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INTERVIEW: Maya Weug relishes the pressure of driving for Ferrari

01st May 2024
Ian Parkes

One van, one mechanic, a second-hand kart chassis, a three-by-three tent, and selling old tyres to make ends meet. From humble beginnings, motorsport careers are forged. That's certainly the case for Maya Weug, Ferrari's F1 Academy star, who at 11 years of age stepped onto the first rung of a ladder that eventually resulted in her making history when she became the first female driver to be selected for the Ferrari Driver Academy.

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Now 19, Weug is proudly sporting the Ferrari colours as a Prema Racing driver in the F1 Academy, the all-female racing series run by Susie Wolff, with its intention to provide support for aspiring women drivers to continue their climb to the top.

Like any youngster, Weug was bitten by the karting bug after attending kart tracks alongside her father, albeit his interest was purely as a hobby rather than from any professional aspect.

Aged seven, Weug and her brother, Lucas, two years younger, were fortunate to be bought karts as presents. "Of course, I fell in love with the racing and the speed straight away," Weug told us. "My brother didn't like it so he stopped quite soon. Since then, I've just been involved in racing and never stopped since."

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Maya's progression through the karting ranks was steady, and it is a familiar tale for many aspiring racers, because "it has never been easy to find the budget. Every year it is the same struggle you have in racing".

Those early days, however, particularly as Weug started to compete against older children in events in the country of her birth, Spain, were intoxicating.

"There were a couple of drivers at the kart track close to my home," said Weug. "We just went around with a van, with a second-hand chassis we bought from the world championships in ROTAX the year before.

"That's how we almost won the Spanish championship in 2015, just with a van, and in a small three-by-three tent. We would cook inside the van at the racetrack. It was me, my dad, their parents, and one mechanic. That's all we had.

"It's still pure motorsport and the most fun you can have."

I remember the first time I wore the Ferrari t-shirt, I just got goosebumps straight away.

Waya Weug Ferrari Driver Academy

Despite the title near-miss, Weug stepped up to international level the following year with WSK. Naturally, the degree of funding required also increased, although ingenuity at least played a part in keeping her on track.

"I had a small team again, and they were collecting old tyres to then sell to other people in Spain or back to smaller teams," explained Weug. "When I was free in the paddock I would just go around with a scooter and collect old tyres to then sell them, which is how I got my money for my racing that season."

Weug went on to win the WSK Final Cup in the '60 Mini' class in 2016, a victory that aided her karting career, bringing support and sponsorship, and notably a place in the Richard Mille Young Talent Academy in 2019.

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When the FIA's Girls on Track Rising Stars programme launched in 2020, a project to identify the best 12-16-year-old female drivers from around the world, it provided the platform for Weug that led her to Ferrari.

From 20 candidates, she was one of four selected for the finals. According to Ferrari, Weug "did well enough to reach the finals with three other girls and was picked as the best on the basis of her outright performance in the car, her hard work and ability to take on instructions she was given".

The reward was a single-seater drive with Iron Lynx in 2021 and Iron Dames the following year in two difficult series over both seasons - the Italian F4 Championship primarily, as well as the ADAC F4 Championship, albeit as a guest in the latter in which she was ineligible to score points.

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"The Girls on Track programme has been an amazing step in my career," said Weug. "The first season was obviously a big step from karting to single-seaters, so that was a bit difficult. Then I think we made a really good step forward in the second season in Formula 4 where we were in the top ten on a number of weekends."

A switch to the Formula Regional European Championship (FRECA) followed last year when further steady progress was made. Driving for KIC Motorsport, Weug scored a rookie win and finished third in the rookie category.

Now representing Ferrari in F1 Academy, Weug is living a dream, although is determined to repay the faith shown in her over the past few years since being inducted into the FDA.

"I remember the first time I wore the Ferrari t-shirt, I just got goosebumps straight away," said Weug. "Then the first year everything is new and there's a lot to learn, but you get into this family, into this world.

"Living in Maranello, if we're not on track, we are training there, and there are a lot of people with so much experience you can learn from. Having them by my side has been an amazing help.

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"And now this year, having the Ferrari livery on my F1 Academy car is also really cool. It's amazing to be part of the family."

In the opening round of the F1 Academy in Jeddah in March, Weug finished third and second in the two races. She is currently second in the standings going into this weekend's second event in Miami.

Representing Ferrari, Weug recognises there is a certain pressure that comes with the responsibility, although none greater than she is placing on herself.

"As a racing driver, we always have pressure on ourselves - we put it on ourselves," she said. "Of course, this year I want to win, and I'm putting pressure on myself because of that as well.

"In the end, we're all used to that and we have to get used to the pressure. We all do as racing drivers but I don't think it gets more or less because of it. It's my fourth year in the Academy, so I know everyone, I know what everyone expects, and I know what I can do this season."

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Clinching the title this year would result in a return to FRECA, albeit fully funded, a crucial step in the journey to F1 which, quite naturally, is the target.

"As a little girl, that's what I've always dreamed about," she said. "Being a part of the Academy and making that step up every year, of course, you're getting closer and closer to what your goal is.

"But you have to take it step by step, to keep working day by day and then never give up, to keep pushing and try to do as best as you can."

At least Weug, born in Spain but with a Dutch father and Belgian mother, has settled on a nationality for when the flag flies on those occasions she stands on the podium after previously racing under all three banners.

"I can't say I'm one or the other because I'm still a mix of all three," said Weug. "At home, we speak Dutch, and I've always worn the Dutch flag on my helmet, so we went for the Dutch one from now on to try to keep it so that everyone knows where I'm from."

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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