A name for the future: Callan O’Keeffe

The world is a small place. A few months ago Matt Bishop mentioned on Twitter that a young driver with passion and knowledge of Formula 1 – Callan O’Keeffe – was refreshing in this day and age where there is a tendency to ignore the magnificent heritage of our sport.

Then the kid paid homage to Jody Scheckter in Monaco and I promptly followed him on Twitter, indeed he has racing in his blood and it emerged that not only was he a knowledgeable driver who races with FA Racing, but we had actually ‘crossed paths’ in 2001!

He tells the tale below about how he went with his family to a test at Kyalami where BMW-Williams and BAR-Honda had their 2001 cars doing comprehensive preseason testing during the weekend of 9 February 2001 at our home track. No restrictions in those days.

At the time Williams had two FW23s in South Africa for Ralf Schumacher and new signing Juan Pablo Montoya, while BAR Honda had a single BAR003 for their drivers Jaques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis.

It so happens, I was on-duty shooting pictures from the pit lane, and four-year-old Callan was jumping up and down in the stands! Fascinated by the coincidence I popped him a Q&A and he delivered the answers:

Where are you based now?
CK: Currently I’m based in the UK near St Albans. I’ve moved around a lot depending on where my family/race teams have been based.

Where did you start racing?
CK: I started racing in SA. I only did about 3 days in total (one test day and 2 races) at Zwartkops, for which I was greatly underprepared. I think I came last in my first race and somewhere in the midfield in the second but as my family wasn’t from motorsport they thought I could just in and be competitive with no experience. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy 😅

Explain your journey thus far…
CK: It’s been a fairly long one but in a short period of time! After those days at Zwartkops, one year later I had one a club level karting championship in the UK. My parents then threw me into the deep end, racing in KF3 in Europe.
It was a huge learning curve but a very successful year, became British Rookie Champion and finishing 3rd in the World Championships behind Max Verstappen and Alex Albon and with Pierre Gasly in 4th.
In that race, I actually got into second and started to catch Alex but I got very ill on the Wednesday of the race and lost 6 kilos and in 35-degree heat, I fell away quite a lot. From there, another year in KF3 followed, spending the fighting with Max on the way to becoming Vice World And British Champion.
I was picked up by Red Bull after a shootout and put in their F1 Junior Team competing in Formula BMW. That was a very successful season. Five poles, four wins and six podiums, followed by a less fortunate campaign in Formula ADAC…due to circumstances outside of my control.
I then parted ways with Red Bull and was picked up by Lotus within three days to compete in Formula Renault. Back to winning ways and competing with second and third year drivers straight away, it was a good season.
However, Lotus’s withdrawal meant from F1 meant the Junior Team no longer existed and from there I had to take a year out of racing to try and find budget. I did only 2 races in 2016, before getting a drive in British F3.
It was a good year, fighting with the bigger teams and I managed to show my speed in both LMP3 and USF2000 over in America. However, that too was done on a shoestring before another year out in 2018. Thankfully, now I’m back racing with FA Racing by Drivex and loving it.

How did you get involved with FA Racing?
CK: I got an instagram message. I was really lucky they reached out! FA Karts really helped launch my career and help to my first major championships so to be back under the banner is amazing.

Have you met Fernando, if yes please elaborate…
CK: A few times now. The first time was the launch event at his karting track in Oviedo. He’s a really cool guy and very helpful. His attention to detail is amazing and shows why he is as good as he in a race car. He was also at Round 1 at Monza, offering insight in the debriefs and helping all the drivers and team. To have a driver of his calibre offering you advice is invaluable!

What are your plans for 2019?
CK: To be honest we are a little bit behind as a team. I missed all the testing and the team is new to the championship. However, the goal is always to be the fastest and win races. Within the team, we have a great group of really talented and hard working people and so far I think we are doing a good job.  I have no doubt we will be able to achieve this objective!

What are your plans beyond that?
CK: Having spent so many years sat on the sideline I really would like to make a career in racing and achieve my childhood dream of being a world champion. As it was FA Racing who gave me the opportunity to come back it would be great to do it with them in some capacity.

Whose your favourite F1 driver ever? And of the current era?
CK: Jody obviously comes to mind and it was amazing to pay tribute to him in Monaco by using his helmet on the 40th anniversary of his victory there for Ferrari. Of the current era I would say, Fernando. His ability to hustle a car to the limit is a hugely rare talent and having worked closely with him this year, you realise just how good he is!

You are an F1 buff by all accounts? Where does this stem from?
CK: Just my love of the sport. I’ve loved F1 since my father took me to Kyalami when I was 4 year old. There was some Williams F1 cars testing there and as they came past I jumped my height and threw my toy rabbit in the air. From there, I used to spend days reading about F1 and even fell asleep watching season reviews. It’s just my obsession.

Tell me a bit about the test in SA with Williams and BAR? You were there!!! I was there!!!! What do you remember from that day?
CK: I remember everything. The sound, the smell. The vibration as the cars got closer. I was stood at Mineshaft and the first time the cars came past I realised this was what I wanted to do. I jumped my height, threw my toy rabbit in the air and proceeded to make my father and brother spend the whole day there constantly asking for “just one more lap”. That was the day that sparked the obsession and make me realise I needed to be a World Champion one day and set me on the path I’m on today!

These are the photos taken during that test! Small world!