Irish Daily Star - Inside Sport
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
Formula One in Dunne’s sights
ZIPPED up, strapped in and raring to go, sitting anxiously in the passenger seat of a purring race car ready to launch onto the track…then come the words to really test your mettle: “Are you a nervous passenger?”
Not bad for an opening gambit, and certainly one to make you question your recent life choices.
Behind the wheel is Irish racing prodigy Alex Dunne, the 16-year- old Offaly native hoping to take his fledgling motorsport career all the way to Formula One.
The son of former Irish racer Noel Dunne, Alex has made great strides in recent years to graduate from karting to cars, and is now hoping to secure a seat in next season’s F3 championship after taking the F4 grade by storm.
It’s a breeding ground that has produced top talent for the F1 ranks, with current global stars such as McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpine’s Oscar Piastri having come up through the same format.
And that’s where Alex sees himself, going shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s best in the glamour-filled world of Formula One, giving the Drive to Survive crew a new angle to explore in Ireland.
“In five years I want to be in Formula One,” he says calmly as we barrel our way through a tight chicane. “There’s nothing confirmed for what we’re doing next year yet. I’d like to do F3 and then what I do the year after that is dependent on what I do there.
“If you look at somebody like Oscar Piastri, for example, the main thing is you do two years in F4 because it’s the first championship you’ll do in cars and then everything else after that is one year.
“So one year in F3, one year in F2, and then obviously depending on how well you do you go to Formula One. I’d say th at’s a pretty r ealistic time-frame.”
Alex has ripped it up this season in the British F4 series, dominating the division to build up a 99-point championship lead over Carlin Racing’s Oliver Gray. His 11 wins so far will se him crowned champion at tomor
‘I’m in the gym four or five times a week, there’s no rest... but I sleep well!’
row’s season finale at Brands Hatch.
Alex won’t be there, however, to savour his moment of glory. Conflicting schedules means he is involved in a race in the Italian F4 championship at Monza.
Such is the life of a race- car driver. Going from track to track doesn’t leave a lot of time to tick all the boxes to make sure he is best-prepared for the next test of physical endurance.
“There’s no rest,” he explains as he throttles around a hairpin turn as the wheels flirt with the asphalt, leaving this reporter’s face sliding down the passenger seat window.
“It’s an everyday thing, whether you’re in the gym preparing or, I do a lot of Sim-training as well as preparation, so you’re always doing something to prepare.
“I do a lot of body training. I’m in the gym four or five times a week doing body-weight training, strength training, a lot of cardio as well to make sure I’m good and fit and strong. “The car is quite physical — F1 for example, Pouhon, which is a quick corner at Spa, the car is pulling six and-a-half Gs, so it’s very, very tough on your neck and your core.
“F4 it’s not too bad, but F3 and F2 get a lot harder.
The rule as a racing driver is if you’re driving F4 you need to be physically ready for F3; if you’re driving F3, you need to be physically prepared for F2.
“But I don’t really mind, I like doing everything — and I sleep well!”
Alex has been following his dad Noel around since he was a toddler, getting familiarised with the fullthrottle lifestyle.
It’s this early exposure to the world of motorsport that Alex credits with fuelling his current obsession with going all the way to the top.
“When I was young, around four or five, my dad raced all around Ireland and the UK,” reveals Alex, now safely back on terra firma. “I always went to the races with him. My mom worked here (Mondello) as well.
“So I always went around to the race tracks with them — motorsport was a family thing. I was always there supporting my dad. I remember a couple of the kids who I was friendly with at the track, they were karting as well, and I asked my dad if he would let me try it and he said yeah.
“The first time I ever drove a car was when I was eight, and I started racing when I was nine. Then I kept on begging him ‘can
I go again, can I go again’ and eventual ly we started racing.”
It’s this family involvement that is propelling Alex’s rise to stardom, with his dad lending his racing expertise and assuming the role of manager and mentor.
Many of the drivers Alex is competing against come fully armed with a financial kitty, but as a private enterprise, the Dunnes have to do things differently.
“It depends on what level you’re at,” says Alex. “For me, it’s not really a hobby anymore, this is a career path to potentially be my job.
“It’s definitely very expensive — the level we’re at, there’s a couple of people who are racing against me who have already spent millions.
“We don’t have the millions to spend. We’ve always gotten deals, due to my ability and my talent. Teams wanted me at the time for being pretty good.”
Noel is also unfazed by his son’s meteoric rise and potential for the future.
“Basically at this stage, with his ability, I’m confident that he has a career in motorsport,” says Noel, who admits he now often takes a backseat in terms of race preparation.
“I’m there really to support him, to make sure he delivers 100 per cent, and then make sure he understands how to get 100 per cent out of the team.
“I don’t really need to ( give race advice) anymore but to get us to this point I used to speak to everyone, make sure the engineers were working hard, making sure he’s taking in all the information properly, that he understands the data.
“It’s just making sure he understands all the assets he has and how to move them forward.”