South Africa’s biggest hope for Formula One stardom, Alan van der Merwe, talks about his aspirations for the British Formula Three championship next year – and beyond…
Alan van der Merwe has made a name for himself in the British Formula Ford Championship this year. Van der Merwe recently became the first South African to take the chequered flag at the historic Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, and next year the 21-year old Dutch-born driver will compete in the British Formula Three Championship.
Much is expected from Van der Merwe. He will be racing for Carlin Motorsport, the championship-winning team that presented Japan’s Takuma Sato a platform to make his Formula One debut with Jordan F1 next year. Van der Merwe last week spoke to Motorsport SA about his plans for the future.
The 21-year-old feels flattered to be touted as the “next Van der Merwe superstar” by the South African motoring media, but he also sees the humour in it.
“It’s great to be compared to Sarel, who is internationally known. In future I hope to go as far as I can, and be recognised as a driver in my own right. Everyone up here asks me if I’m related to Sarel. I think I’m going to design a race suit that says, ‘No, Sarel is not my uncle’ on the back,” said Van der Merwe.
Alan said that he had always been interested in motorsport. His dad, Bruce, was a racing driver in the early Seventies, and was very successful in sportscars (Chevron and Porsche) and raced a Brabham F1 car in South Africa. Alan actually started racing quite late… He took up kart racing in Holland when he was 17 and became the Dutch national champion for two years. For the last three years he has been competing for Haywood Racing in British Formula Ford.
“It’s basically been karting and British Formula Ford although one of the most memorable moments was competing a few times in my dad’s Chevron B19 at the Nurburgring, Spa Francorchamps and the Brands Hatch Grand Prix track. Driving that car was awesome, I had no idea that such an old car could be so competent,” he said.
Van der Merwe admitted that he felt under pressure during the first half of this year’s British Formula Ford series. “This year has been really difficult for me due to my car underperforming during the first half of the season. I led the last three races and really wanted to win the festival. Winning the festival has taken away a lot of pressure,” he said.
The South African also spoke about the spirit of camaraderie between himself and fellow SA competitor Stephen Simpson, even though the two were competitors throughout the season. “We try to help each other out. This was Stephen’s first year, and I hope that he will pull off some wins next year,” Van der Merwe said.
Van der Merwe describes his driving style as “very smooth”. “I never throw the car around although I must say that I enjoy driving it sideways in the wet! I drive and overtake aggressively in races.”
Next year will be Van der Merwe’s biggest test. He will replace Sato at Carlin Motorsport, the dominant team in British Formula Three this year, and many expect him to be a frontrunner. If he achieves success, Formula One could be in his future, says Van der Merwe.
“Carlin Motorsport won this year’s Championship with Sato and Australian Anthony Davidson as runner-up. Sato has joined the Jordan Formula One team next season and Anthony has signed with the BAR Formula One team as test driver.
“Although there are only 22 drives available in Formula One, I am setting my sights high. I would love to get a F1 test drive although it may be a little too early to be definite about Formula One,” he said.
Van der Merwe has never actually raced in South Africa, but he is considering making a brief appearance here next year.
“I have been approached to participate in an international Formula Ford series (being mooted by Peter du Toit of Zwartkops Raceway for early next year). I believe that the circuits are excellent over there. I haven’t visited South Africa in quite a while and would love to come back maybe mid-season next year,” he said.