Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris will spearhead McLaren's efforts in the upcoming F1 2021 season but the team is also keeping an eye out for the future and recently signed a 13-year-old to make him a part of its young driver development program.
Ugo Ugochukwu had won the FIA OKJ European kart championship last year and has several racing titles to his name in his home base of the United States. Hailing from New York, the young kart racer has clearly impressed McLaren F1 team. "We’ve been watching Ugo’s progress with interest, so when the opportunity to sign an agreement with him became available, we had no hesitation moving on it," said Zak Brown, CEO at McLaren Racing. "Now we’ll focus on giving Ugo the right support when he needs it to help him fulfil his potential."
Many are already drawing comparisons between Ugochukwu and seven-time world F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton races for Mercedes F1 team but he was a junior signing for McLaren at age 13. The Briton would go on to make his F1 debut in 2007.
For now though, Ugochukwu would be better advised to bask in gradual progression. "I’m honoured to be signed by such an iconic team as McLaren Racing so early in my career. To have the support of McLaren is fantastic and what any young driver dreams of," he said.
The young driver development program is hardly a sure-shot bet to an F1 car. It does offer the candidate what may possibly be the best training and mentoring but the coveted place inside an F1 race car depends on a long list of factors. That said, the transition from a kart to a race car is perhaps best executed under such a development program.