Having only taken part in the BRDC British F3 rounds at Snetterton this year, British racer Harry Webb has been struggling to find sponsors and raise the funds to compete further in 2018. Overtake sat down to speak with the talented racer on his funding woes and the struggles young drivers face on the path to Formula 1…
With ever-increasing budgets in F1 and even established teams such as Force India struggling to find the cash flow to keep up with the sport’s monetary demands, it’s no secret that motorsport is an expensive game. If it’s tough at the top, it’s even hard on your way there. Talented young racer Harry Webb of Chris Dittmann Racing is one of many young drivers finding it hard on the way up the motorsport ladder.
Struggling for funds this year, the Norfolk lad has only competed at his home circuit at Snetterton in rounds seven, eight and nine for the BRDC British F3 2018 season.
The F3 desk sat down with Webb to find out how his quest for funds is going and the challenges motorsport throws up.
I started by asking the reasons behind the funding issues and his views on being a young person in motorsport.
“I think that racing has got to a bit of a funny stage, and I think karting has as well,” Webb began. “I don’t personally think that there’s as much help as there used to be either; it’s harder to get sponsorship”. Webb explained that most people he knew through the sport have struggled, too. He told us that some have even had to self-sponsor and raise their own funds but this has proven to be difficult. Otherwise, young drivers are having to rely on the friends-of-friends approach and hope that through their personal connections, they are able to secure funding through large companies.
Despite his success in the karting world, Webb described his jump to single seaters as “a nightmare”. He told us that throughout the last four years, finances have prevented him from being able to compete regularly at a national level. Webb has numerous karting achievements under his belt, most notably winning the Rotax Karting Championships no less than five times between 2012 and 2014. However, his talent can only take him so far. “Unfortunately, my family hasn’t got mega money just to go racing with.” This will no doubt resonate with young drivers up and down every grid in every category. “I’ve had a lot of deals proposed to me [which is great] but at the end of the day [sponsors still require the drivers to contribute large amounts of their own money] to go racing.”
Despite doing well in F4 last year for Richardson Racing, Webb was up against it. “I thought it went really well considering what we were up against… we had no data to go against, never knew the tracks, didn’t know the car, never went testing at all…” The young Brit took this upbeat attitude into F3 with Chris Dittmann Racing. “I’ve always been quite friendly with [Chris Dittman Racing]. I got to Snetterton – which is great because it’s my local track. We literally turned up at the weekend and we were fourth fastest, fifth fastest and we’d done no testing at all, where everyone else had done 20-30 days.”
Despite a stellar performance at Snetterton, qualifying fifth and then narrowly missing out on the podium in races one and three, the lack of testing and the lack of money for testing is something the CDR man thinks shows. “At the start of the year, [some drivers] have done 30 days testing [because] they have got the money to spend – that isn’t fair on someone who’s done two days.” It’s obvious that those drivers who can’t afford to have as many days in testing won’t be as used to the car or the track as their counterparts. The problem isn’t exclusive to Webb and he laments that he, like many others in a similar position, may well have the talent but not the opportunity to follow it through.
The road to F1 is not just about being fast. Drivers have to have a good support network and at British F3, the country’s top level single seater category, having a good back room team can make all the difference. Championship leader Linus Lundqvist has set up his own company, LL Motorsport AB, to attract sponsors and investment, whilst Championship challenger Nicolai Kjaergaard is currently with Infinity Sport Management. I asked Webb if he felt good management was an advantage. “[My manager] has always done his best for me but we couldn’t find a good sponsorship deal to go racing,” he explained. “He’s done [that role] for pretty much most of his life and he tried for three years to find something and he could barely find anything unfortunately. I just think maybe he didn’t have the right contacts, got through to the right people, but he worked hard for me and that’s all I can ask for.”
