Edwards Warrants Two-Page Spread in Autosport

Monday, February 14, 2005 … F1 someday?

The February 10 issue of Autosport features a story (screenshot below) on John Edwards, a standard bearer for the proven system that all of us — especially you, the racer — are proud to be part of.

Below the screenshot is the text of the article (much thanks to Dr. Michael Edwards, whom we guess is related in some manner to John…)

If you’ve got 13-year-old eyes, you can probably read this. If not, the text is below.


He’s the 13-year-old kid whose golden touch in a Formula 3 car has earned him a shot at Formula 1. In less than a year John Edwards has gone from fresh-faced licence holder to America’s youngest-evercar race winner, before becoming the latest Red Bull scholar, clinching his chance after impressing at the wheel of an F3 car around Estoril. But before F1- or even F3 for that matter- he must take several steps back into the ultra-competitive world of karting. This season he will be racing with the factory CRG Kart Team — the squad that ran Michael Schumacher and Alex Zanardi to success in their formative years — in the Italian Championship, a series that is regarded as the toughest in the world.

The goal is as big as Edwards is small: he wants to be America’s first F1 world champion since Mario Andretti, and with Red Bull’s backing and guidance, he might just make it. “It’s an incredible opportunity,”says Edwards, who has packed up his belongings from his family home in Little Rock, Arkansas, and set up shop in Italy with his mother. “I didn’t want to leave my dad and sister behind, but it’s what I have to do. Right now the goal is F1, and I’m determined to do everything possible to achieve that.”

If he manages to achieve his goal, that F3 test in Portugal in October 2004 is going to go down in history. Just to get there Edwards had to stand out from the original 1900 applicants to the Red Bull Driver Search competition, set up with the specific aim of producing an American F1star, and excel during a series of mental and physical tests held in Austria. And all of this before he had even got an opportunity to show what he can do behind the wheel.

By this stage, John’s rivals were 16-year-old Jonathan Summerton [also a Skip Barber pilot] and Wade van Hooser, 15. Both racers had age and experience in their favour. Edwards, who had never driven anything more technical than a Skip Barber R/T 2000, recalls: “I wasn’t expecting anything, as I was sure being 13 would count against me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be eligible to drive the F3 car, so I was delighted just to have been invited to a former grand prix venue to drive some cars.”

One of the judges on the day, and Red Bull’s prime motorsport advisor, Dr Helmut Marko, takes up the story. “During the physical and mental tests, John had already stood out as being mature for his age and possessed of a determination to succeed. At Estoril I watched him in the F3 car and then gave him some tips on lines and things. What stood out was that he was able to put these things into practice straight away, improving his lap times.”

Now the pressure begins. Last month he had his first race for CRG and struggled on an unfamiliar kart in torrential conditions. Up against drivers with years of experience in the series and hundreds of days of testing behind them, Edwards was dealt a harsh lesson in just how steep his learning curve was going to be this season.

“It’s tough, but I’m here to learn and learning takes time,” he says. “When it started to rain I was out there on a new type of kart. It was like learning to drive all over again, except I had to do it in qualifying. It required an entirely different driving style to anything I have done before, but that’s the point — even on a bad weekend I come away wiser.”

The goal is to throw himself into karting this year — on the day of this interview he has turned up at the track, just to watch other, more experienced racers to see if he can learn anything — before starting a Formula BMW test programme, ready for an assault on the ADAC German Championship when he turns 15 in March, 2006.

Marko denies this is asking too much too soon of such a young racer, or that the financial and promotional clout of Red Bull exposes the youngster to undue pressure. He concedes, however, that selecting Edwards represents a shift in policy for the three-year-old scholarship programme, but when it has enjoyed only limited success to date — the exception being Formula Renault Eurocup and German champion Scott Speed [yes, another Skip Barber alimnus] — the opportunity to guide a career from the ground up could be the mostsensible step yet.

“I had never seen a 13-year old in an F3 car before, but it was clear that he was anything but a passenger in it, “says Marko. “He was the only one of the guys we tested with the potential to become a champion — and that has always been the Red Bull programme’s goal, to produce champions. So there’s been no shift in policy, it’s just that the series for older drivers, such as Formula Atlantic and American BMW, only have 15-car grids and so they are not producing the sort of talent that we were looking for.”

Edwards, meanwhile, is just lapping up every chance that comes his way. By day, he is karting, watching karting or talking about karting. By night, and at weekends, he is studying a special internet-based course devised for him by his Arkansas High School. It’s a hectic schedule, made that much harder to bear because of the comparatively chilly European winter. Even so, he couldn’t be happier.

“You know, from the day my dad took me to see the Indianapolis Grand Prix — I was 9 — I have followed F1,” says Edwards. “It’s pretty crazy, because I know so much more than my friends about it, but I love it. I know it’s a cut-throat sport, but with my opportunity I am just going to go full-on for it. Maybe later on, if that doesn’t workout, I’ll look at racing in other series, but for now it’s my goal and Red Bull’s goal.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself — I’m not even thinking about testing the Formula BMW car just yet — but it’s good to have a goal. A lot of people ask about the pressure, but it’s there when I race, whether I’m a scholar or paying my way. I just want to make the best of every opportunity, whatever it is that comes my way.”

Rick Roso

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