Karting is the start of the motorsport ladder, and there are lots of options for racing after it. As the most affordable form of motorsport, it’s the best place for youngsters to start. However, you might be wondering what the next step is after karting.
There are several different steps a driver could take after karting, including Formula 4, sports cars, rally cars, or even professional sim racing. It all depends on which direction the driver wants to go, and how big their budget is following their time spent in karting.
Taking the first step out of karting can be very daunting for a driver, which is why you need to make sure that you’re going in the right direction. There are a few key factors to keep in mind if you’re moving on from karting to the next racing series, and we discuss this in more detail below.
What Do You Race After Go-Karts?
Karting often makes up the majority of a young driver’s career, especially if they start as young as most Formula 1 drivers start karting. The beauty of karting is that drivers can be anywhere between the age of four all the way up to fully grown adults, so most drivers spend several years racing in various karting series.
But where drivers go after karting is entirely up to them, and it also depends on their abilities. There are several different categories that drivers can choose from when moving on from karting. The list of options is endless, but the main paths are usually single seaters, sports cars, rallying, or sim racing.
Within each of these categories there are lots of different series around the world that a driver could enter, from Formula 4 to junior rallycross. The most important factor that will determine where a driver goes is their budget. It’s also one of the main reasons why many drivers can’t get out of karting!
Unfortunately, modern motorsport is all about money. You can race almost anywhere you like as long as you can pay for it. Your bank account often has more influence than your on-track experience, which is why we see some of the best motorsport talents get left behind in junior racing series.
Can You Go From Karting To F3?
It’s possible to go from karting straight into Formula 3, just like Max Verstappen did. For many years, this was the next logical step after karting because there was no Formula 4 series and Formula Renault and Formula Ford were overcrowded with young drivers.
You might not be able to land a seat in the FIA Formula 3 series that races alongside Formula 1, but there are plenty of other Formula 3 series that you could join. British Formula 3 is one of the most popular and most competitive Formula 3 series in the world, but it can be just as difficult to get into as the F3 you might watch before an F1 race on a Sunday afternoon.
Once again, the budget of the driver will play a crucial role in landing a Formula 3 seat. There is a massive step up in the budget required to race in Formula 3 compared to karting, and that is something that drivers need to be aware of early in their careers. While karting can cost up to $10,000 or more per racing season, Formula 3 can cost in excess of $400,000 per season.
With so much money required to get into Formula 3, it can be extremely difficult. Oftentimes sponsors want to see more than a few karting wins before they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a driver going to Formula 3, so it’s important that you have the experience and results to back up your entry into a Formula 3 series.
The Problem With Going To F3 Too Early
While going from karting straight into Formula 3 worked out great for Max Verstappen, it is a risky move for a young driver. It’s a big step to take since the cars are bigger and faster, traveling between races is more intense, and the competition is some of the toughest in the world.
If you go into Formula 3 too early, there is a good chance that you won’t be ready for how tough the series is, and you could end up giving yourself a bad name. If you’re always at the back of the grid, finishing last, or crashing all the time, you could become the driver that no one wants to take onboard or sponsor.
KEY TIP: If you’re planning on going from karting to Formula 3, make sure you’re 100% ready for the move!
The Path From Karting To Formula 1
The path from karting to Formula 1 is long and expensive. It’s estimated that drivers need to spend at least $10 million from the very start of their career all the way into Formula 1. It’s a ridiculous amount of money, but unfortunately that is how the motorsport ladder works.
The best step out of karting is Formula 4, but the more traditional route of Formula Ford or Formula Renault could also work well. The driver will likely need at least two seasons in a single seater car before progressing further, as there is a steep learning curve when moving from karting.
Once you have adapted to cars, you need to quickly make your way through the ranks, winning as many races and titles along the way as you possibly can. After Formula 4, you need to get into Formula 3. The aim is to race in FIA Formula 3, but you could use the other Formula 3 series to feed into the main series eventually.
The final step before Formula 1 is Formula 2. This series is extremely expensive and competitive. The best drivers in the world with the biggest budgets tend to end up in this series, so it’s a critical part of a driver’s career. Drivers can usually only spend about three seasons in Formula 2 at most before giving up on their hopes of reaching Formula 1 (or running out of money).
KEY POINTS• The next step after karting tends to be junior single seater racing
• While karting is expensive, these series cost exorbitant amounts of money per season
• Many karting drivers dream of reaching F1, but the path is a very long and very expensive one
How To Know When It’s Time To Move On From Karting
Karting is a great sport that teaches young drivers all the basics they need to know about motorsport. Understanding when it’s time to take the next step is extremely difficult. As we mentioned before, the most important thing you need to keep in mind is your budget as it’s the main thing that will hold you back.
