Last week, we got a chance to chat with the exciting young Irish motor racing talent Alex Dunne. Dunne has since been crowned the British F4 champion at the age of just 16, as he continues to race through the ranks.
As he makes his way across to us in the hospitality suites at Mondello Park, Alex Dunne is asked: "Would you like to do the interview first, or bring him for a spin?"
"We'll go for a spin first!" is the reply, with glee evident in Dunne's voice.
The 16-year-old from Offaly simply loves driving, and it's evident that it's paying off. The youngster is on the verge of adding the British F4 title to what has already been a record-breaking season in the championship - and winning the Italian title as a bonus isn't out of the question just yet.
The best thing about Dunne is that he knows where he wants to go. F1 is his final destination - and he has a clear and simple plan for how to get there.
British F4 champion Alex Dunne aiming to kick on from brilliant 2022
Alex Dunne is at Mondello Park for a media day with Harris Group - the sponsors who have helped him to such great success in the 2022 season, and continue to support him as he moves through the ranks.
We make our way down to the pitlane, where a Porsche Cayman S is waiting for us. As we trundle down the pitlane, Alex tells me that he likes Mondello, but that's it's pretty small and tight compared to some of the iconic tracks he has driven at.
I suppose, when you get the chance to drive at Monza, Silverstone, Spa, Portimao, et al, before your 18th birthday, you can afford to be picky.
Not that Alex isn't having fun on track. He pushes the car around the twists and turns of Mondello Park's shorter "National Circuit", completely at ease while I attempt to accustom myself to being driven around a race track by a racing driver in a fast, fast car. I lose track of how fast we are going, as I attempt to focus on taking it in - it truly is a spectacular experience.
But it probably feels like nothing to this young racer. This Porsche is nothing compared to the cars that Alex Dunne has enjoyed racing this season.
He has seen great success in both the British and Italian F4 championships this season. Dunne has won the British F4 championship since speaking to us, in his first full season competing in the championship with Hitech Racing. Previous champions include Lando Norris, and the likes of Oscar Piastri have passed through in recent years - and Dunne has won the title in dominant fashion.
With two rounds of the Italian F4 championship left, and a large gap to chase to P1, Dunne skipped the final British F4 weekend to race at Monza in Italy, in order to give that title his best shot. When he sits down after his laps of the track to chat to Balls.ie, he tells me:
I don’t see why we shouldn’t be on the podium consistently and getting some more wins as well. I think that’s definitely possible, I think I’m only four points behind P2 in the championship (in Italy), and I think 60 points behind the leader – if we have two really strong weekends, winning is possible.
Second is definitely achievable – but we just have to put in good, consistent results.
Dunne has already broken the record for the most wins in a single season in the British F4 championship - a record previously held by Formula 1 ace Lando Norris - showing that he is truly on his way to stardom. If he can win two national F4 championships in the same year, that would be quite the statement.
When we last spoke to Dunne last year, he had just driven his first ever car race weekend - and had a simple plan. Win F4, win F3, win F2, get to F1. Sounds fairly straightforward. So, how's it going?
The first part of it is more or less executed already, so we basically have to just keep on doing the same to go up the ladder. Hopefully, to have some good preparation and good pre-season testing going into every year, which I think is the key at this point in motorsport. The more preparation you can put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Hopefully, we can get some good preparation and get some good pre-season testing in before each year. I think that will be really helpful.
He says that Formula 3 is "definitely" the aim for next year - which exact championship he ends up in is the question.
— ROKiT British F4 (@BritishF4) September 25, 2022
He has made a transition from karts to cars that has seemed at points effortless. Last year's Spanish F4 championship saw him race in cars for the first time ever, and that weekend (at the iconic giant of Spa-Francorchamps no less) saw him claim pole position and a podium.
From the outside in, he looks like a natural - but the transition has been tougher than it seems.
The main challenge is how you have to relearn everything. Everything you’ve learned in karting – with the exception of maybe racecraft – I think you have to forget and restart again.
The braking technique, how you drive the car, how you warm up the tyres, how you look after the tyres, everything is completely different. You now have brake bias to think about, you have different pages on your dash.
There’s a lot more things to think about on the car, but I feel like I’ve adapted quite well and quite quickly.
He has gained experience of so many of the world's most iconic tracks in the past year, and speaks lightly of having raced on the hallowed turf of so many of Formula 1's "spiritual homes". He says Monza and Spa are favourites - as well as the undulating Portimao circuit in Portugal.
The range of different tracks he has raced on will also stand to him - something that is not lost on the young Offaly man.
In Britain, you have to be a bit more patient when you're racing because the tracks are a lot smaller and tighter, so it's a lot harder to pass and overtake. Then, when you go to a wider track like Spa, it makes everything a bit easier.
The most exciting opportunity yet came just last month, when Alex Dunne was one of four drivers chosen for a scouting camp for the Ferrari Driver Academy at their home in Maranello.
Something different 🏎️
Meath’s Alex Dunne has joined the Ferrari Driver Academy Scouting Camp
The 16 year old is a F4 driver
Irishman in F1 in a few years potentially 👀🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/sRAFu9wwPf
— IrishPropaganda🇮🇪⚽️ (@IrishPropaganda) September 20, 2022
He travelled to Italy for the camp, where the quartet were assessed through medical, mental, and driving tests, before being put to the test in an Italian F4-style race setup.
Dunne says that the weekend was a success for him.
It went really well.
Pace in comparison to the others was good. There was a reference driver, who I'm racing against in Italian F4 - the guy I'm fighting with for second in the championship at the moment - he was there was well, so it was good to have a comparison.
It's good to have a comparison, to see the differences in driving style and so on. I think it was really good for me.
They have the (FDA scouting) world finals in October. I’m not sure when they’ll let us know. They select drivers from our scouting camp and go to the world finals then. That’s another possible opportunity – I don’t see why other academies wouldn’t be knocking on the door if we keep on delivering.
This is the same academy that current Ferrari man and five-times F1 race winner Charles Leclerc and his brother Arthur progressed through, as did Haas driver Mick Schumacher. To be recognised by the Scuderia can only be a good sign for young Dunne.
— FerrariDriverAcademy (@insideFDA) September 20, 2022
The last time we had an Irish driver in Formula 1 was when Ralph Firman lined out for Jordan during the 2003 Formula 1 season. That iconic Irish team themselves were sold in 2005 - a month before Alex Dunne was born.
It has been nearly 17 years since we last saw any Irish involvement on the grid, and Dunne is looking like the best chance yet of seeing some representation at the top level of motorsport once again.
Simple as. The way he's going, it's hard to contend that he's not going in the right direction.
Alex Dunne. Remember the name.