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How Red Bull's next British star earned a fast-track to F3

Arvid Lindblad has been a Red Bull Junior since he was 13. Now, at 16, he’s ready for a rookie F3 season under the noses of the F1 elite. Pressure? Sure, but it’s all about handling it

Arvid Linblad, Prema

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It’s early morning in Portugal. A 13-year-old English lad, ready for a day of karting, is sitting with his father. The phone rings.

“I remember me and my dad were at breakfast at a hotel near Portimao,” recalls Arvid Lindblad. “I was doing some testing there before the world champs. My dad’s phone was on the table and it rang, and it said ‘Graz, Austria’ on the screen.”

Lindblad Senior walked away to take the call: “When he came back he told me that Helmut wanted us to meet him and have a sitdown about joining the Red Bull programme. F1 that year was racing in Portimao, and because we had the world champs there it worked quite well, so we actually met him on the Sunday morning in the hotel that Red Bull were staying in at the Portuguese Grand Prix. That was where we agreed that I was going to join.”

Three years on, Red Bull chief Helmut Marko has fast-tracked young Lindblad to the FIA Formula 3 Championship, upon which he will embark with Prema Racing in a couple of weeks’ time in the Bahrain opener. It’s just a year and six months since he celebrated his 15th birthday in August 2022 and was able to take his fledgling steps in car racing in some late-season Italian Formula 4 outings.

Ask Lindblad about how he cropped up on Marko’s radar, and he responds: “Even now I still don’t know 100% the ins and outs of it. Helmut is in charge of the cars side and he’s very close with Jos Verstappen, who looks more at the karting. There were quite a few people in the paddock who Jos would talk to, asking, ‘Is there anyone good coming through?’

“My engine builder at the time I had a really good relationship with, and he also had a good relationship with Jos, because he did Max’s engines in karting. Jos asked around the paddock and I guess my name was mentioned a few times, and he passed it on to Helmut and it went like that.”

Linblad impressed Red Bull as a stand-out in karting

Linblad impressed Red Bull as a stand-out in karting

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Nissan Formula E star Oliver Rowland, who acts as a mentor and coach to Lindblad – with a bit of management thrown in – also played a part.

“I’m quite good friends with Max and also Jos,” Rowland explains. “I was always trying to keep them informed of Arvid’s results. I was told that he needed to win something first before anything would come about, and when he did we’d knock on the door again. I was just telling everybody what I thought of him, you know? That in my opinion he needs a chance.

“I was karting at the same time as Max, so we hung out a bit. Then when he went to single-seaters, I helped him a couple of times in his first few days in Formula Renault [the three-time world champion’s first outing in a car came in a test at Pembrey in 2013, with the Manor MP Motorsport team that was running Rowland in the Eurocup at the time], and then we just stayed pretty good friends from then.”

"I knew that you don’t get the opportunity to start a team with someone as good as that very often, so we took a punt" Oliver Rowland

Lindblad grew up in Virginia Water, on the doorstep of Windsor Park, the son of a Swedish dad and a mum of Indian heritage. Lindblad Sr dabbled in motocross as a youngster, “but he didn’t have the budget to make it into a full-time commitment. From my dad’s side of the family there’s always been this real passion for motorsport – my grandad, anything with an engine and wheels he’ll watch.

“When I was three I got a motocross bike, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Then when I was five we did some rental karting [at the local Sandown Park track] and I really loved it, and it all kind of started from there.”

Soon Lindblad was racing seriously with the Zip team, and its connections – emanating from Zip’s late founder Martin Hines – with the Racing Steps Foundation that steered Rowland’s career led to the Yorkshireman coaching its little karting mites. One of them stood out…

During 2016, Lindblad switched teams and was racing happily there when the owner decided he wanted to withdraw from karting. In 2017, Oliver Rowland Motorsport was born, and in 2018 Lindblad won a National Cadet title with the squad.

“He was actually the reason that I started it,” states Rowland. “They were coming into a new season and weren’t really sure what they wanted to do with teams and stuff like that, so I was trying to help and advise them on where to go, and then it came up in conversation about potentially starting a team.

Formula E star Rowland took Lindblad under his wing as a nine-year-old and remains involved in his career

Formula E star Rowland took Lindblad under his wing as a nine-year-old and remains involved in his career

Photo by: Chris Walker

“To be honest it was something that I always wanted to do, but not that early on because I was still doing F2 that year, so I knew taking that responsibility on and doing F2 was going to be quite challenging, but also I knew that you don’t get the opportunity to start a team with someone as good as that very often, so we took a punt. He was nine years old, we were vice British champion in our first year as a single-man team, which was super-impressive.

“It was just him and me and a couple of other guys – one mechanic who helped me in F2 – and we finished second to Taylor Barnard. The next year we won everything, and then he went off to Europe and was super-successful.”

As well as Barnard, Lindblad’s Cadet crop included fellow F3 newcomer Alex Dunne, F4 golden boy Freddie Slater, 2023 British F4 runner-up Will Macintyre and 2022 Ginetta Junior ruler Josh Rowledge. In hindsight, that’s a glut of talent there.

“Yeah, 100%,” agrees Lindblad. “Even now we’re all developing still, but especially at such a young age it’s so crucial to have good people around you, good competitors that you can learn from. You see in the past there’s been generations that come through together and get better and better, like you’ve seen with Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Albon, Russell.

“All of them, they came through together in the span of a couple of years. I’m not saying we’re like that, but you know what I mean.”