Money aside though, you need to make sure that you have some achievements under your belt and that you have learned as much as you can learn from karting. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert or a World Champion, but you need to have some solid driving experience before you take the next step.
Get Experience As Part Of A Team
Every driver should work as part of a team for at least a few races before they move onto cars. Having a mechanic that you need to answer to and other team members supporting you will give you a better idea of what to expect when you move on from karting, as it’ll be exclusively team racing from then on. It’ll also help to teach you new things about the sport from someone else’s perspective.
If you’ve won a few races or championships, have a good feel for kart setup, and you’re usually fighting at the front of the pack, it’s a good time to start exploring your options in terms of car racing. Remember, cars are not the same as karts, and you might find that drivers who are slow in karts are much faster in cars!
4 Top Tips To Move From Karting Into Racing Cars
1. Establish Your Budget
The first thing you need to do is to establish a budget. It’s not the most exciting thing you could do before making your switch into cars, but it’s the most important one! You need to keep all of the additional costs in mind, because you want to be sure that you can finish the season rather than having to drop out halfway through.
Keep in mind that you will need to pay for your race seat, your flights and accommodation, and new racing gear that is suited to cars as opposed to karting. Everything is more expensive, so it’s key to budget for everything you’ll need before you start.
Make sure that you allocate additional funds for testing time. Preseason testing is crucial, and you need as much track time as possible to adjust to the new car and to get to know your team. Unfortunately, you’ll need to pay for every test session you do, so make sure you can afford to do a decent amount of testing before the season starts.
Drivers often struggle to hit the ground running when they switch over from karts to cars because they haven’t done enough pre-season testing. If you have the budget for it, you need to get as much time in the seat as you possibly can, so that you know what to expect the first time you hit the track for a proper session.
2. Learn As Much As You Can
Many drivers make the switch from karting to cars thinking that they’re the next Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen. Having confidence is a great trait, but you don’t know everything! There’s always more to learn, and going into cars with this mindset can help you out a lot more than thinking that you’ll just drive the wheels off the car once you get in.
The reality is that no driver knows everything. Even F1 drivers are still learning something new every time they get into their cars. Your goal should be to learn as much as possible right from day one. Junior motorsport is a learning experience – you’re just using much bigger and much more expensive machines than you used in karting!
From watching onboard videos to analyzing telemetry or even hiring a coach, you should never underestimate the power that comes with constantly learning and improving yourself. If you keep this mindset throughout your career, you’ll be more likely to see success in motorsport.
3. Train Harder
Karting is an extremely physical sport that takes a toll on your body. However, drivers’ bodies quickly adjust to the G-forces and tough conditions that they are put under, which means that we become “race fit.” At karting level, regular fitness and strength training isn’t crucial because the races aren’t that long and the G-forces aren’t extreme.
However, once you move into cars you’ll notice a big difference in the toll that driving takes on your body. You’ll specifically feel the muscles in your neck struggling to keep up with the forces that are pushing against them, as you’ll be going much faster than you do in a kart. All of your muscles will be fighting in the tougher conditions that they are put under.
The only way to overcome these tough conditions is by training harder. If you haven’t been training at all, now is a good time to start! Strength training and cardio exercises are key before you make the switch over to cars. You need to make sure that your body is ready for the change in conditions that you’re going to experience.
Another commonly overlooked element of moving from karts to cars is the driver’s diet. The food that you eat is the fuel that your body uses to perform. You wouldn’t use dirty petrol to fuel your race car, right? So, why would you use a poor diet to fuel your body, which is what is supposed to steer the car to victory?
4. Focus On The Present
Every young driver has the dream of making it to Formula 1 one day. However, looking too far ahead takes your focus off the present. While you might only just be getting into cars for the first time, it’s crucial that you try to stop yourself from daydreaming about the future too much, because it distracts you from where you currently are.
As a driver, you need to focus on winning races, even if it’s at a junior level. You might have successfully made the step up from karting into cars, but Formula 1 is still a long way away, so make sure you’re focused on where you are and winning the races that you’re participating in now.
There are tons of young drivers who have started a season in cars but are already thinking about the next step in their career. Drivers can often get carried away thinking about the future of their career when they need to focus on improving their results or finding another sponsor first. Focus on getting results in the present, and you’ll put yourself in a better position for the future.
Drivers can go in any direction after karting as long as they have the budget required to pay for a season of racing. The logical next step after karting is Formula 4, or an equivalent series like Formula Ford or Formula Renault. Drivers can also choose to go in a different direction such as rally, sports cars, or even competitive sim racing, depending on their career interests.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.