Max Fewtrell: "I couldn't see it getting any better"
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Not many people experience the atmosphere of the Singapore Grand Prix, the Night Race of Formula One, in their lifetime. However, for twenty-one-year-old Max Fewtrell, attending the Singapore Grand Prix was a decision which changed his life forever.
Having spent his childhood years in southeast Asia, making the move back to Europe to kickstart his karting career was an obvious choice for Max Fewtrell and his family. After discovering his passion for motorsport, arriving back in Europe brought him endless success. To name one of his many successess, in 2018, he won the Formula Renault Eurocup and was already part of the Renault Driver Academy. However, his 2020 season of FIA Formula 3 didn’t go as planned, leading him to make the decision to part ways with his team and refocus for next year.
Max and I talked about his time growing up in Asia, signing as a Renault Academy driver and his 2020 Formula 3 season, plus, we discussed his friendship with the late French driver, Anthoine Hubert.
In any racing driver’s career, their early karting experience is probably the most important. Gaining that knowledge and experience of racing, and working their way through the ranks, leads to single seater Formula categories. After realising that motorsport could be an ideal career choice for him, Max didn’t stray from the idea of karting. In fact, it was a rather wise decision.
ELLIE: How did you get into karting and did you have any particular inspiration?
MAX: I used to live in Singapore and I grew up in Asia. I went to the Singapore Grand Prix, the first year it was there and at this point, I had no idea what racing was. I liked cars as a young kid, because I was only about eight or nine years old then, so I would collect model cars and stuff like that. I had no idea what motorsport was, or racing in general, so I went to this race, I had no idea who the drivers were and I just remember, as soon as I arrived, I went out and saw the track. The session started and I heard the noise, and straight away, that was the moment. As soon as that first car came past, it blew me away with how that noise went through my body. It was from there on that I knew ‘that’s what I want to do - I want to race, in those cars, or at least drive one’. It started from there.
I didn’t actually go karting until a year after in 2009; it was the summer holidays and I went with some friends and I just fell in love with it. I kept going after school, asking my dad ‘can we go again?’. It was only a tiny rental car track as well and it was a thirty second lap, if that, and that’s how I fell in love. I actually met James Pull there, at that small track in 2009, so I’ve known him since day one really. I joined a small team out in Malaysia and I just started racing from there on. I think in my second ever race, I got a podium and I just carried on.
ELLIE: What sort of experiences did you have in the few races you took part in whilst living in Singapore and how did these differ from events in England?
MAX: All the racing I did out in Asia was in the Cadet category, so I can’t really compare it to junior racing, but, I think the level in Asia is a bit lower. Some of their tracks are nice and I just think the level is lower. That’s one of the main reasons I moved back to Europe with my family because it was getting to the point where I’d won the Asian Championship in 2010 and I won pretty much all of the championships I did in Asia. I think we took the decision as a family to move back; I think we were going to anyway because my whole family is here in the UK. I think the racing in Europe is just a higher level; you have the European Championship, the World Championship, so I needed to take that step in my career to move forward because I think if I stayed in Asia, I couldn’t see my career going anywhere, really. You need to be in Europe, you need to be in the spotlight of the CIK FIA Karting as well and staying out in Asia was not the way to do it for me so that’s why we moved back.
ELLIE: What was the competition like when racing in Asia?
MAX: The competition was still tight. Actually, one of my first team mates was Jehan Daruvala, he’s in F2 now with Carlin, so, me and him have grown up together, we’ve come from Asia, karting in the lower leagues and club events, in a way, to both racing near the top of motorsport and I think that was quite cool. The tracks over there, the one near Sepang, I really liked that track. It used the same surface as the F1 track and you’d race it anti-clockwise one way and then sometimes clockwise, so that was always a cool track to go to. I can’t remember the name of the others. There was one street track where they literally put a load of tyres in a car park and it was really dangerous, but looking back now it was such a cool experience to just race around a car park in the middle of Malaysia somewhere, basically in a jungle, you know, it was cool.
