Robert Wickens admits, “Motorsport can be ruthless”

Canadian race car driver Robert Wickens has a long and arduous journey behind him. Let’s review his career as he’s about to write a new chapter of his life as a competitor in the IndyCar series.

Robert Wickens admits, “Motorsport can be ruthless”
Robert Wickens, Mercedes-AMG Team HWA, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Robert Wickens, Mercedes-AMG Team HWA, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Podium: Race winner Robert Wickens, Mercedes-AMG Team HWA, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Robert Wickens, Mercedes-AMG Team HWA, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM with his girlfriend
Robert Wickens, Mercedes-AMG Team HWA, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Robert Wickens, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Robert Wickens, Mercedes-AMG Team HWA, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Robert Wickens, Mücke Motorsport AMG Mercedes C-Coupe
Robert Wickens
Robert Wickens celebrates second place
Race two pole sitter Robert Wickens
Robert Wickens
Robert Wickens
Robert Wickens
Robert Wickens

Born in Toronto, Ontario on March 13, 1989, Robert Wickens reckons he got the racing bug at a very young age. “From my parents, I know that I was a difficult child who was always crying. One day, there was a Formula 1 race on TV, and I just stood there spellbound. So my father thought: “Okay, maybe he likes cars.” He got me a toy car and I played with it,” Wickens said.

Robert and his bother Trevor played with toy cars and got involved into karting together. “When I was five and he was ten, we were always making Lego cars to play Demolition Derby. I’m very lucky that he has just as much passion for motor racing as I do, but instead of driving, he’s interested in the technical side. This has also made me far more aware of how cars work. He was taking care of everything else, and I felt it was incumbent on me to help him. The eye for detail that I’ve developed, I owe 100 percent to my brother and to the thoroughness he applies to his work in motorsports,” Robert added.

Robert Wickens started by racing karts, and then won the Formula BMW USA championship in 2006. A year later, he finished third in the Formula Atlantic series, racing for team Red Bull/Forsythe. Those first few seasons of car racing required his family to make huge sacrifices.

“My parents literally took a major gamble and sold their house,” Wickens admitted. “At that time, they sat me down and asked: “Is it really what you want? It would be no disgrace if you stopped now. We just need to know if this is the career you want.” So, aged 14, I had to say quite specifically: “Yes, this is what I want to do.” That was a difficult time for me. My parents had to sell the house just to pay off the debts they had accumulated over the years for my sport. Today, I feel bad about it, because I was so selfish. My parents did absolutely everything for me, and yet I expected more.”

A new and tough life in the UK

Wickens moved to Great Britain in 2008 and competed in the Formula Renault 3.5 series and the Formula 3 Euroseries, not scoring impressive results. The year after, he moved to the Formula 2 series where he endured tough times.

“It’s the only time I really questioned whether motorsport was the right thing for me. That was the worst year of my life. I was living in England and was not happy at all. I couldn’t afford a car, and I was living at a friend’s house in Silverstone. It’s a little village in the middle of nowhere. I had to ride 15 kilometres on a borrowed bike to get to the gym where I did my training. It was a strange sort of life. Our house didn’t even have Internet when I arrived, so I had to go to the pub around the corner to use their Wi-Fi. The season started okay, I won the first few races, but after that, my car always had some technical fault or another. I had seven retirements due to technical issues in 14 races. My championship prospects were gone, and then my teammate Henry Surtees also died in a terrible accident. And to cap it all, I got dropped from the Red Bull junior squad at the end of the year. That was probably the low point in my life. This was really my first real experience of how ruthless motorsport can be.”

Wickens claimed second place in the 2009 Formula 2 championship and then second place again a year later in the GP3 series, racing for Status Grand Prix.

“I had driven for Status Grand Prix in the 2007 and 2008 A1GP series, and they were looking for a driver who would win races for them and hopefully the title in GP3. I was just so incredibly lucky that the team had liked me the first time we worked together. The year went well, and I finished second in the championship. But it was also a bit frustrating; because it was the fourth time that I had finished second in a championship in Europe. I thought to myself: “When am I finally going to win a title?” Wickens asked.

Money, more money…

The Canadian had his heart set on Formula 1 and got promoted as the reserve driver for Marussia Virgin Racing. “I drove the car in Friday practice at Abu Dhabi. I gave a good account of myself and was only a tenth of a second behind Timo Glock, who was then one of their regular drivers. A lot of other teams expressed interest in me, but then everyone needed funding.

“We were in negotiations with Marussia Virgin Racing about the 2012 season. They told me that I had to raise a certain amount. We managed to do this, so I kept my side of the bargain. Then a driver came along with a lot more money behind him, and they said: “Sorry, we’ll take him unless you can find the following amount in the next two weeks.” That was impossible for me,” declared the Canadian.

That same season, he clinched the Formula Renault 3.5 series’ title after a titanic battle against Jean-Éric Vergne. At the end of the season, Wickens was approached by Toto Wolff, who was then part owner of both Williams and HWA, and asked if he was interested in a DTM test.

“Obviously, I said yes,” Wickens continued. “He arranged a test for me at the end of 2011, and I loved the car right from the word go. It was great fun working with the team, but I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to give up on Formula 1. I was still negotiating with Marussia, so when that eventually fell through, I said to myself: “Okay, Formula 1 can go hang.” And quite honestly, I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I knew that the DTM was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The fact was that Mercedes wanted me, while the others just wanted my money. That’s why I chose the DTM, and I don’t regret it in the slightest. Because where would I be in Formula 1 now? I would be fighting for survival every year, trying to move from a small team to a better one.”

After having raced for six years in the DTM series for Mercedes-Benz, the Canadian elected to turn the page, especially since the German car manufacturer had announced that it would leave the DTM after the 2018 season.

Robert Wickens will join his long time friend and fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the IndyCar series. Wickens will contest his first race on March 11th, 2018, at the IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

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