At the age of twenty two, Filipino-Swiss driver Marlon Stockinger is on the cusp of something great: he is the closest to a Formula One seat any driver from the Philippines has ever been before.
Just how much more does he have to go and do before we see a Philippine flag on the F1 grid?
Marlon began his racing career in karting with Birel Philippines (now AUTS Racing) and had his first taste of international racing at the Junior Rotax Max World Finals in Spain in 2004. He went on to win his first major title was the Asian Karting Open Championship in 2006 and first gained the international spotlight when he won a GP3 sprint race in Monaco in 2012. He is currently competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 of the World Series by Renault (WSR) as part of the program.
During a recent selection process, Stockinger earned his place seven young drivers in the Lotus F1 Junior Team; a driver development program that aims to find future drivers for the pinnacle of motorsport. Under the program supported by the Lotus F1 Team, drivers will be trained in the areas of driving skills, physical fitness, health education, nutrition, mental development, social development, business ethics, principles and public relations.
On with the show
Just last weekened, the roads around Quirino Grandstand and SM Mall of Asia resonated with the sound of a Formula One 2.4 liter V8 engine on full chat.
Dubbed the Manila Speedshow, the Lotus F1 Team Philippine Road Show was officially flagged off at Kilometer Zero infront of Rizal Park and was held at the historic Quirino Grandstand, the start and finish of the First Manila Grand Prix; and SM Mall of Asia.
Lotus F1 Team CEO Patrick Louis, Team Principal Eric Boullier, and Test Driver Davide Valsecchi were present for the Lotus F1 Road Show. The team also flew in two R30 cars updated with Lotus F1 livery, a Lola Chassis two-seater demo car complete with race engineers and equipment. And to top it all off, veteran F1 journalist and former Wiliams F1 Team Manager Peter Windsor was also one of the event hosts.
Stockinger drove the Lotus F1 car on Manila streets for Filipinos to experience seeing and hearing an actual Formula One car running. The event was supported by a motorcycle stunt show by the KTM stunt riding team, karting exhibition, drift exhibition and sports car parades.
On Formula One
We asked Marlon Stockinger a couple of questions about the sport he is aiming to get into.
Brent: How different is it to drive an F1 car compared to the previous formulae?
Marlon: Biggest difference is how fast everything happens in a Formula One car. The engine and the car is so finely tuned and customized for speed. The amount of grip and downforce as well as the power the car is capable of is beyond words. The controls can also very intimidating. There's just so many buttons on the steering wheels where you can make so many adjustments to the car. The g-forces are also a lot stronger as you pull about 4 to 5 g's in an F1 car. There are just so many differences and the experience is just so much more exhilarating that I do hope to get a seat someday.
Brent: Which Formula One driver do you look forward to racing with?
MS: Kimi Raikkonen
Brent: How fast were you able to go with the car at Mall of Asia?
MS: I was able to take it up to 260 km/h on sixth gear according to the engineers. It was really an awesome experience to drive for Filipinos to see and experience F1 in the Philippines.
The Business of Speed
All the glitz and glamour of racing does come at a price... a hefty one.
There is a lot of money involved in motorsport, as racing has evolved into an international business venture in order for it to become sustainable. Genii Capital, the owner of the Lotus F1 Team, touts their Genii Business Exchange platform to interlink team partners to form new business partnerships which offers an attractive sponsorship proposal for would be investors. The recent roadshow held in Manila -to be blunt- is both a business proposition and a motorsport exhibition.
"Formula One creates emotion all over the world. It’s like an embassy on wheels," said Martin Reiss, Business Development Head of the Lotus F1 Team.
The business component is yet to be seen, but Marlon definitely needs the financial support from capitalists or the government to advance to the next level. The roadshow was also an avenue to invite new Filipino fans to motorsport and particularly F1. If anything, it seems to have succeeded to some extent as Stockinger does indeed need fans to support and cheer him on; no racing driver gets by on talent alone.
More fans means more bankability. More bankability means more sponsorship money. More sponsorship money means more doors opened... and more seats available.
Stockinger is following in the footsteps of two late Filipino open-wheel racing greats. One is Dodjie Laurel, the back-to-back Macau Grand Prix champion in 1962 and 1963. The other is the Jovy Marcelo, the Filipino driver who beat the great Jimmy Vasser to become the 1991 Toyota Atlantics Champion and was already set to move up to the 1992 Indianapolis 500, but like Laurel, fate had other plans.
"Marlon's chances of getting into F1 are extremely good," said Peter Windsor, a veteran F1 journalist and fomer Team Manager.
While Stockinger is on the right track to Formula One, there is still a long way to go. One visionary scribe said that Marlon might be able to take the fast track and jump straight to F1 with the right sponsorship. Well, if F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton had to go through GP2, shouldn't Marlon?
There was even talk of Marlon being in the same Formula Renault 3.5 Series now that current triple F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel competed in before being picked up right away for an F1 seat. There's a big difference: Vettel was leading the championship at the time. Stockinger is currently in 20th place in the standings with 0 points after 4 races.
The idea of a Filipino F1 driver on the grid is a dream that is truly closer now, more than ever. With the right sponsors, the right timing and great results, perhaps that can truly become a reality.