Ask anyone paying attention to the lower rungs of single-seater racing in 2022, and they’ll tell you there’s an Irish teenager who could be knocking on F1’s door in a few years.
Alex Dunne is his name, and this recently-turned 17-year-old racer from County Offaly has enjoyed a remarkable and extraordinarily busy 2022.
By November, Dunne had raced in over 60 races and scored 15 wins. That might make other teenagers bigheaded, but that’s not the case for Alex. Instead, this Irish youngster possesses that rare quality of being both modest and bluntly confident in himself but never to the point of being egotistical. You get the impression that these victories are almost a formality on his inevitable road to the F1 support bill.
That slot supporting F1 in FIA Formula 2 or 3 will undoubtedly come, and Alex has already familiarised himself with F1 circles in 2022. In September, Ferrari invited him to a training camp, and mere hours after speaking with Fueler, Alex flew to Abu Dhabi to share the track with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the F4 UAE Trophy.
When you speak to as many feeder series drivers as I do, you meet some who are fast, many who are personable, and the occasional few that are both. Those rare gems are the ones you know will go far, and Alex falls firmly into that category. You’re about to read why. This is our 7/11 with Alex Dunne.
Fueler: For those readers who don’t know who Alex Dunne is, who is Alex Dunne?
Dunne: So, hi, everyone. I’m Alex Dunne. I’m a 17-year-old Irish racing driver. This year I was racing in Italian and British F4. I was vice-champion of Italian F4 and British champion of British F4. Next year, I’ll be racing in the British F3 Championship, GB3.
I started racing at the age of nine. My dad was a racing driver himself. He raced in Formula Ford 1600 and won the Formula Ford Festival. So he’s been at a pretty good pedigree. And my mom worked at a race track over here in Ireland as well. So that’s how my parents met.
Motorsport is a real family thing, and I was always there from the age of four or five, watching my dad race, supporting him and being at all the tracks. And I remember once I asked him if I could go karting, and he said, “Yeah.” So I had the first opportunity to drive a car when I was eight, and I started racing when I was nine. I’ve loved it ever since.
Fueler: How much do you remember from your dad’s racing?
Dunne: Well, I remember quite a lot. I remember travelling with him – travelling to places like Silverstone and Brands [Hatch], which were for the Walter Hayes [Trophy] and the Formula Ford Festival. They were the two… I guess you could say almost like the world championships of Formula Ford at that time.
[We were] always taking the ferry to the UK and travelling together in the motor home, which was pretty special as a family thing. I remember quite a lot – [I was] always there as a kid, always supporting him. My mom was always there with us, and we’d always travel around as a family. Motorsports are a really big family thing, and we all love it together.
My dad’s brother was a racing driver, and my dad’s dad was a racing driver as well, so… motorsports are a real family thing. Everybody in my family fully supports me, which again makes it even better. So, it’s nice to have all the memories as a family.
Fueler: How pivotal do you think your dad’s and family’s knowledge has been in finding your sponsorship? Because we all know how expensive motorsport is. How much did he have the insight, or did the rest of the family have the understanding of knowing where to go to try and find you the money to get into racing?
Dunne: I think my dad’s been super good at that aspect of stuff. I think he’s been good at that aspect of everything. He’s been my manager the whole way throughout my career, always actively trying to find sponsorship, looking for financial support and money anywhere we can to help my career.
Not only that but being my driver coach as well because he was a pretty good driver himself. So I think anytime we were at the track, he was always there helping and explaining little things to try and help me. Now that I’m 17 and I have a good understanding of what I’m doing, I think it’s not as important because I’ve really learned a lot.
I have a good relationship with the team, and it’s good to rely on the team and for the team to rely on you. But he’s always there no matter what, supporting me and helping me. And he’s been my coach the whole way through my career. And if I ever need anything or if I’m ever struggling with the balance of the car or when struggling to get my head around something, he’s always there to help me. So I think it’s really good.
Fueler: You’ve done three championships so far – F4 UAE, British F4, and Italian F4. Apart from winning the British championship, what differences did you notice between all three?
Dunne: In terms of differences in the championship, I wouldn’t say they’ve been huge. I think UAE was a really good one. I think that was a really, really helpful one for me. Never in my career have I had so much seat time before the championship – or the real championship – has started. I think it’s not very often you get a – you can almost say – five-week preseason championship before the real one starts.
We’ve always been in karting in the past. We’ve always been held back by budget – always down on testing and track time and limited with budget because of that. So to have so much seat time this year has shown that it helps a lot with what we’ve achieved this year. So, racing in all three championships has been really good. I enjoyed all of them. I enjoyed UAE; I enjoyed Italian; I enjoyed British.
The level of talent across the board and all championships have been really good. Italian and UAE pretty much had the same drivers. And I’ve seen people say that maybe they think British isn’t as good as Italian, but, from what I’ve seen, because the grid is so much bigger in Italian, that would probably lead to their answer.
I put it in the way that you maybe have five drivers in British F4 who can win the race, but in Italian, you have 10 or 15. But those top-level drivers… if you took the five from British and the 15 from Italian, you’d make a really good championship. So it’s just the fact that the grid’s a little bit smaller, but the level across the board has been really good.
Fueler: You’ve worked with multiple teams throughout 2022. How did they differ?
