Robert Wickens: “Motor racing has always been a family affair”
From Canada to the wider world of motorsport: Robert Wickens has a long and arduous journey behind him. In a four-part interview series, we take a look at the man behind the racing driver. In this first part, Robert talks about...
- ... his first contact with racing: “One day, there was a Formula 1 race on TV, and I just stood there spellbound.”
- ... his brother: “When we were very small – I was five and he was ten – we were always making Lego cars to play Demolition Derby.”
- ... what he has learnt: “The eye for detail that I’ve developed, I owe 100 percent to my brother and to the thoroughness he applies to his work in motorsports.”
Rob, when did you first come into contact with motorsports?
Robert Wickens: I can’t actually remember myself, because I was only two or three years old at the time. But from my parents, I know that I was a difficult child who was always crying. They couldn’t find anything that would make me happy. I never gave them any peace and quiet. They would give me a toy, but I wouldn’t want to play with it. One day, there was a Formula 1 race on TV, and I just stood there spellbound. So my father thought: “OK, maybe he likes cars.” He got me a toy car and I played with it. He also bought me a play mat with a racetrack painted on it. As soon as I had enough cars, I would watch the races on TV and then rerun them on the mat. This was probably my first experience of motorsport. I even painted the tyre marks on the play mat. If one of the actual cars on TV got damaged, I would go to my father’s workshop and hit my toy car with a hammer. I would then pretend that it had crashed into the barrier and was no longer able to compete in my race.
What was it like for you, growing up with an older brother?
Robert Wickens: When we were very small – I was five and he was ten – we were always making Lego cars to play Demolition Derby. Later on, when he was a teenager, we would quite often argue with each other. But once we were both young adults, our relationship was incredibly good. I can’t even remember the last time we had a major disagreement. That must have been at least ten years ago. It’s really cool, and he has always given me so much support. Obviously, my whole family has always supported me, but my brother in particular. He gave up his teenage years. He used to go to the kart workshop straight after school and work there. The whole of his time in high school – important, character-forming years – he devoted to karting. Fortunately, he also made a great career for himself in karting, so he also spent his time doing something he loved.
So is your brother also crazy about motor sport – in a positive sense, of course?
Robert Wickens: Yes, I’m very lucky that my brother has just as much passion for motor racing as I do, but instead of driving, he’s interested in the technical side. This has also made me far more aware of how cars work. I think that, if we had just paid for a mechanic, I might not have been so closely involved with this aspect as I have been with him there – it’s always been a family affair. There were always odd jobs that I could do, such as cleaning. He was taking care of everything else, and I felt it was incumbent on me to help him. The eye for detail that I’ve developed, I owe 100 percent to my brother and to the thoroughness he applies to his work in motorsports.
So, would you say that your brother has helped to shape your career?
Robert Wickens: Definitely. Even if I’m only competing in a kart race during the winter months in Florida, I always ask myself the question: “Will Trevor get annoyed about what I’m doing here because it’s not good enough?” I spend hours doing something as perfectly as I can, then he comes along and says, “That’s shit, you can do better.” I spent so much time on it and he tells me, “No, you need to do it like this. It’s much easier this way.” And I think to myself: “Oh, damn!” I guess it’s still a matter of impressing him. He’s still my big brother, and I want to show him what I can do.
Have you ever fought, as brothers tend to do?
Robert Wickens: Whenever we argued, it was probably me who started it. We’ve had some emotionally charged disagreements. For example, after a race in which I had made a stupid move. Because he is my brother, he had the right to shout at me. Most of our arguments come after races. Only once, when we went to the same school, did it really escalate. We were playing Mario Kart, and he was a bit older than me, so he went about the game a bit more strategically. I had been leading for the whole race, and on the last lap, he knocked me off with a red shell – one second before the finish line. I went flying through the air and he won as usual. I was so annoyed that I eventually threw the controller at him. It hit him in the face, which was obviously not what I had intended to do. My brother has always been stronger than me. He got so angry – it was as if a bear was attacking me. I managed to wriggle free, but he hit the door frame and broke his hand. I didn’t know that, though, because I hadn’t turned around and run out of the door as if I was fleeing for my life. Later that day, the school principal called me to his office. I thought to myself: Am I in trouble again? I hadn’t done anything wrong. But my brother was with him and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m OK.” That was the only time we had a physical fight.