Ticktum makes his points

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Red Bull Junior driver, Dan Ticktum, capped a sensational return to Silverstone with an outstanding pass against Renault’s Sacha Fenestraz to win the opening race of the weekend and propel his Motopark car to the top of the Euro F3 standings.

It’s a truly remarkable turnaround for the young Londoner, who just three years prior was making headlines for all the wrong reasons after he deliberately overtook 10 competitors under safety car conditions (during the MSA Formula race at the same venue) in order to catch and crash into championship rival, Ricky Collard, after the two had earlier made contact. UK motor sport’s governing body, the MSA, sanctioned Ticktum with a two-year ban (one year of which was suspended) for what it described as “a disturbing and dangerous episode”.

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Yet remarkably, and to the odium of many, not only did he recommence his career once the ban was served but was duly signed by Red Bull racing to its junior squad; and then proceeded to win the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award (following the likes of David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Gary Paffett, Anthony Davidson, Paul di Resta and Lando Norris). It’s a CV that oozes talent and dispenses disgust in equal quantities.

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Ticktum lines-up a pass on former ‘World Series V8, 3.5’ race-winner, Álex Palou

I make no apologies for my tones; I was sickened by the appalling and dangerous behaviour of the 16-year old boy, but equally I praise the young man who is driven to succeed, despite knowing that he will forever have the scandal of his earlier actions held against him.

And so here we are, with 18 of the 30 races done, and three more happening this weekend in Italy, Ticktum is on the verge of making the biggest headlines yet. For the once over-abundant Red Bull Junior squad is critically short of qualified talent to fill the soon to be vacant Formula One seat at Toro Rosso (with Pierre Gasly stepping-up to the main Red Bull Racing team in place of the departing Daniel Ricciardo). It would be a quandary for some but perhaps less so for Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s formidable consultant whose decisions have made and broken careers with singularly assured calls to those whose lives he directs.

I can’t say why Marko likes Ticktum, but I know he does. They’re both real racers who appear to care more about winning than anything else. And what happened at Silverstone last weekend typifies a new maturity to Ticktum’s craft. Having made his way past Ferrari-backed driver Guan Yu Zhou, he was happy to sit on the tail of Carlin’s Fenestraz, probing and searching for the right time and place to make the pass. It wasn’t hurried, and he knew it didn’t have to be, for afterwards, Ticktum immediately broke the tow and held the gap that would see he and Marko rewarded with a fourth win of the year, and more importantly, after the weekend’s three races had ended, an 18-point championship lead over nearest rival, Marcus Armstrong. Yet the way the pass was made; the surety of intent; and the self-belief and trust in the car. That was special. There are few who would have attempted it, and fewer would have made it. Ticktum did.

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So will Marko’s latest protégé suddenly find himself racing at the highest level next year? I hope not; and I say this not because I don’t think he is worthy of the opportunity, but because I want to see him deal with his demons in front of a global audience first. The pressures on young racers are immense and he, more than anyone before him, is going to have to prove, time and time again, that he deserves his chance, especially under the scrutiny of any future incident, whether he is at fault or not. And so whilst he will undoubtedly want to seize any opportunity that is offered, my hope is that this is restricted to ‘free-practice testing’ and a year in front of a hardened press.

Of course, there’s also the issue of him currently not having sufficient Super Licence points to make him eligible for the Toro Rosso drive anyway, though this could be remedied by winning the FIA F3 European Championship (30pts) and then a successful outing (if Red Bull so choose) in New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series (1st = 7pts, 2nd = 5pts) will help, leaving him requiring the discretionary five points available from the MSA , ironically the same body that not so long ago labelled his actions “irresponsible and reprehensible in the extreme”.

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Ticktum was incredibly lucky that his ban was effectively just for one year, and that Red Bull have been willing to accept the incident and invest in his talent. But he and others, especially those starting-out in their careers, need to know that such actions must have longer-lasting consequences, and that in this case, that he cannot rely on the benevolence of the MSA but rather, will need to earn his points, and a place on the F1 grid, by racing (and winning) in another formula first.

Steve Hindle

21st August 2018