I also raced at the Macau go-kart track. It was a shame that year that the whole tarmac fell apart because they had the World Championship there. The track was just tearing away, they had to put cement down and it was just chaos, but that year was the first year I raced again some European competition. There were some Italian guys that came over and I finished second behind one of them and then his brother was third so, that was my last race in Asia, then we decided to move over [to Europe]. We actually joined the two Italian guys’ father’s team after we raced them in Macau and that’s how I got into it in Europe, as well.
Racing in Asia is definitely a lot different. I think now, it’s a lot better, a lot safer, but back then it was definitely a bit more of a risk to race. Not dangerous, but the safety wasn’t taken as seriously as Europe. I think now it’s definitely a lot better. It was a good experience, very different to Europe, for sure.
ELLIE: What is the most memorable moment from during your early career?
MAX: I think one of the stand-out moments in karting for me was definitely winning the Asian Championship, my first ever championship. I think the one I remember the most vividly was my first ever win, which was in the Philippines; it was just me and my dad there, we’d flown to the middle of nowhere in the Philippines for the first round of the Asian Championship and it was really competitive that weekend. It was really tight, but I managed to get the win and I’ll never forget that feeling – getting out the car and running over to my dad and giving him a hug, and that’s when I really got the bug for racing and I really thought, ‘you know, I could do something here’, and I was really enjoying it.
Then, in Europe, there’s a few… Winning on the European scene is always amazing because the level is so high and such an achievement in itself. There was one weekend I had at the Margutti Trophy in Lonato and it was the best weekend I had in karting; Pole position, P1 in all of my heats, so I think that was definitely a stand out weekend for me.
In 2017, Max was signed by Renault as one of their Academy Drivers, alongside Christian Lundgaard, due to his success in previous racing Championships. After backing Formula 1 drivers, old and current, having the Renault brand attached to your name is hardly a bad thing. Now, in 2020, Fewtrell is still part of the Driver Academy.
"I got my first ever test in a Formula 1 car."
ELLIE: How did you become a Renault Academy Driver?
MAX: In 2016, I did the British F4 Championship and there were three or four rounds to go and I had a meeting up in the Renault F1 factory and they basically said, ‘look, if you win the title, we’ll take you on. If you don’t, you probably won’t hear from us’. That was quite a lot of pressure as a young kid to take but I used it as motivation. I ended up winning the F4 [Championship] and I got the call from Renault and that’s how the journey started.
ELLIE: What type of support do you receive from them?
MAX: Support wise, they’ve been really good. They cover all bases; they give us training camps and training programmes. I got my first ever test in a Formula 1 car, the 2017 car, which was a massive milestone for me. My mum and dad were there and I had the whole track to myself – that was a special day. [Renault provide] mental coaching, just everything, anything you can imagine that they help me with, just to try and prepare us to be the best complete driver that we can. Even if we don’t go to Formula 1, just to be complete driver to go to any factory team, or whatever in our career and I think it’s really good in that aspect to set me up for a solid career in motorsport and to get me ready for anything really.
ELLIE: How important has their support been during your career?
MAX: I think having an F1 team attached to your name definitely helps to bring sponsors in, because that’s also a difficult part of the sport. It’s been a massive help, I don’t know how the story would have panned out without them, and obviously, I can’t say. It might have gone the same, worse, but I definitely see it as a benefit with them being on board and it’s really helped me and my career.
ELLIE: What is the most memorable moment from your career in Formula racing so far?
MAX: There’s two. Winning the Eurocup  was definitely a massive achievement for me. Seeing the names on the trophy alongside mine was quite special; that was the biggest achievement I’ve ever had. The last day, when I won the championship, all my family and friends were there, so that was pretty special, that’s definitely probably the most memorable day – the best day I’ve had in motorsport.
Also, more of a milestone really, but the test day in Formula 1. The longer that goes by I realise how cool that day was. Obviously, when I was there I was really serious and needed to do a good job. I didn’t really take in that I’ve got the whole of the Barcelona track to myself, in a Formula 1 car, and thirty guys here working on it. It was just unbelievable. When I first took the pit limiter off and went flat, my whole body got sucked to the back of the chair and then I hit the brakes and it hurt my neck - at the end of the day, for sure – but that was just an amazing experience. For me, the hardest thing in the F1 car wasn’t the steering; they have power steering so it was effectively probably a bit lighter than F2 and F3. Mostly braking though, for me, it got the back of my neck because the brakes are just obscene. It’s the only thing I’ve experienced in a race car where I don’t really know how to explain it unless you were out there. F3, you can get the idea, but it’s just F3 on steroids, I guess. It’s just another level.