Dunne: One’s a British team, and one’s a German team. I think the German team can be a bit more serious in how they work towards things, whereas the UK can be a bit more… I guess also it’s easier because there’s no language barrier in the UK… but it’s a little bit easier to have fun. I guess because they understand a little bit more with no language barrier.
It’s two very different ways and two very different approaches. But in the end, it’s the exact same goal. So it’s been very good for me to take the two aspects of learning from both teams and put them together in the end, making me a better driver and a better person as well. So being with two different teams helps a lot. I can take things from both and put them together, and then it makes it easier to deliver on track.
Fueler: Question about being from Ireland. Naturally, you’ll be flying a lot rather than driving because Ireland is an island. What are your tips for being a frequent flyer, and do you have a surprise item that always travels with you?
Dunne: I wouldn’t say I have any surprise items. I’d say I have pretty much the average travelling person’s backpack. I always make sure I have my iPad and my AirPods because sometimes the flight can get pretty boring. So I always make sure I have Netflix downloaded before I get on the flight so I don’t get bored. So I’d say my iPad and my AirPods, apart from my phone, are the two essentials.
I like to have a neck pillow as well, in case I have a long flight. For example, the one we’ll be doing to the UAE, which I think is seven-and-a-half hours long, is not very nice. So I like to bring a neck pillow so I can sleep. But yeah, I’ve done an extreme amount of travelling this year.
I’m sick of being on a plane – the thought of travelling, at times, can get quite tiring and not so nice. But once I arrive and I’m at the track, it’s lovely to be there again.
Fueler: At the time of this interview, we’ve just learned that you are stepping up to GB3. What was the decision-making behind that, and was staying with Hitech GP (Alex’s British F4 team) always going to happen?
Dunne: Yeah, staying with Hitech was always a really good option. They now have a team in F4, British F3, obviously, FIA F3 and F2. So they have a really good ladder up through their team. And not only do they have a ladder, but they’re very competitive. This year we’ve won British F4 and GB3. I think Isack [Hadjar] finished fourth in FIA F3. And Marcus [Armstrong] and Jüri [Vips] are also at the sharp end of F2. So they’re a really, really strong team.
Ollie Oakes is the owner, and he’s been really welcoming to me since I got that phone call asking if I’d like to race with him. Ever since then, it’s been incredible. The experience and the journey with the team have been really, really good, and I enjoy working with them. So, that’s always been the plan.
There were definitely options to maybe do FRECA or to go straight to FIA [F3], but I think having an extra year with a car that has a lot of downforce before going to FIA is a really good thing because from F4 to FIA is a really big jump. There’s a lot more downforce, more power, the races are longer, the tires are different, and tire management comes into play a lot more. So there’s a lot more to think about if you make that jump.
And then FRECA, I haven’t heard good things about the FRECA car. The championship is very good, and the level of the championship is very good, but the common thing is that the car is a little bit like a boat because it’s so heavy. The FRECA car is also extremely physically demanding. The steering wheel is super, super heavy. And then, not only that, it doesn’t even have that much downforce.
So, in comparison, doing something like FRECA doesn’t really make any sense. So I think the GB3 car is closer to the FIA F3 car, which I think also made more sense in my mind. So I think it was a good option.
Fueler: Ferrari invited you to their scouting camp. How did all of that start?
Dunne: Well, basically, we got an email from Marco Matassa, who is the guy who leads everything with the Driver Academy in Ferrari and looks after everything. So we got an email from him asking if we’d like to compete in the scouting camp. And obviously, we’d said, “Yes.” And then, they just said, “Look, would you like to come over and do the scouting camp?”
Basically, they saw me mixing it in between the PREMAs (the top Italian F4 team), and they said they saw something interesting in me. So mixing with the PREMAs was pretty good, and, in the end, being vice-champion as well. They saw something that; saw potential, and they wanted to see what I was like as a driver, pretty much.
Fueler: You’re showing that a country doesn’t need to have a huge motorsport heritage for a young driver to be successful. What tips would you have for other people from nations without racing championships who want to reach F1, not just Ireland, just anyone?
Dunne: To be honest, as great as it is to be where I am with not a big motorsport heritage in Ireland, I think it would definitely be a lot nicer and a lot easier if there was. It makes things quite hard, not only finding support and sponsors. I do have a lot of sponsors who are helping me at the moment, and without them, it wouldn’t be possible. But at the same time, it’s still really hard.
Luckily for me, the results have been a really helpful thing. In karting, as I said before, it was a real struggle, but once we went to cars… cars are a lot easier to sell to people. So cars were a bit easier sponsorship-wise, but it requires a lot of hard work and determination.
My family and I never gave up. We were always pushing, always trying to meet people, and always actively looking for sponsorship to try and help me. In the end, if you do make it, it makes everything nicer because your hard work pays off. But until you do make it, it’s a lot harder.
Fueler: Final question – You spend a lot of time with your father. How is the relationship, and… who is right more often?!
Dunne: Yeah, no, my relationship with my dad is really, really good. Me and my dad are like best friends, almost. We spend a lot of time together, and as I said, he’s always there helping me if I need any support. He’s always there for me. He’s always there no matter the situation. He’s always there helping me. So I have a really good relationship with my dad.
In terms of who is always right? I think, in the end, it probably tends to end up being him. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am. I think that’s why I listen to him so much. He’s a clever guy, so he helps me out a lot. There are times when I like to believe I’m right and I can be. But in the end, usually, it’s him, to be fair.
Fueler: Thank you for your time Alex!