Jackson Krule/The Players' Tribune

You don’t think you’re bound for F1 until you’re actually there. You never really believe it’s coming. Listen, in another life, I’d probably be at the University of Florida, going to Gators games and partying with all my friends I grew up with. But by some insane lucky break, I’m here.

Racing is all I know. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I ever wanted anything else. Definitely nothing this bad.

For as long as I can remember, I just wanted to be behind the wheel.

I just wanted to drive.

2012. That’s when it became serious. My older brother, Dalton, and I had been racing for a few years, and it had gotten to the point where we were asking around about where the next best level of competition was, and everybody was saying the same thing…. It was always Europe, Europe, Europe, Europe. To the point where my parents really started to think about it. At first it was just this idea, like Maybe we’ll move to Europe, who knows. I was just a kid overhearing stuff, so I didn’t know how serious the conversation must have been until this day I’ll never forget.

It was summer, and we were out to lunch. It was me, my dad, and Dalton. At the time, my family lived in a nice house right on the Intracoastal Waterway leading out to the ocean. We’d go spearfishing and to Key West. I was really fortunate, no doubt. We were always on the water, always outdoors driving loads of things. Jet skis, four wheelers, karts — anything. The first time we ever drove on a track, it was at Opa-locka, which is just north of Miami. Before I knew it, we were racing all around the country.

So we’re at this restaurant, right? Chowing down on burgers (my favorite), and my dad gets to asking us about racing. Finally, he’s like, “What do you guys think? Do you really want to race in Europe? Are you 100% sure about this?” Me being 11 and naive, I was like, “Yeah sure.”  Looking back on it, I think I was lucky I was that young and that I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. All the different ways it could change my life, the level of sacrifice it would require from my whole family. Because if I had known, I don’t know if I would’ve made the same decision so easily. 

It all happened fast, like in the movies.

One minute, it’s Christmas, I’m six, and me and Dalton are yelling at the top of our lungs, excited about the two karts sitting in the driveway, pointed diagonally at each other like in a magazine.

Next minute, I’m 11 and Dalton’s 14. We’re sitting at the table eating lunch with my dad, and it’s decided — our family’s moving to Europe.

Courtesy of Logan Sargeant

Cut to the plane touching down at an airport in Switzerland. We moved into a three-bedroom apartment. It was me, my parents, Dalton, and our dog Roxy, the world traveler. Big difference from Florida. We had a whole new life. I loved Switzerland. I had a lot of good friends at my school there. I can’t explain it, but I just felt more a part of things. Me and my friends were big Chelsea fans, and we’d be hanging out, playing soccer all the time. We played Call of Duty like every other kid in the world.

It’s kind of funny when you think about it, that the only real way to reach the top flight of this sport as an American driver is to leave the country. Moving to Europe and racing cars automatically puts you on a different path. The reason most of America’s drivers go to IndyCar is because there’s a lot of barriers in the way of moving overseas, not just financially, but also on this deeper level, with your family. You can’t just uproot everybody and not have it affect anyone.

Dalton was my older brother, so for as far back as I can remember, I was chasing him. Man, we fought all the time. Every race, we were up against all these other kids, but he was always the one I was really trying to beat. But the thing is, when you’re a kid you miss things. You just can’t see everything so clearly. Like, for instance, being a bit older than me, I think he felt the shift more strongly when we moved, but I didn’t know it. He stayed in Switzerland for a year and a half, did some European karting, and started testing Formula cars. Then one day he just decided he wanted to go home and race in America. I won’t lie, that was a shock at the time. But I get it more now. Making that big life change was hard on my mom, too. Just think, you’re living in this brand new place, don’t have many friends. Me and Dalton were at school all day. My dad was traveling all over the place with work, so he was hardly there. The reality is, she was on her own a lot. So she ended up going back to Florida, too. For about a year and a half after that, it was just me. I was living at the school during that time. 

Looking back on everything, I just see all the sacrifices they made, and it means so much. No matter what they were going through, my family always pushed me to keep going. I feel like that was probably the hardest for my mom, especially. She means the world to me. She’s a bit of a worrier too, and overthinks. I think I get that from her. She’s always been the person I could go to when I was doubting myself. So I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her to encourage me to keep going, when I know she probably wanted our family to be together. I’m really grateful, not only that they believed in me that much, to move our entire family, but that they took my passion for driving seriously enough not to let me give it all up.