"I may look happy but deep down it's eating me away."
In 2019, Max competed in Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix, alongside teammates Lundgaard and Beckmann. He finished tenth, with fifty-seven points to his name; a successful year, most definitely. However, the 2020 season of Formula 3 didn’t bring as many positives for Max, in which he competed for Hitech with Liam Lawson and Dennis Hauger. After running twentieth in the Championship with only five points, he made the decision to leave the series in August, before the race weekend in Spa.
ELLIE: How did your F3 season this year impact your confidence and mindset?
MAX: This year was definitely really tough. Having won F4 and Eurocup, I felt like I belonged at the front of the grid. F3 last year was okay, we had a top ten in the championship, obviously not what we wanted. We had two second places as well, which were good weekends; I was happy with them and we performed well. Then we were up and down, the team and I; it was just a bit of an up and down year really. I wasn’t getting too down about that, even though we weren’t getting the results we wanted.
This year definitely really affected me, mentally, just the results and every time I qualified I was just nowhere near the front and things just didn’t work. Getting bad results each weekend was just having more of a knock-on effect on my mental health. Normally, I’d say that’s one of my strengths through a championship. That’s how I’ve been able to win titles, I’m able to stay calm under pressure and I don’t let many things get to me but when you have a bad qualifying result and you see guys up there that you know you’re capable of beating, it definitely takes a dig at you inside and it’s been a lot to process throughout the year. I think it was just the best thing for me not to do the last three rounds because I could only see more damage being done and I couldn’t see it getting any better. I wasn’t going to go to the next weekend and get Pole.
It’s been really tough, mentally, and it’s been nice to have this break. I’m not sat here relaxing and claiming that I’m enjoying life now that I’m free; it’s still hurting inside, what’s happened this year and how it’s not gone the way I wanted it to and I’m not racing at the moment. I may look happy but deep down it’s eating me away. I can’t wait for next year, to get back on track; I don’t know my plans, yet, but I will be on a grid in some form or another. I just need to get my confidence back, that’s the main thing for me at the moment, to get my positive mindset back about racing and enjoy it a bit more and get back to the person I was in 2018.
ELLIE: How do you do deal with the pressures of racing?
MAX: Normally, when you’re performing well and you’ve got that confidence behind you, I just look at it like, ‘I know what I’m capable of’. If I’m sat on the grid, if I just do the job I know I can do, then there’s no pressure because I’m capable of doing what’s required. That’s how I got rid of all my nerves as well. The only time I’m nervous is when I’m unsure of what’s going to happen, it’s out of my control, but if I sit on the grid and think ‘oh, I could get hit off’, that’s when the nerves settle in, that’s when the pressure starts to come on top of you. It’s easy to say when you’re on the grid just clear your head and focus on the lights, get a good start and then just drive the way you know you can. It’s just about keeping it simple with the pressure. As soon as more thoughts come into your head, it gets worse, then you start panicking, over-driving, and it all goes wrong. I think a lot of the pressure is in your head, but it does get to a point where it just all piles on you. If you’re getting the results and you’re staying calm, it’s fine. For sure, it does have an impact on us but as soon as you put your helmet on and the lights go out, you’re not really thinking about anything but the job you’re doing, so that definitely helps but if you’re racing and you’re thinking about stuff that’s happening behind the scenes then you’re going to be in trouble.
ELLIE: What contributed towards your decision to leave Formula 3 this season?
MAX: Mostly for my own mental state, really. I think if I carried on doing the season, I could only see more damage being done and I think that would just take me longer to recover and then it would affect the start of next year. I did F3 this year to try and win the title, that’s why I was there. I wanted to win races and the title like I know I can, and it wasn’t working out so I think doing the last three, I wasn’t going to win the title from wherever I was. I don’t even know how many points I had, I stopped checking. It was just to save my head really, get out early, get myself back together ready for next year, put on a good show and show what I’m actually capable of doing again.
ELLIE: Was there an outstanding moment when you realised you wanted to leave F3 or was the decision gradual?