It’s clear to see it’s a frustrating situation for Webb. “I have raced for ten years and obviously I don’t want to stop but I’ve got to a point now where we’ve done as much as we can,” he shrugged. Having tested fastest in wet conditions with CDR at the beginning of the year, Webb told us that it’s disappointing when there is not enough money left to race. “It’s hard you when you put in that work and that performance and you can’t even race. You try not to get your hopes up but it does get to you.”
It makes for a depressing read, but Webb knows his situation is not unique. I’m sure you can sympathise with him. Imagine having a dream, working hard, and getting results only to be told you can’t do it because it’s too expensive. It must be a very hard pill to swallow. How can British motorsport remain relevant and have the ability to encourage the next generation of Lewis Hamiltons if most people are priced out at this stage?
Looking at sponsorship in more detail, I wondered what was required in order to achieve that racing dream… is it a case of finding one backer? Or several backers? Webb gave us his insights into what is needed and the difficulties of finding the right sponsor to fit…
“It can be difficult to get sponsors to give you their money because at the end of the day, why should they? Getting them tickets to race weekends [for example] – is it really going to make their money back?” Looking specifically at British Formula 3, Webb told us “I think that’s what [sponsors] look at….is it really worth it? Unless you’re on TV constantly in the British Touring Cars, or something like that, it’s probably not worth it. You don’t get a lot of air time with F3.” That makes perfect sense – at the moment, TV highlights for F3 are aired a week after the event. Which seems strange, but with money being so important, should we be grateful we have highlights at all?
Webb also explained that it’s not unusual for drivers to make up their budget from lots of different pots depending on what suits the sponsor’s end goals. “Some branding obviously doesn’t suit certain race meetings; some sponsorship would be suited to British GT – a bit of a higher market – compared to touring cars which is a bit different racing, different paddock, that’s just how it is.”
But how much does progress comes down to money? Is there a degree of luck involved? Looking at the likes of Max Verstappen, we discussed whether some F1 drivers have got to where they are today because of money, a family connection to racing, or plain old luck?
“I raced against [Verstappen] in 2013,” Webb began. “I think it was in seniors, and I beat him, and I was the only person to beat him that year. But in my eyes, he is the full package – the right age, everything is perfect for him. I think he knew when he was karting where he was going; I think everyone knew that. There are lot of drivers out there as quick, but they haven’t got the money. Or they’ve got a lot of money but they need a lot of work. I think that’s why some people don’t quite make it – because they haven’t got the package. [Verstappen] had the complete package to go and do it properly.”
Leading on, I wondered if Webb felt whether, money aside, there’s still an opportunity for genuinely talented people to come up through the ranks.
“I think there is and there isn’t,” Webb stated. “Obviously there are scholarships and bits and bobs like that… [young drivers] could probably afford to do karting at a national level but they couldn’t afford to do it at a European level, which is where you need be.”
Unsurprisingly, driving at a European level comes at a cost, but Webb was positive about his progress to date. “I would never say that I didn’t want to do what I’ve done because I loved every minute of it and I would do it again.” However, he said that despite dreaming about pushing further, he has to be realistic. “Unfortunately, you’ll always get to a point if you haven’t got the money, where you have to say to yourself: can you really afford to do it anymore? Can you even get a seat?”
It’s clear to see that Webb has the talent and the drive to push all the way, but it seems a recurring theme with motorsport that money and privilege is driving out the real fans. Although Webb doesn’t begrudge those more fortunate to make their way in the sport, it’s clear to see the frustration when you know you have the talent but you just don’t have the wallet…
The end of the F3 season is fast approaching and it seems unlikely Webb will race again this year, but – as ever with motorsport – you never know what’s around the corner. The F3 desk would love to see Webb racing in a full season. And hopefully, 2019 will be his year.
For more information on Harry Webb, please visit http://www.harrywebb.co.uk/
For more information on Chris Dittmann Racing, please visit http://www.chrisdittmannracing.co.uk/
You can also follow these links to speak to Harry Webb if you have any sponsorship opportunities.
Transcribed and edited by Sara Page.