Ostracised, scorned, despised and rebuked. There’s a story behind Dan Ticktum, but it’s not necessarily the one that played out in the public eye.
Although there are people who will have followed the 19-year-old’s story closely over the years, many will have only seen the headlines.
There are three moments that come to mind, but only one that seems to define the Briton’s career: the racing ban.
One moment in a million is unfair to judge anyone on. It’s a topic that cropped up again at the Norisring last month, when Ticktum was rear-ended by European Formula 3 rival Ameya Vaidyanathan in spectacular fashion. Later that day Ticktum was standing on the top step of the podium.
We sat Ticktum down and asked: how different is the Ticktum of today to the one who was stepping up to cars in 2015?
“That’s a good question,” he says.
“Well, I think I’ve pretty much become a man, to an extent. That’s what I’d say is the biggest difference. I think there’s just so many levels of professionalism that you learn in this stage of your life, particularly in the time that you’ve just said. I’ve had to learn a lot, quite quickly. For sure, I feel like I have done. I now feel like I’m pretty much as close to being ready for Formula 1 that someone my age could be.”
A very assured answer from a driver who is yet to win a championship title in single-seaters.
Ticktum has excelled though, and is still improving his driving day-by-day, and it’s no surprise that he’s now a Macau Grand Prix winner and just one point off the European F3 championship lead heading to Zandvoort.
“I think if I did junior karting now, providing I was the right weight, I would make far less mistakes,” says Ticktum.
“A drive where I finished fourth in one race, five years ago, because of a mistake on the first lap for being too impatient or whatever, would definitely have different outcomes if I were to be in it now.”
During Ticktum’s karting career he often found himself as team-mate to or fighting against Britain’s other rising stars, whether that be Lando Norris, Enaam Ahmed, Max Fewtrell or Jamie Caroline.
In 2013, he was team-mate to Norris at the crack Ricky Flynn Motorsport team, and just lost out on the European junior title to him. The end margin between the two was zero points.
It’s Caroline who Ticktum picks out as his greatest karting rival though.
“When I was in Cadets karts, I hated him. We absolutely hated each other. It was quite funny, and we get on really well now. And obviously a bit of a rivalry with Norris.
“Although I think when we were in karting, it was evident who was the favoured driver, in pretty much all aspects. It’s something I just had to sort of accept, really. Dad explained to me how karting works; it can be a little bit political, to say the least.”
The Ticktum of old may well have dwelled on such details and let it chip away at his on-track performance, but the travails he’s been through off the back of his own misdemeanour means he now has a solid, and successful, approach to such problems.
“Sometimes, when you’re younger particularly, and you know that you have inferior kit or this political stuff, it’s incredibly difficult to get that out of your mind.
“You have to realise that at some point your luck turns, if you keep doing the right thing. You just have to keep going. I mean that was the thing throughout last year [in Eurocup Formula Renault]. I know I wasn’t in the best place.
“In terms of rivals though, the best way I’ve ever heard to describe them is by Dan Hazlewood from Fusion and the guys at iZone back in 2011. They knew how much Caroline was getting on my nerves, so they were trying to figure out a way of helping me deal with it. They said: ‘the more you think about other people, the more of your pie you give to them’. If you know what I mean?
“You need to keep the whole pie to perform at your best. The more you’re thinking about other people, or your rivals, the less you’re going to perform. Now, I don’t really think about anyone when I’m driving, apart from myself. I don’t fear anybody, I don’t believe anybody is better than me in pretty much any way.”
It may seem arrogant, but cast your mind back to September 2015, as so many people do, and see how the events that took place at Silverstone would’ve been different had Ticktum been applying this approach. A self-focused driver does not usually get rattled by others.
And if Ticktum is annoyed about something, he’s the type of driver now that will convey it with words, rather than actions.
When he returned to motorsport last year, Ticktum had a point to prove and a reputation to shake. His season in the Eurocup went some way to doing that, but seventh in the standings with championship debutants Arden was not enough for the man himself.
“It was [a disappointment].
“I worked very hard to try to have an incredibly big comeback, and I wanted to prove that I’d worked hard on all things that I wasn’t good at to try to improve myself. The right people saw that I had changed, but I think it’s a shame I didn’t get the chance to absolutely win in the way that I think I could’ve done, providing I’d had a slightly stronger package.
“But that was always to be expected. The team were new to it, so it was always going to be difficult.”
