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Chloe Chong speaks on F1 Academy experience and future goals

Conducted by Isabel Brito, Written by Ellie Cressey, Edited by Sean McKean

If you watch F1 or motorsports, you may have heard about F1 Academy. F1 Academy's purpose is to support female drivers’ progression within motorsports and help them to achieve higher levels of competition in this female-only racing championship.

Chloe Chong was one of 15 drivers in this series for 2023, being the youngest driver on the inaugural F1 Academy grid. Before stepping up into F1 Academy, she was a finalist in the FIA Girls on Track Rising Stars and competed in the IAME Ladies Cup. 

Chloe shares her experience so far in her racing career starting from karting to being an driver for the Prema racing team in F1 Academy,  and the struggles she has faced as a young female in motorsports. In 2024, Chloe will be competing in the F4 British Championship with JHR Developments.

Isabel Brito: When F1 Academy was announced, did you know that you wanted to race in it?

Chloe Chong: “I think a lot of girls knew that they wanted to race in it and so did I. I think obviously financially it is a bit of a struggle trying to put the subsidised money together, but we managed to do it. The second issue was trying to find a team who would want to take a rookie like me. Thankfully, we got a call and the decision was made from there because, you know, who is rejecting an offer from such an amazing team. 

“I’m really grateful to my parents and everyone who supported me, who helped me get the money together, because without them, it wouldn't be possible. Even if I really, really wanted to make it into the F1 Academy.”

IB: So your dad was the one that arranged the interview with me? Does he manage a lot of what you do?

CC: “At the moment, I don't have a manager, so he manages a lot of what i do and of course the interviews and organisation of logistics and flights because i can't do that as I'm a bit young to organise flights. So he's quite helpful with getting all the stuff together that I need.”

IB: He must have helped you get the sponsors, how was his experience of getting together all the sponsors on your own?

CC: It's quite hard because a lot of people who have sponsorships, they even know someone quite well or they've gotten really lucky. The sponsors were really kind to give them, you know, a large amount of money for us, it was more like looking around for quite a bit for a number of years, and we've managed to put together a couple of personal sponsors. So, I'm really grateful to them for helping us out with the season because without them, it wouldn't have been possible.

IB: What's the story behind deciding to go to Prema? Were there other teams that you were talking with? How was that decision? 

CC: “I mean for us, it was all about initially getting a seat of some sort. We weren't too bothered about the team, obviously premiers of the team. There are lots of girls to look at because they're such an amazing,  well-decorated team. We did have a couple of contacts with the different teams, but by the time that we talked to them, it was hard to get a seat because there was so much demand for a seat in teams.

“I'm really grateful for the opportunity that I've been given with Prema because obviously I didn't really expect it. I really want to go by this year and take as much as I can learn because for me. It's not at all about performance, it's more about taking the time to learn with such a good team.”

IB: You're also a really young driver and you're probably one of the youngest. Have you been able to work with your teammates yet?

CC:  “I'm actually in Italy near the HQ of Prema with my teammates, and I get along quite well with them. They help teach me loads of things about the store that I don't know because they're both quite experienced. I think we all have a really good bond together, especially because we're at the factory quite a bit. 

“Even yesterday, we had a test, and it was great that the teams got us all together so that we can bond together because a team bond is very important. It's not just all about you in this sport, it's a lot about the team behind you. With my teammates it's great that I can learn a whole lot from them.”

IB: Being still such a young driver, do you still feel like you're finding yourself in the sport?

CC: “It'd be a bit of a lie to say no. I think a lot of drivers of my age are trying to find themselves, especially me. I've only had a couple proper tests so for me, it's all about building confidence. And being the youngest driver,  it's a bit of a daunting prospect, but it's also a good thing because it means that I can learn a lot in one year and it means that I have a lot to build on as well. So for me, I'm really excited for the years to happen and I'm excited to see the progress I make instead of the results.”

IB: How's that change been from karting to going to F1 academy? How different is the preparation from those two?

CC: “I didn't expect such a big difference but it's drastic. Passing is a lot more casual. You turn up to the track in the morning, you do your races, you go home. Maybe you'll look over a bit of video and date if it's an important championship event. The details and time that go into formula racing is completely different as well as the team structure.

“Prema is a very tight knit team. I mean on my birthday, we all had a birthday celebration and I got pied in the face. It's a tradition, and I think you can tell how close knit the whole community of Prema is. Also like data analysis, just the detail and time everyone puts into helping you perform your best is so different. 

“We get to the track maybe 1.5 hours before we have to get in the car. You have the warm up, the briefing, all the different procedures you need to learn as well as utilising the radio.

Then in terms of actual driving, you've got to think about tire warm up, how to manage tires, also push laps, cool laps and everything. It's a big difference but I'm glad I'm working with such a team to make this difference because without them, it'd be quite hard.

IB: You were also in the FIA Girls on Track Programme, how do you feel that experience was? Has it been different from the F1 Academy experience you had?

CC: “So the FIA Girls on Track was a competition organised by FIA, and this involved them picking six girls to take a shoot out where we raced in AM four car with Winfield Racing School. This really benefit is my starting cars and it helps me learn the fundamentals, which I will forever be grateful to the FIA for giving me this opportunity as well as being able to go to Maranello at the Ferrari base and learning a lot from them and taking these skills to F1 Academy where it's more of a proper championship.

“It's very similar to Italian F4 in terms of championship profile, and it is different to the FIA Girls on Track because at the end of the day, it’s performance and it’s place that matters instead of improvements and physical and mental shape. It's a new challenge but it goes along the same lines if that makes sense.”

