Is This 17-Year-Old Texan The Future Of Formula One?
As Formula One stages its seventh race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin this weekend, race owner and promoter Liberty Media faces hurdles to grow the sport in the U.S. Drivers say one solution might be more races to keep up interest among U.S. fans all year long.
“The people that fly over for this one Grand Prix which happens once a year, it’s like a festival,” F1 driver Lewis Hamilton said. “You can’t really get too excited about one festival in a season.”
“Try to get more races here and hopefully one American driver,” said driver Fernando Alonso, who is retiring from F1 after this season. “I think we’ll have one soon.”
While F1 is actively courting other U.S. cities for another race site, finding that elusive American driver might take a little longer.
Parker Locke of San Antonio is one of several young American drivers who would like to be in those ranks one day. According to his mom, her son’s F1 dreams began in Austin.
“We became very enamored with Formula 1 when it moved to Texas,” Aimee Locke said. “We’ve been coming to the races since the second year and we’ve all become very obsessed, for lack of a better word, with the sport.”
She and her husband fed Parker’s growing passion by visiting a go-kart track in New Braunfels.
“He did a little bit of time in a go-kart, and we really couldn’t assess at that point whether he had any talent or not,” Locke said.
The big break came in early 2017 when Parker's parents got him a 16th birthday present.
“He had discovered this thing called F4 and had reached out on his own to a team, Jay Howard Racing, and secured a spot for himself to test a car,” Locke said. “We gave him for his birthday, our intent was for it to be one day, ‘Happy birthday, you get to drive this F4 car around the track,’ and that was going to be it. We had no intention at all of him actually driving the car, it was simply a birthday present.”
“That actually went really well and I ended up signing with them for the whole entire year,” said Parker, now 17. “Now, this is my second year (with) four races in F4, and now I’m finishing the year in F3.”
In addition to the U.S. Grand Prix, there are smaller F3 and F4 “support” races being run this weekend with the aspiring F1 stars of tomorrow.
Think of the smaller racing circuits as the minor leagues. Regional F4 and F3 series and the larger F2 races are stepping stones to the big leagues. With the right mix of experience and success, drivers earn their way into Formula 1, Indy, even NASCAR and other top-level racing circuits.
Just a year-and-a-half into this new life, Parker Locke has worked his way up to the next rung. In his first race in F3, he finished third.
He’ll end his F3 season this weekend with two races Saturday and Sunday at the very track where his family got the bug in the first place.