Ticktum however has been quick to adapt to new machinery. He was a winner by his third British Formula 4 race. It took two attempts in his 2017 GP3 cameo to be the best non-ART Grand Prix driver in qualifying, and just six starts in a contemporary F3 car before winning Macau. He ran in the top six on his Super Formula debut at Sugo with no experience of the car, and most famously impressed a panel of judges with his performances in a MSV Formula 2, Mercedes DTM and McLaren GT3 car to win last year’s McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.
Reflecting back on GP3, even Ticktum is surprised by how well his debut went.
“At Monza I was expecting I could’ve been in the last couple [of cars]. I wasn’t expecting to be top 10 after about eight laps of FP1. I knew I could do something special, because I’m very very good at getting used to things quickly. But I would say I was a little bit surprised by that.
“[The Pirelli tyres were] quite tricky. They took a little bit of getting used to, but to be honest, if you just approach it intelligently, it’s pretty easy to get your head round.”
His transition from karts to cars was the most important, but a lack of the aforementioned intelligent thinking meant that season ended in acrimonious circumstances.
“The level of professionalism [in karting] has changed hugely,” Ticktum begins.
“Lots of people take karting very seriously, and obviously you have to when you’re young and trying to achieve your dream, but it’s, let’s face it, a much less professional and in some ways quite difficult environment with all the politics of the engines and everything. It’s worse in karts, you know. Because obviously the racing, people hit each other a bit more.
“I think my transition itself, obviously in the first year I did something stupid. But in terms of actually getting into a car and getting used to driving it, it didn’t take very long at all. You just have to have the right people around you when you’re young, telling you what is the right time to go to cars.
“Some 15-year-olds are mature enough to deal with the transition, and all the different levels of professionalism that you need to be in F4 [compared to karting]. Some aren’t.”
One of the people Ticktum had by his side in F4 was GT racing star Euan Hankey.
“Euan was my driver coach. He helped a lot in bringing me up to speed, like how to drive a car [straight] from karts, as quickly as possible. We don’t work together now, but we’re good friends and he still says to me: don’t make mistakes.”
Two more recent supporters of Ticktum have been Arden’s Julian Rouse, from when he raced in the Eurocup last year and prior to that as a Young Racing Driver Academy graduate, and current Motopark F3 boss Timo Rumpfkeil.
“Julian was a very very big supporter of me last year. When reports had to go back to Helmut, it was all done very professionally, and he was enthusiastic and always fighting my corner, which was nice.”
“Timo’s also been good. Ever since the end of the year I was banned, when I did some testing with him. And they [Motopark] wanted me quite a lot, which is a nice feeling. He’s a cheeky guy, let’s put it like that. Which I quite like, but he has a lot of [valuable] experience.
“He is a big supporter of me, and likes the way I am. For similar reasons as to why Helmut likes me. I’ve got a lot of grit, a lot of fire, and all the rest of it.”
As well as support from the likes of Hankey, Rouse and Rumpfkeil, Ticktum received a wealth of feedback from the MABA judges after his 2017 success.
“They have given me lots of what I would say definitely is constructive feedback. I can’t obviously reveal all of it, because I want to use it for myself.
“The whole experience was incredibly beneficial in pretty much every way you could think of. They’re just a brilliant bunch of people, and I really felt like they wanted what’s best for me, which is a really nice feeling.
“I won’t be able to do the McLaren sim stuff though because I do that for Red Bull.”
Although the Red Bull work comes with no guarantee of an F1 test, Ticktum has impressed the team with his time in the simulator.
“I did that [impressed Red Bull] about two years ago, which was the first time I’d ever got in the F1 sim. And I was very quick.
“Now, it’s about developing the car, so it’s more about consistency and giving the best feedback you can to improve the car as quickly as possible.
“I’m effectively just like a robot,” Ticktum concludes with a laugh.
Red Bull has a vacancy for the mid-season rookie test, and Ticktum is a prime candidate.
“I think that’s a very high possibility. I’d like to keep my fingers crossed, because I’d obviously like to drive the F1 car. I will be able to do the McLaren [prize] day, which will be in October, which is very exciting.”
Ticktum has confidence in his ability compared to the other rookies in this year’s strong European F3 field, with his two strongest rivals currently Prema’s Marcus Armstrong and fellow MABA finalist Enaam Ahmed of Hitech GP.
“There’s a lot of good rookies, all of whom are beatable, but they’re very good. I do believe I’m more mature than all of them considerably, and also just quicker as well.