IB: There's already a lot of British drivers in the FIA but there's not a lot of representation when it comes to being Canadian and Asian. What would you want your representation as a nation, young woman to be?

CC:  “I’m really proud of my Canadian and Chinese heritage. My mom was born in China so I really enjoy having Chinese culture and then visiting my grandparents who also follow the culture.

I think it's really important for the representation of Asian people and Canadian people to last in the sport because it inspires more and more people and young girls to take a step into racing. So I'm really proud and I hope that hopefully more and more girls from Canada and China can get into the sport.”

IB: What's the story behind you starting as a racing driver? What motivated you to start in the sport?

CC: “I think fundamentally it was my dad because I watched him race and rental karting from the age of four or five. Then every weekend when F1 was on, we would watch it together because my mom would be away at work so it was our little downtime together and I really enjoyed it.

“I just remember begging him from the age of five to take me out and go go-karting. That's what happened just after my sixth birthday and I've never looked back since so it's not much of a story but it's very important to me.”

IB: What are your future goals as a driver? Is there anything you wanted to accomplish outside of the sports as well?

CC: “I think it’s very important that you stay outside of the sport because for me, I want to create success whether that means inside the sport, becoming an F1 driver or professional driver, but also just inspiring other girls to make a step into professional sports. I think it's important that women are represented in every sport that we can have possible in an equal management.

“If that’s the impact and success that I make, then I'm happy with it. So if it means me becoming a professional driver and creating success that way, I think it has an equal impact as well. My goal for the future is to create an impact with the voice that I’m given through the opportunities that F1 Academy provides.”

IB: What would be something you want to say to other young drivers that are hiring to get into a position like you?

CC: “The most important thing for young drivers is just never give up and look at the goal and take every opportunity that you can because you never know where it might lead to.”

IB: So the season is close to starting and this is something new for you. Are there any challenges that you are looking forward to?

CC: “I think the season as a whole is a challenge for me but I’m really looking forward to this challenge. I always enjoy having something to work on, and having something to aim for. The exciting new challenges ahead of F1 Academy first round in Austria all the way to COTA and America, which I’m super excited for.

“I’m excited for all the opportunities with Prema who have given me a lot of new experiences as well as meeting all the girls from different countries at the F1 Academy. I think it's going to be a great experience as you said.”

IB: So far you’ve been working with your teammates, is there something that you’ve been able to learn before the start of the season?

CC: “It's great to see how my teammates prepare for races, how their mentality is and what they do in order to perform well, from the tests that we’ve already done.

They’ve taught me so much and I think there’s a lot more to learn from them. I’m happy to have them as teammates to give me all the advice that they can for my future because they’re happy to let me learn from them. This is a great thing to have as an asset for my future.” 

IB: How do you manage communication between your team and your teammates?

CC: “The communication with the team is very similar to the communication I have with my teammates. As i said earlier it's very tight-knit so every meeting we have is normally with all of us and we make the most out of it, it creates a bond together and most of that communication is parallel with each other.”

IB: What is your opinion about women in racing and how it’s changed in the last few years? Do you think there is more opportunity now?

CC: “Between let’s say 2017 and 2022, the amount of girls that have got in this sport, I’m obviously not tracking it, but from the profiles I’ve seen on Instagram and all the young girls coming through the cadet categories, especially in karting that I’ve seen a massive rise in girls in sports and i think it’s a good thing.

“I feel that women should be given every opportunity to make it in racing because the biggest limitation for them is sponsorship and gaining their funding to make it far in the sport. I’m happy that as a society we have come forward and given us such a great prospect for us to make it well in this sport.”

IB: The sport comes with a lot of good things but it also comes with the negative counterpart. As a woman, what would you say would be a positive thing that you find in the sport and also something negative? 

CC: “The positive thing in this sport is it's obviously quite a small community and everyone supports each other quite well and you feel made at home when you’re a part of this community. Everyone is happy to offer their advice even though you may be competitors,they are happy to see you improve and I think that’s very important.

“Of course, the negative thing is people telling women that they’re not physically able to compete in this sport, but it’s good to see how we can prove people wrong. I’m not afraid of this prospect because I think the physicality of motorsports is not enough for women.”

IB: If you were in the position and the opportunity to change something about the sport in order to benefit women more, what would you change?

CC: “I don’t think I would change anything. I think the sport should stay the exact same because the actual sport is fine. It’s just the perspective that people have of women in the sport that needs to change.”

IB: As a woman, what do you want your representation to mean? Not only to the sport but to you as a driver

CC: “I gain a lot of joy from competing in sport as well as adrenaline from doing well. What I want to gain from the sport is the opportunity to outreach to people out there and get other people into the sport. Even if it’s not motorsport to get more girls into other sports such as football, maybe basketball. It’s really about promoting the fact that women can make it in sport.

“If I make it well in sport then it's great but I want to leave with the success and the feeling that I’ve succeeded by getting people into the sports and creating better opportunities for girls.”

IB: What’s a message you’d like to give to inspire people? Not only to those who want to be drivers but also those who want to enter the industry in general in different areas.

CC: “Motorsports is a really good place as I mentioned earlier. It’s a very tight-knit and small community, you get to know a lot of people and everyone there is very friendly.

So I think if you want to get into most sports, whether it's racing or becoming an engineer or mechanic, I think that there’s a lot of positives that come from us and a lot of good experiences you can get out of it. Therefore, I would definitely go for the opportunity and not miss out.”


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