Firstly, the headline is merely a play on the famous advertising slogan for a certain Danish beer brand (alternative option: “If Carlsberg did… young driver development”) and we’re not suggesting any nation’s structured driver development programme is the quantifiable best, nor attempting to rank them! However, read on to discover some of the grassroots reasons why we believe the Danes are able to consistently produce a steady stream of top level drivers across multiple disciplines in the sport.
Frederik Vesti (photo: Macau Photo Agency)
For a country of 5.82 million people, you could argue that the Kingdom of Denmark is punching above its weight in terms of producing elite racing drivers. Currently, Danish drivers are active across the top levels of single seater racing, via Christian Lundgaard and Mercedes AMG junior Frederik Vesti; and until recently Kevin Magnussen representing in F1. However it’s the depth of Danes across all areas of top flight motorsport that really impresses, with strong representation in endurance racing particularly notable (following in the footsteps of ‘Mr. Le Mans’ himself, Tom Kristensen). With a host of young talents waiting in the wings at junior level, the future is looking bright for this Nordic nation.
With a big karting culture for such a small country, there are a host of indoor and outdoor kart circuits across Denmark’s three main land masses (right from the northern town of Thy to the capital, Copenhagen) allowing young drivers to get their first experience of racing. Drivers that show talent in karting then have the opportunity to progress into the national single seater championship, Formula 4 Denmark. Introduced in 2017 as one of the FIA-certified national F4 locations, the Danish series was a real boost for talented youngsters; who now had a domestic series to learn their craft. The organisers chose to pair the popular Mygale M14-F4 chassis with a Renault engine and Pirelli tyres.
Even though it is no longer an FIA accredited series due to a few initial seasons of small grid sizes, Danish F4 is still very much run as the countries’ national junior championship; with the associated professionalism and resources from competing teams that you’d see in any other region. However, budgets are significantly lower, reflecting the fact that the series does not command the international prestige and worldwide media attention of some of it's European rivals. This therefore makes the Danish series a slightly off the radar option for those racers who perhaps don’t have the financial backing for the more well-known national programmes across Europe, but who still want to compete with an FIA-level standardisation of safety, equipment, and race weekend format. Drivers will often plan to spend one year in Denmark where they can learn the basics of the Mygale chassis and develop their race craft, before moving on to a second season in a bigger championship such as ADAC, Italian or British F4.
Photo: Frederik Bonde Nielsen
Short, technical circuits in Denmark encourage drivers to get to grips with the intricacies of the Mygale car, particularly with regard to suspension/damper adjustment; and mean they enter their second season with a good grasp of the basics when progressing to longer circuits. Crucially, the age limit for the series is also one year lower at fourteen years old, meaning that it offers drivers who want to ‘fast-track’ their career (or those who have reached the financial limit of what they can do in kart racing) the chance to begin accruing single seater experience a year earlier than some of their peers. As previously mentioned, because the Danish series doesn't command the same kind of media attention as some of it's bigger European equivalents, this can actually be a benefit in providing a lower pressure environment for drivers to learn and make mistakes, free of the expectation for instant results which may be attracted if they were racing elsewhere.
Another key element of success in young drivers progressing through the sport in Denmark is their access to well-organised teams and structured driver development programmes right from entry level. Through a program called Racing for Denmark, DASU (the Danish equivalent of the MSA) collaborates with Team Danmark on an elite programme which all participating Danish drivers have access to. This incorporates guidance and support with physical fitness, media training, and sport psychology. It’s the open nature of this programme that reaps benefits… as opposed to a small cohort of drivers being selected for the elite program every year, all have the opportunity to access from the start of their junior motorsport careers. The promotion team running the Danish races are also keen to give drivers the opportunity to develop their media skills, with video interviews conducted after every weekend session, often in both Danish and English. These are of course all elements of the overall package required to succeed in the sport, and contribute to drivers being able to move on to bigger championships elsewhere in Europe or internationally with many of the base skills already established in their domestic series at home.
