“I can walk away with a smile on my face knowing that I came a long way and I am proud of what I have achieved.” – Toni Naudé

Karting superstar Toni Naudé was one of the twenty racing drivers chosen by their country’s motorsport federation to participate in the Girls On Track – Rising Stars programme that was set up by the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission. The programme was created to boost young female karters and give them the chance to make the step up to Formula 4. The Swiss teenager showed her talent in an effort to get chosen as the winner of a 2021 Ferrari Driver Academy and Formula 4 seat.

Naudé’s Rising Stars rivals were nineteen other 12 to 16 year old girls from all over the world. Not all of them were new faces. Just 2,5 months before the official start of the programme, Naudé had competed against Rising Stars rivals Maya Weug and Lola Lovinfosse in the FIA Karting European Championship.

“My fellow competitors [were really amazing]. I managed to make friends with all of them and we had such a fun time together. It was really fun to compete against them on the track and in the performance and media trainings.”

The girl from Switzerland, who finished fourth in the Schweizer Kart Meisterschaft just two years after she started karting, was a bit nervous but mostly excited before the start of the programme. The Rising Stars project started with a karting shootout and training camp. It had been a long time since Naudé competed in the OKJ karts the girls were driving around Paul Ricard in. She had already graduated to the OK class, but got used to the OKJs again pretty quickly.

FIA WIM president Michèle Mouton gave the participants some initial words of encouragement, and famous racing drivers Felipe Massa, Beitske Visser and Michelle Gatting had also flown into France to give the girls some tips. This was a very exciting occasion for the teenagers who are still at the very start of their racing career. “I never dreamed we would have so many high profile people around us. At first I was quite nervous to meet them and speak to them but they were all so approachable that it was easy to talk to them,” Naudé says.

On the Friday of the first training camp, Naudé was chosen as one of eight drivers to take part in the Formula 4 training camp that took place a few weeks after the initial event. While she hadn’t raced in F4 cars yet, Naudé did have some testing behind her, both privately in Italy and with the other Rising Stars participants at Paul Ricard. The simulator sessions with the Winfield Racing School, who aided the Rising Stars competitors, were a good preparation for the real work but it’s still very different from driving a real car on a race track.

“The real life qualifying and race simulation sessions were quite tough. There was a lot of pressure especially in qualifying to get your fastest lap as quickly as possible as you only have time for a few laps. In the end the sessions went really well for me with the guidance of the coaches.”

It wasn’t all hard work though, and the girls had a lot of fun together. Naudé recalls a story with rival turned friend Maya Weug, which shows that the competitiveness of racing drivers seeps into all areas of life.

“Maya and I were heading to the restaurant for dinner one night. It was pitch black outside. Maya and I were chasing each other through the parking lot and racing towards the entrance to the restaurant. The entrance was a massive glass door and neither of us saw it in the dark. We both managed to miss crashing into the door at the last second and both ended up in fits of giggles over the whole thing. It really was very funny.”

Unfortunately, the F4 training camp was the endpoint for the Swiss driver. “Of course I was disappointed when I didn’t make it through to the final training camp at Ferrari. But I can walk away with a smile on my face knowing that I came a long way and I am proud of what I have achieved,” she says. “I learned a lot about tyre management, how to brake properly and also about the gears and driving technique. If I would do anything different I would probably work on warming up my tyres quicker so that they get to their peak quicker and I can put in fast laps from the beginning.”

While the Rising Stars adventure is over for Naudé, she is hoping to find sponsorship to race in Formula 4 next year. “We are currently working on options and I hope to be able to communicate my plans soon!”

All image credits go to the FIA

-Irene van der Sanden

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