Never one to seek the spotlight, Trevor Carlin even agonised long and hard before allowing the motor racing team he founded to bear his name. Duly christened Carlin Racing, the team and their owner may not be well known outside the sport but their influence looms large. The drivers who have been through his stable have more than made their mark, with Formula One world champions among them, including Sebastian Vettel.

Carlin has assembled a remarkable roster over the past 23 years but credits racing instinct over any grand plan. “I have a very good gut,” he says. “I get a fantastic gut feeling about people.”

With his team in lockdown, Carlin – a man who ordinarily looks forward only to the next race, the next win – is happy to consider the past. Vettel raced for him in the Renault 3.5 Series in 2006 and 2007, before being promoted by Red Bull midway through the latter, into F1. The character and talent of the four-times world champion stood out even then.

“He was the most natural, relaxed, funniest team member you could ever wish for,” says Carlin. “We would sit in the truck and Sebastian would be there watching Little Britain, laughing and joking with the mechanics. Then he would get in the car and be laughing and joking on the radio but when the lights went out he was all business. Immediately afterwards he knew exactly what he wanted to make the car faster and then he was back watching Little Britain, having a laugh with the lads. It was incredible, it was so easy for him to be fast.”

The 57-year-old team owner formed Carlin Motorsport in 1996, with only £50 in the bank. They have since competed in 22 series including currently in the F1 feeder series, F2 and F3, in IndyCar in the US and the British F3 and F4 championship. With more than 400 race wins, the team’s skill and dedication has made Carlin’s team a hothouse for talent. More than 200 drivers have been through the doors of the base in Farnham.

Of the current F1 grid, alongside Vettel all of Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat are team alumni. Former F1 drivers include Robert Kubica, Anthony Davidson, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Éric Vergne to name but a few and the former Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato occupied one of the team’s first seats. Even the F1 medical car is driven by Alan van der Merwe, the South African who won the British F3 championship for Carlin in 2003.

It has been a remarkable achievement for the man who has thrown his all into racing since he was a teenager. Carlin left school to work as a gopher for his uncles who ran a Formula Ford team and worked his way up the sport from junior mechanic to team management by the late 80s. There was no university or higher education, instead only racing. “I wanted to be involved in the sport and the best way was to work in it. Just hard work, which was 18 hours a day, seven days a week. You learn a lot in a short time and I have loved every minute of it.”

This year, if and when the season begins, he has another strong lineup set for F2 with Jehan Daruvala and Yuki Tsunoda, backed by Red Bull and Honda. They enter a special environment, one Carlin is proud of and one he is convinced has helped his drivers to thrive.

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The team that was founded with six people is now a hundred strong but retains a powerful sense of being a family unit. Through it all Carlin has juggled the pressure with the sense of responsibility he feels toward his personnel, successfully creating an atmosphere attractive to drivers and their backers. The team ran Norris from his first test before he was old enough to race, to when he joined F1 in 2019.

Carlin’s instinct about Norris’s potential proved correct, as it did with another of the stars of the new generation, albeit the one who got away. “We nearly got Max Verstappen. I desperately wanted him but had already filled all my seats. I knew he was by far the best prospect. So much so I went down the bookies and put a bet on him becoming an F1 driver within three years when he hadn’t even done a single-seater race. I saw him at a test and thought: ‘This kid is incredible.’ I love the sport, I know who has got it and who can make it.”

The honours board at Farnham is proof enough of how successfully Carlin has followed those instincts and indeed why so many drivers owe a debt to one of motor racing’s most productive stables. The name may not be well known but that it is still above the door is enough for its owner. “I am as excited with a win now as I was with the first. I know what we go through to get us there.”

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