In the Formula One paddock, everyone has a story. There are those who were born into the sport, and those who ran away to join the circus rather later in life. The paddock is comprised of former ballerinas, weight-lifters, musicians, historians… It takes all sorts, and they all have a story to tell.
It is a given, these days, that any racing driver will have started to hone his craft in early childhood, karting from a very young age. And while Caterham reserve driver Robin Frijns is not unusual in that respect, the young Dutch racer was hardly born into a motor-racing dynasty.
“First of all, my family is not into racing whatsoever,” Frijns tells Crash.net
in an exclusive interview in the Bahrain paddock. “Of course, my parents are helping me the best they can, and I'm pleased to have such parents, but they like football, not racing. My parents have become interested in racing now, because they have a son who's involved. They know the world now, but before they might watch a Formula One race but they weren't really into it.”
So how did a kid with no background in motorsport find himself behind the wheel of a kart for the first time? “The story began when my dad helped out a friend who bought three Porsches for a race team in Belgium,” Frijns explained. “I was about five or six years old, so I couldn't be at home alone. I went with my parents to watch the racing, and that's where it all started.
“I remember that when I was six, the team organised a sponsor day, and they went indoor karting. I wanted to compete with them, but I was only six so I wasn't allowed. My dad told me that we would come back the next weekend and I could have a go then. We went back, and I sat in the kart, and I basically never got out of it.”
Frijns' Sr.'s approach to his son's racing career was to treat the enterprise as a series of light-hearted competitions, creating challenges but eliminating the pressure.
“My first win was in indoor karting,” Frijns recalled. “I won a championship when I was seven years old. I started karting when I was six, and my dad entered me in a local competition. Every Sunday you had to drive and the best time won. I didn't know I was competing – I was six years old, and I just drove the kart and had fun. I enjoyed myself.
“Somewhere in the middle of the season, I was second or third in the championship and my dad told me 'if you win the championship this year, I promise to get you an outdoor kart'. I won the championship, got the outdoor kart, and that's how it started. Every single step was made with small bets with my dad. It made it fun.”
In the years since, Frijns experienced a meteoric rise through the junior categories that quickly established the young Dutchman as one to watch. He dominated the 2.0 and 3.5-litre Formula Renault championships, winning both in his rookie season. In 2012 Frijns tested for both Red Bull and Sauber at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test, but a 2013 reserve role with Sauber didn't lead to any track time during a grand prix weekend.
Frijns' immediate goal is to do his best at Caterham, impressing with his feedback and in his Friday morning outings with the team, with the view to securing a full-time F1 race seat as quickly as possible.
But that's only to be expected from a racing driver in his position. What about life after F1?
“What I'd do after the sport?,” he echoes. “I'd like to travel. To see all those things you're supposed to see before you die. It's always good to see new stuff, to explore the world. I don't have any idea what I'd like to do when I retire, though. I'd still be involved in racing, but I don't think as a manager or anything. I'd still want to drive cars.”