Danica: I don't want F1 - I want to have fun!

In a revealing and engaging interview, IndyCar's cover girl Danica Patrick recalls her early period of racing in Britain - Ford Granada and all - and explains why she likely won't ever return...

Cover girl, swimsuit model, a woman in what is very much a man's world - oh, and IndyCar Series race-winner too - Danica Patrick has revealed in an engaging interview that she has no intention of moving across the Pond to join the F1 circus, reasoning that 'something that's very important to me is having fun'.

For all that she is now a leading name on the US scene, Patrick actually learned the majority of her craft in the UK alongside a group of fellow drivers she refers to as the F1 'brat pack', after relocating from Illinois to Milton Keynes at the age of only 16 as a hugely promising karting ace.

Three years on British shores saw the fast lady from Wisconsin progress through Formula Vauxhall and Formula Ford - with a second place in the 2000 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch - and whilst she and reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button never actually raced wheel-to-wheel, Patrick knew the McLaren-Mercedes star and his team-mate and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton on a social basis.

One factor that she appreciated rather less in Britain, however, was what she perceived as the ingrained sexism in motor racing, worse than in her homeland even with the likes of former NASCAR hero Kyle Petty cruelly describing her on air as 'just a marketing machine' more interested in looking good than racing well.

"I wasn't going to be a go-kart driver forever," the 28-year-old told The Times. "As soon I was old enough to race cars, I took it to the next level. I was told that I could learn more in a year in the UK than I could in five years in the United States. I met Lewis Hamilton at Jenson's 21st birthday party, by which time Jenson was already an F1 driver. We were a brat pack of friends, him and a few other drivers. Button's a nice guy - I was happy to see him win last year.

"It felt much more old-school over there [in Britain], though. Women still cooked and cleaned. I feel the women's movement happened a little faster over here (in America). I remember I was the quickest one day in practice, and one of the team owners I drove for couldn't believe it. To the male drivers he was like, 'She's the quickest - what are you doing? Get out there, go!' as if it wasn't okay to be slower than me. He would tell his wife to fetch him beers.

"It was a downer trading in the [Ford] Mustang I owned in the States for a FIAT Punto in England, too - although I could get it up to 108mph with the wing mirrors tucked in! Then I had a Vauxhall Vectra and an awful 20-year-old brown [Ford] Granada. [Now] I drive an ML 63 AMG - it's the sportiest SUV Mercedes has. It's a very fast car, really quick and very comfortable. It handles really well.

"I have a Lamborghini as well, but I don't drive it. I have to go slower over speed bumps and avoid certain roads because of potholes or dips. There's nowhere to put my drink because there's no cup-holder - and, I'm not going to lie, it looks pretentious. I used to think it was cool to drive a Lamborghini to dinner. Now? No. Like I really need to be looked at anymore? Like I really need people to stare at me?"

Patrick is used to being stared at, as IndyCar's omnipresent poster girl, and she reflects that the bikini photoshoots, TV drama appearances and music video cameos is all part of the game - "I'm having fun with the media exposure; I'm taking opportunities where they make sense and where they portray a part of my personality," she explains - as the worlds of high-octane, danger-fuelled racing and glamour are never far apart from one another.

Moreover, it seems the Beloit native's extra-curricular activities have far from taken her eye away from the ball on the racetrack, as she became open-wheel racing's first-ever female winner at Twin Ring Motegi in early 2008, finished a superb third in the iconic Indianapolis 500 last year and has not finished outside of the top ten in the points standings since 2005, her maiden campaign of IRL competition.

As she looks ahead to the 2010 edition of the Indy 500 later this month, Patrick concedes that her focus right now is firmly fixed on her dual IndyCar and NASCAR commitments and that she has little interest in becoming only the sixth female driver in F1 history and first since 1992 by switching disciplines - and in any case, she well recognises that her bubbly, effusive, frank and forthright nature is somewhat at odds with the PC-friendly, serious and more reticent approach required by modern-day grand prix outfits.

"Something that's very important to me is having fun," she underlined, "and I think the environment of F1 is a little bit less friendly than American racing. In F1, you just don't see the drivers hanging out. Drivers such as Takuma Sato, who came over after doing F1 for a while, says everyone's so nice here. And it's true - everyone is so calm, relaxed and friendly.

"I really like being with my family and my friends, being close to home and having the creature comforts of the States. I'll never say never, but it would have to be a really unique opportunity for me to change what I'm doing. The schedule for this year and next year is [to] do both IndyCar and NASCAR and then decide if I want to do that again, or focus on one or the other. I always go with my gut.

"[Indy] is my favourite race of the year. I really like the ovals at Indy and Daytona - big drafting tracks where it's like a chess match. You have to be patient, pick your battles and stay in it to the end. I'm competitive at everything I do. You name it - cards, running or beating people off the line at a red light!"

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