Coming up racing as a kid isn’t easy. That’s the most honest way I can put it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, I’m done. I’m ready to come home. I’m glad I didn’t, but there were plenty of times when I wanted to. I remember one big time was the summer right after Dalton went back. We took this trip to the Bahamas with some of our extended family and friends. We were on the water, and everything was feeling like old times. And I think I just had this pit in the bottom of my stomach, like dreading going back. There was a night when I went to my mom, and I was like, “I’m just ready to come home.” I remember her asking me more questions about what I was feeling. I don’t even remember what I said, to be honest. I just remember that she didn’t tell me what to do. She left it completely up to me. My dad used to always say, “If you put in the work now, it’ll pay off eventually — it’ll be worth it.” And he kind of reminded me of that on that trip too. It’ll be worth it. Those four little words … that’s what kept me going. After that I sucked it up, went back to Switzerland, put my head down, and I went for it.

In 2015, the goal from the very beginning was to win the Junior World Karting Championship. I was quite fortunate that it was at my best track — La Conca, in the south of Italy. At the time, I was driving with an English team called Ricky Flynn Motorsports. I was with my manager, Gary Catt. He traveled to all the races with me. It was our second year together, and it was an unbelievable season from the start. We were just cruising through it. There was actually a race at La Conca earlier in the same year. And in the final, the track had really gripped up, and they had made a decision to change something that didn’t work, and whatever, we didn’t win. I finished fourth. But when we got there in September, it was our weekend, and we were dominating. I won and became the first American Junior World Champion. It was kind of bizarre because it was one of the easiest weekends we had all year.

Dan Istitene/Formula 1/Getty Images

We were super good throughout my whole karting career. Then it ended a little sour in 2016. Everything was going well, but we started having issues with the engine in the European Championships, and that’s when we decided to just stop and start getting ready to make the leap to cars. And I’ll never forget how hard that jump was, just because of how young I still was at the time — not so much compared to other drivers, but just mentally. I was still a young kid in my head. I was 16 and 5'5". A hundred and nothing pounds — tiny. So it was pretty tough physically. At first, I really couldn’t get a good feeling for it. It takes so much force to keep it under control, a lot of muscle, especially braking for corners. Obviously you’re pulling all those g’s. The downforce is staggering. The weight of the steering was just so heavy. Basically, the car was driving me. It was like a light switch, when it finally clicked. I had to learn how to take the wheel and just manhandle it. Truly grab hold of it and drive.

So fast forward to 2019, and I’m in a new car in Formula 3 that isn’t so great. But even when you know the car isn’t good, you still always have that little doubt that creeps in your head, you know?? When you’re not performing the way you expect, you have to work out if it’s you or the car. Well 2020 comes around, and I’m with Prema Racing. And now, I’m excited because I’m really in a position to show people what I can do. I also kind of saw it as a challenge like, You’re in the best car on the grid now, no excuses. I went from 19th the year before, to third place in the F3 championship. It was the best season of my whole career to that point. I had started getting noticed from a young age, but after my 2020 season, that’s when people really started paying attention. I get invited to do simulator sessions with Mercedes, which is like my first real thing. It seemed like everything was coming together. 

And at this time, I’m also thinking about F2. I obviously wanted to move up after a season like that. But the thing is, I couldn’t pull the money together. I didn’t have the budget to go up. This sport is a money sport. You can’t really tiptoe around it. You have to understand, there’s just not much sponsorship in anything below F1. It’s mainly relying on your parents. You’re paying the team for the service of the car, the mechanics, everything like that. And the prices just keep going up and up. A good seat in F2 nowadays goes for about 2.1 million euros. I mean, you can’t tell me that’s not outrageous. It’s a lotta lotta money, for anybody. And that’s sort of where my 2020 came undone. All the “I’m done” moments I mentioned I’ve had in life…. End of 2020 was a pretty big one. That was the worst one.

I had just had the best season of my career. Then there was nothing. I think I went six months without driving. Then I made the decision to go back to F3. At the last minute I got an offer from Charouz Racing System, and I took it. I was grateful to be signed somewhere, but just putting it honestly, it was the worst car on the grid. I won’t lie, my mindset at first was like, O.K., I’m just filling this seat. In my head that season was just going to be about me driving to stay sharp. It was a layover year. The truth is, I was just really hurt. There was no chance I was making it to F1 at this point. Not a single part of me ever thought from that point forward I would ever get there. Not moving up took it out of the equation. And that really got to me because I knew I was good enough. At that point, I’m looking at where else I can go, Indy, Sportscars, whatever, just trying to see where I can further my career. But deep down I was like, Damn. You know what I mean??

