us in A1GP and Michael would come to see me on weekends. It was quite an easy conversation to have: ‘What about IndyCar?’”

Fast forward a few months and Carroll found himself on the grid at Watkins Glen driving for Andretti Autosport. Not only that, but he qualified an impressive 10th, besting three of his four team-mates: Indy 500 winners Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Raey, plus open-wheel golden girl Danica Patrick.

“We started beside Justin Wilson, with Scott Dixon in front of me. The guys were around me that were proper established IndyCar drivers,” he says.

Despite fading to 16th in the race, Andretti was impressed. It was all systems go: Adam Carroll in IndyCar 2011.

“I was there being a part of the Andretti team at the Indy 500, watching and learning as much as I could,” Carroll recalls. “We were all pushing towards the full-time IndyCar car seat for 2011.

“Then, in the end, the budget was $1.5m dollars short. So that was it for me in IndyCar, it was over. It was just frustrating.”

With that latest crushing blow, it looked like Carroll was out of single-seaters for good. He picked up GT rides over the next few years in British GT and the European Le Mans Series, before a new door opened: Formula E.

Adrian Campos, bless his soul, always thought of me when he or someone needed a drive. When Mahindra needed a reserve driver, he called me up and said ‘Are you coming to Argentina this weekend?’

LEXINGTON, OH - AUGUST 07: Adam Carroll of Northern Ireland drives the #27 AFS Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda during practice for the IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 on August 7, 2010 in Lexington, Ohio. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Carroll impressed in IndyCar, but budget wasn’t sufficient

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

“So I got on the plane to Buenos Aires, and actually realised I actually knew a lot of people in the FE pitlane. I heard Jaguar were coming in, so I got talking to them, and they signed me up for 2015.”

Was this Carroll’s big moment? Eased out of BAR-Honda, unable to take up F1 drive offers, foiled by failed budgets with Andretti, it seemed like all that pain might finally be behind him – all the toil was worth it.

“I thought: ‘Ok! Formula E with a major manufacturer, this is more like it!’

Somehow it all seemed to play out to a familiar tune. Whilst the big cat promised much, it delivered very little.

“It’s obviously very high level, it’s pretty intense. The technical side of it is very, very complex,” says Carroll.

“I really hoped I’d get a good few seasons – then I would’ve been happy”

“So just getting the car to run and perform properly, wasn’t that easy to do.

“Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for me. I’ve never gone into the details why, and I’m not going to now. It was just unfortunate.”

Being let go by Jaguar left a particularly bitter taste for the Northern Irishman.

“The harder side of that was I’d really put everything into Formula E, because I really hoped that over the next five years or so, I’d get a good few seasons at a high-level championship,” he says.

“Then I would’ve been genuinely been happy to say ‘Right, ok, I’ve had a good run at it, I can be content with that.’

HONG KONG - OCTOBER 09: In this handout photo provided by Jaguar Racing, Adam Carroll of Great Britain driving the (47) Panasonic Jaguar Racing car during the Hong Kong ePrix, first round of the 2016/17 FIA Formula E Series on October 9, 2016 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic/Jaguar Racing via Getty Images)

Jaguar FE drive promised much, delivered little

Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic/Jaguar Racing via Getty Images

“I’d also given up other regular drives in WEC and GT to concentrate on Jaguar. Picking them up again and just getting back in was pretty much impossible. So you’re back to square one again.”

As has been the defining characteristic of his career though, Carroll has simply not given up. He kept his eye in with GT cars, eventually winning the Ferrari Challenge World Final in 2019 at Mugello.

For 2021 he’s taken on a mentoring role with the Greystone GT squad, helping to develop team-mate Mark Hopton, who has stepped up from Greystone-run track days. The pair will share a GT4 McLaren in the GT Cup.

“With my experience I can help them as much as possible and make a difference,” he says.

“The group of people that are in Greystone, it’s just really impressive – proper racers. Where will the team go in the future? GT3 maybe – there’s so many avenues.

“The reality is, if you’re paid to drive a racing car for your skill set, you’re in a small bracket of people in the world that actually are in that position.”

Not only that, he’s also back in…Formula E. Carroll’s paddock contacts in the have come calling once more, and he’s now the reserve driver for the NIO FE team, set to race at Diriyah this weekend.

He’s one of the few who can claim to have mixed it with and beaten the best. Does he look on the current F1 field and ‘I could’ve done that’?

“No, I don’t think like that, I try to…good and bad…we’ve all got a PhD in hindsight,” he hesitantly reflects. “Throughout your whole career, the best intentions are always there, we were trying our best, we just should never have chased just F1 so hard, we should have gone off and done something else.

“There were some very bad decisions made. You need the right people around you, you need the right management, you need people who understand the business.”

Still, despite all those up and downs, in a career that’s breadth could be matched by few, not much has changed for Carroll.

“I’ll just keep doing what I was always doing. I’ll give it absolutely everything, and we’ll see what happens in the future.”

Forever the underdog, but still fighting.