It was a similar story in Europe. “To be honest, most of the guys I raced in 2019 I’m still racing now,” points out Lindblad. He became pals quite quickly with James Wharton, and it would be the Australian and his fellow Ferrari Driver Academy protege Tuukka Taponen, plus McLaren junior Ugo Ugochukwu, who would be the leading quartet among Prema’s 2023 Italian F4 line-up. Wharton and Ugochukwu already had a season under their belts, while for Lindblad – whose late 2022 outings came with Van Amersfoort Racing – and Finn Taponen it was a first full year in cars.

Even so, Lindblad shot out of the blocks with a win at Imola, two at Misano and a hat-trick at Monza to hold a comfortable points advantage after four of the seven rounds. Then it all went wrong. US Racing’s Polish talent Kacper Sztuka went on a late-season run of victories to grab the title – and join Lindblad on the Red Bull scheme – and Ugochukwu snatched the runner-up spot. Lindblad describes the crumble as “a bit of a touchy topic”, although there have been reports of engine and brake troubles.

Linblad showed his speed in Italian Formula 4 last year, but missed out on the title in his first year of car racing

Linblad showed his speed in Italian Formula 4 last year, but missed out on the title in his first year of car racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“It was really heartbreaking,” he continues. “I had such an incredible start to the year, winning six out of the first 12 races, and had a massive lead in the championship, and then it went downhill pretty quickly. To be honest none of us still know fully the issues.”

Come November, when he also took part in the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year finals, he was given a new car for the Macau F4 event, qualified on pole and won both races.

“It fixed everything and the performance was really strong again,” he says. “There’s so many things to learn from it. I don’t think I could have won the championship, but I definitely could have been P2 if I’d handled it better. Excuse the language, but ‘shit happens’! I learned a lot from the experience, so I don’t regret it happened and that I had the opportunity to learn those lessons.”

"Me being the underdog, the new guy, the way I see it I’m almost expected not to do so well, so that kind of takes the pressure off, but if I do, it’s huge for me and it’s a great opportunity" Arvid Lindblad

That’s a remarkably mature stance for one so young. No wonder Rowland is impressed: “He has a really good attitude, I liked him, so I wanted to help him. As we realised he’s the real deal and he has a chance to potentially go all the way, then over the years my involvement’s kind of stepped up to the point now where we talk every day, we’re constantly on the hunt for more performance.

“I believe in him so I want to be involved, I want him to succeed. There’s not enough people out there that really give help to the kids to get to the top from such a young age. It’s something that I’m interested in doing. Maybe after my career finishes this is a perfect progression towards that.”

While Taponen, Wharton (now off the Ferrari scheme) and Ugochukwu are all making the logical move to Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine, F3 is a considerably bigger step from F4. Even so, Lindblad has done a little bit of FRegional in the Middle East series, and took a reversed-grid win last month, but suffered from a comparative lack of seat time to get used to the peculiarities of the car.

“In the middle of the year there was discussion between going to FRECA or F3, and Helmut said he wanted me to go to F3 with Prema,” laughs Lindblad. “There wasn’t room for discussion on that when he’d made his mind up!”

Linblad now faces the big step up to F3, but Rowland - and crucially, Marko - believes he's ready

Linblad now faces the big step up to F3, but Rowland - and crucially, Marko - believes he's ready

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Ironically, this Brit with a Swedish name now finds himself partnering a genuine Swede but with Bosnian heritage in the form of Ferrari-backed Dino Beganovic. Sicilian Alpine F1 junior Gabriele Mini completes a potent line-up at Prema.

“I’ve got two really good team-mates and I’m really happy about that,” reckons Lindblad. “There’s so much to learn from them, which can help. It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? They’ll help me to learn, but they can also make my life more difficult. I’ve got to have a good mindset and try to use them in the right way, but I’m not just going to sit around and let them have the fight – I want to be there at times and be part of that.

“They’re going into their second year, they did two years of FRECA as well so they’re really experienced and need to perform – this is a really important year for them so expectation and pressure will be high. Me being the underdog, the new guy, the way I see it I’m almost expected not to do so well, so that kind of takes the pressure off, but if I do, it’s huge for me and it’s a great opportunity. I’m really excited being the underdog – I’m happy to try and rise to the challenge.”

Unsurprisingly, he has revelled in the performance of the Mecachrome V6-powered F3 Dallara during the trio of 2023 post-season tests.

“It’s my favourite car I’ve driven so far,” Lindblad declares. “The feeling of the downforce and the power, everything – it’s a real pleasure to drive. The testing went quite well, there was a real positive trajectory. Jerez was a little bit weak, I struggled a bit, but I made a good step forward at Barcelona, in the top 10 always. And then Imola I was at the bottom end of the top five or six, so that was positive – constant improvement.”

“What’s really important is that he’s still so young that we don’t put too much pressure on pure results,” points out Rowland. “The step’s massive, and he’s only just 16. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders, I guess a certain element of expectation from Red Bull, but from our perspective we have to focus on improving every time we drive.

“We know that he’s in a super-strong team, he has some good people around him, so if he can start off solid, well within the top 10, and then throughout the season keep improving step by step, then hopefully podiums and perhaps the odd win can come towards the end of the season, and who knows? I think that has to be a realistic target and, if it’s any better, then that’s a bonus I guess.”

Can Linblad become Prema's latest F3 sensation?

Can Linblad become Prema's latest F3 sensation?

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

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