Anyway, when we started the season, no one had high expectations for Charouz. I don’t think we were even a thought on most people’s minds. But in a way, that kind of ended up being a good thing. I think that when you’re starting from the bottom, that’s where you can be the most honest about feedback and direction, if that makes sense. We knew where we needed to go with the car, and we talked about it pretty openly. And we just worked really hard from Day One to get things where they needed to be. Pretty early on, we start having some good weekends. Nobody was getting excited. We’re just viewing everything as progress. That was the only goal. Then something crazy happens…. We start adding podiums. In October, we get to the finale, in Sochi, and don’t ask me how this happened, but we have our best round. We pick off a win. My first win in more than a year. Charouz’s first since the 2018 F2 season. So it meant everything to our team. It showed the progress we were able to make throughout the year and how we kept finding more and more pace in a car that at the start was nowhere close to being a race winning car.

And in a way, I think I showed a different side of me. People around motorsport were really paying attention. 

At the end of the season, Williams Racing rings up my managers, Harry Soden and Gary Catt, with an offer to bring me into their Driver Academy. It still feels kind of like it fell out of the sky. It came out of nowhere that I picked something up. I really mean that. I can’t even put into words how wild it was. At the end of 2021, with the help of a lot of people —  Infinity Sports Management, Carlin - the team that I ended up driving for in F2, and Williams Racing — they were able to put something together for me to race in Formula 2 and support me through 2022, with a plan to, if everything went well, get to F1. It still blows my mind to this day how it happened. It’s crazy how quickly things can swing in your favor. 

Two years ago, some people were writing me off. Today, I’m the first American driver to score a Formula 1 point in 30 years.

I get chills thinking about it, how easily it all could have been over.

Jackson Krule/The Players' Tribune

Something I’ve learned on this journey is that, at some point in your life, the thing you’ve worked toward for forever and put every piece of yourself into might fall apart, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t prepare for it. At your lowest, you’ll have to ask yourself, Why do I keep doing this? What’s the point of any of it? Everybody will answer that question differently. But for me it’s simple: In my family, when you commit, you commit. You persevere. You keep working. I’m a competitor to the core of my being. I will put everything on the line to win. And I think that’s what kept pushing me to the next level and always trying to be better — how damn bad I want this. That’s the mentality that took a little kid from Florida all the way to Switzerland, and eventually to Formula 1.

Hard work creates opportunity, like my dad used to say. I went from the best team in F3 to what was at the time, the worst, and I just thought, Let me see how I can help. I stopped caring so much about the future. It wasn’t about me anymore. It became about making small improvements and just getting them into a better position. I was just driving. I was driving because that’s all I had ever known. I was driving because that’s who I am.

Finally being in an F1 seat and getting to write a little bit about it, is surreal. Looking back on everything, I’m so proud of every part of my journey. The parts I faced with my family, the parts I faced alone. The times I was ready to give up. And even the moment I thought it was all over. It all just kinda serves to remind me how hard I’ve worked for this. I’ve given my entire life to this sport, and if I could go back and change anything, I’d do it this way every single time. Now that I’m here, everything ahead of me is just the cherry on top of the cake. 

I remember coming out of the first two weeks of this season and thinking I was pretty good, then I had three very difficult weekends back to back on tracks that I didn’t know very well. I kind of had to reset and find my feet again. I was like, O.K., this is going to be tough. And honestly, if I wasn’t fast by now, I would definitely be a bit concerned. But knowing that I found the speed again is perfect. Now, I’m just taking it race by race. I don’t really look at it like I’m “bringing America back to F1”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing feeling every time I hear it. I’m honored to represent on a stage this big and to be standing on the shoulders of giants. But the truth is, after everything I’ve been through, I know how lucky I really am just to be here.

To drive an F1 car in Vegas will be special. I think driving at night under the lights of all the hotels down the strip is going to feel unbelievable. It’s been on my mind all year. I raced there a lot in karts when I was young, and it was one of the most special races of the year. Now being able to come back in an F1 car is going to be insane. 

It’s funny, in a way, it feels kind of like a homecoming.

One thing I’ll be thinking about, as I put my suit and my helmet on, are the people who took the biggest chance on me before anybody else. The only people who could ever really know how much this means.

Mom. Dad. Dalton. Thanks for sacrificing everything.

We made it. 

I’m home.