“I think I can win [the championship] this year, honestly. But I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.
“You can set goals for the season, and my goal is to win. But I don’t like having it completely set in stone, like a religious goal. Because I believe in this sport there’s so many variables, you have to keep everything pretty open and you just have to do the best job you can do at any one time. If you keep doing that, you’ll get to where you want to be.”
This was the mindset Ticktum had on the trip to Macau last year, which he famously won.
“I was eighth in the qualifying race [in 2016] and then I got hit off [in the main race]. So I was hoping for top five [in 2017].
“In the back of my mind there was lots going through my head, which basically consisted of: ‘I’ve done two days of F3 testing this year. I’m not the best prepared’.
“But Macau is such an anomaly. It’s almost so much down to the driver, I thought that I could definitely finish top five. And it became evident after testing that we were one of, if not the quickest on the track.”
Ticktum understands why he’s quick in the Dallara F3 car, but also sees areas to improve.
“You have to brake very very late, but because it hasn’t got a lot of power, you have to keep the corner speeds up as well. I think the late braking part, using the downforce to really stop the car, is something that suits me quite a lot.
“I tend to push [corner] entries a little too much, and that obviously compromises mid-corner and exit speeds. So I have to be a bit careful of that, that’s something I’m very aware of. In winter testing I improved quite dramatically [on that].”
Ticktum’s had the joint most retirements this season, including the car-destroying Norisring shunt, but hasn’t finished a race lower than fifth, winning at the Hungaroring and most remarkably the Norisring after Motopark rebuilt his car.
There is a lot of respect for both the work of the team and its boss. Motopark was Ticktum and Red Bull Junior Team boss Dr Helmut Marko’s first choice for 2018, although Marko doesn’t get too involved with his protege.
“Personally, he hasn’t said a lot to me in terms of like, help. Because he’s very very tough, he doesn’t really speak – I don’t really call him. Or he doesn’t call me.
“There’s very limited communications. When we do speak, it’s very matter-of-fact. Without even speaking to him, I know what he wants. Hats off to my dad, he’s a very clever guy, and he knows what Helmut wants too.
“In terms of [giving] advice, the Red Bull programme isn’t like that. But I like that, because it means you don’t have people holding your hand every five minutes, which suits me.
“I believe the best drivers will figure it out for themselves. In many respects, the Red Bull programme is very very good, in that sense at least.”
“It totally depends on what Red Bull want for me. At this stage, the obvious thing to say is go to F2.
“I think with Red Bull and the state of its programme at the moment, they obviously need a driver. So this year I’m preparing myself as if I were going to F1 quite soon. I’ll prepare myself the best I can and hopefully an opportunity is going to come my way.”
Concentrating on himself has helped Ticktum maximise his recent opportunities, and the more he impresses, the more those opportunities become available. It’s the type of approach that may bring Fernando Alonso the motorsport ‘Triple Crown’.
“I love all disciplines of racing,” says Ticktum. “But I think at this stage, I’ve just got to get to F1 and do the job there. Then we can see what else I can do.
“I’ll focus on getting to F1 first, and achieving the dream of winning in it before I start thinking about anything else.
“But I think it will get to the stage where I would like to try some other things. I think GTE and GT3 are fabulous. I love the cars, they’re just amazing.”
As Ticktum progresses further into his career, he’ll become more recognisable, and there will be other drivers looking up to him.
“I take a lot of inspiration from people. I believe you can learn a lot more from others than you can yourself, as well as yourself,” he explains.
“My biggest hero now is James Hunt. I think he’s just brilliant, in lots of ways, and obviously terrible in many, many others.
“When I was very young, first person I really looked up to was [Michael] Schumacher. Then when I was an eight-year-old it became [Lewis] Hamilton.”
When asked if Ticktum thinks he can be an inspiration to young people, he’s open to the idea.
“I think I can be. In the sport these days, drivers are taught to be very, very robotic, which is always doing the job.
“You have to get the balance right [on personality]. I think what I bring to the table is what a lot of other drivers don’t, is a bit of personality. Some will say it’s my personality that got me into trouble, but, you I’ve learnt of ways to curb that. That’s all done and dusted now. It’s off my back.
“I’m still going to be me, in many ways. Because that’s all I can be. But yeah, I hope to be an inspiration.”
Versatile, focused, champion and an inspiration. Quite a distance from what many have previously thought Ticktum was made of.