Conrad Laursen (photo: Renault F4 Denmark)
Conrad Laursen won the 2020 Danish F4 championship amid difficult circumstances, competing in a drastically shortened season where there was much uncertainty about when (and where) the final round would take place. Despite this, he took the challenge in his stride and scored consistently in every race from the beginning of the season; particularly impressive given this was his first experience of car racing, with limited testing, after a successful Danish junior karting career. In 2021, Conrad will race in the Italian F4 series with PREMA racing, a second year move typical of many drivers who choose to learn their craft in the relatively low cost environment of Danish racing, in a two-year plan to progress and excel in one of Europe’s ‘premier’ series in their second/sophomore year. We spoke to Conrad and asked him about what lessons he had taken away from his truncated championship season in Denmark last year.
“My biggest challenge was learning the way the car worked. Like if we used less or more wing, what would that do, and so forth. Learning how to start in a formula car was also one of the biggest things to learn, which is obviously something that you don’t get to do in karting.
Racing in formula cars is also quite a bit different than karting. Here you have a big car compared to your little car, so you have to become very aware of where the edges are of your wings and the wheels, and look after the car a bit more. I enjoyed racing in Danish F4 a lot. Even though it was not really a normal season with COVID, of course I was in my home country which made the experience a little better. I learned a lot for this year and it feels good to be going to Italian F4 with some experience of the car, so my goal is of course to win the championship. That is what I am fighting for!”
“It definitely helped me that I had already driven a lot of Formula 4 before moving to PREMA and before the coming season in general. Even though they are two different cars and engines (the Italian series uses the Tatuus/Abarth combo), it is still the same way to drive the car. You removed just a few hours from the time when you normally had to get to know the car because you already knew it from home; so I was ready and had the confidence to push right from the start in my first test with the team.”
Another graduate of Danish Formula 4 who is currently impressing on the international stage is the 2019 champion Malthe Jakobsen. After his championship season in Denmark, Malthe went on to represent his nation at the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games in Rome, before securing an LMP3 drive with RLR Motorsport. At the age of only seventeen, Jakobsen has already achieved multiple front row qualifying performances and podium placings in the competitive ELMS field, and has been marked as one of the future stars to watch in endurance racing. He is a big advocate of the Danish series in how it prepared him for the leap into international sports car racing at such a young age.
Photo: Frederik Bonde Nielsen
"Formula 4 DK is the class where I drove the first two seasons of my motorsport career. I chose Danish Formula 4 rather than abroad because it was possible to get there for reasonable money, and at the same time I got a lot of driving time on some small technical tracks, which I think is really useful the first few seasons of one's career.
And then the Danish series is the only one where you can start as a 14-year-old, which I also used in the 2018 season. It was a really steep learning curve, but I learned a huge amount about driving single seaters, and in 2019 I won the championship. I felt well placed to continue my career on the foreign courses as soon as I made the step up to sports car racing."
Following a 2020 season which attracted much attention due to the participation of the talented Japanese driver Juju Noda, this season Danish F4 will have another interesting mix of home grown talented youngsters and international participants. Emerson Fittipaldi Jr. was announced earlier this season to much media attention, and taking part in a testing programme and selected rounds (once he’s reached the age limit of fourteen years old later this year) will be Mexican karting talent Jesse Carrasquedo Jr. Among the Danish drivers the returning William Wulf will be one to watch, now racing with front running team FSP Racing after building experience in a family-run car last season, where he took his first race win.
Photo: Jokum Tord Larsen
The new season begins this weekend (April 24/25) at Padborg Park. Series promoter Alex Stubberup Frederichsen said,
“It is fun that in Danish Formula 4 we can attract talent from abroad. Our small, technical tracks combined with the low age limit make it possible to learn a lot before the career goes on to the major championships - and for the Danish drivers, the chance to race with our international competitors gives them a good opportunity to learn even more on the track.”
Want to join the talented alumni of drivers who started their motorsport journey in Danish F4, and access a low-budget route to progressing your single seater career? We have part or full season drives available via front-running team FSP Racing, and a selection of packages available which can include testing and all travel/accommodation costs; just turn up with your race kit! For more information, see the dedicated section of the website here.
EDIT: The opening round has now been postponed to 15/16 May due to a continuation of Danish COVID restrictions regarding sporting events and mass gatherings.