MAX: It was a gradual thing. Just each weekend, getting knocked down. I would go back to the hotel and calm down and arrive at the track the next day as positive as I can be, but something would go wrong again. I know it’s part of the sport, but when you do a lap time and you’re nine-tenths off the quickest and I’ve never been nine-tenths off in my life, I just thought that this year, it’s not working, it’s not going to happen. I thought, get out, save my head, get my confidence back and get in a good headspace because I was really down the last three rounds. I’ve never been at a race track and thought, ‘I don’t really want to be here’, but I did at the end of this year and that’s quite sad in itself because it’s the sport I love and it’s what I want to do as a career, but I just wasn’t enjoying it and I think, as soon as you’re not enjoying it, that was a problem for me. How am I meant to perform in a car when I’m not happy? I felt like there was a load of pressure on me and I wasn’t happy, so that’s a recipe for disaster in itself.
ELLIE: Where do you hope to go next?
MAX: I think for long term plans, a career in Formula E would be awesome, I’d definitely be up for doing that, it’s definitely a goal. IndyCar as well. Formula E and IndyCar are the long-term goals for me at the minute. I think F1, I’m not sure anymore, but there’s so many other avenues in motorsport. I think it’s silly for a driver to think ‘F1’, because there’s so many factors of why you’d get a seat or why not. It is a bit of a gamble in a way, but I think that grid is pretty full up. There’s a lot of young guys going in, so I just need to look towards Formula E and IndyCar, I think. Next year, I just need to see what’s the best option to get me to Formula E and IndyCar. I think I need to make that decision.
On August 31, 2019, the world of motorsport lost a young talent in the form of Frenchman Anthoine Hubert. His accident shook everyone within the sport, from fans to drivers themselves, many of whom knew him personally after growing up and racing alongside him. Like any driver, Max’s relationship with Anthoine was special and he was keen to share some stories and memories about someone we miss so dearly.
"I'll always be racing for him. He's someone quite special to me."
ELLIE: When did you meet Anthoine Hubert for the first time?
MAX: The beginning of 2018. He was coming into Renault to have a meeting and in 2018, he was an affiliate driver, so he was kind of training at Renault. I don’t know too much about what the affiliate role means, I just know that he was involved with Renault, he just wasn’t on the Academy, so he wasn’t getting full backing at that point. I think they said to him, ‘if you win GP3 then you get on the Academy’, and he did that. He did a great job that year, he was so consistent. I started to get to know him through 2018. We were training together quite a lot, it was always me and him at the factory and going onto 2019 is when I got a lot closer to him. With the training camps, we were always sharing hotel rooms and I just always admired how organised he was and how prepared he was for a race event, something I was working on myself because I wasn’t at the level he was for that. I just always looked at him as a role model, always asking for advice when I could because he was so much more experienced than me.
The way he approached a race weekend was so impressive, like, I’d be on the flight, and I’d be watching a movie on my phone; I’d look in front of me and he’s sat there watching the previous race and making loads of notes and I’m like, that’s where I’m going wrong. Just small things like that, that’s the next level of preparation. The week before, another really nice memory with him, we went cycling through the Pyrenees coast to coast, and we were sharing hotel rooms and I just remember how tired we all were each day, laughing at each other, trying to get up the stairs.
His performance that year , as well, in the Arden car, an underperforming car for sure, probably one of the slowest car on the grid in that year and he was still getting reverse grid Poles, racing for wins and he just did a phenomenal job. I think it’s really gutting to know what he could have achieved. I think we all just need to remember him for what a gentleman he was, what a talent. I’ll always be racing for him, for sure. He’s someone quite special to me.
ELLIE: Do you have any striking memories with him?
MAX: I think one of the cool memories I have with him, we were doing some filming for Renault and we were in a Renault Twizy, playing football with them, and there was two goals and we were in these buggies with a massive blow up football and me and him were teammates and we were scoring goals. That was just a cool day. It’s not every day you get to drive an electric car. It was really good, really fun, and I was definitely better at that than real football. I remember that well, I remember him well. He was such a positive guy. Always smiling, he was never down. Life was just a joy for him and I’m trying to take that on board, for myself, to enjoy life a bit more and have that positive spin on it when things aren’t going right.
ELLIE: Would the risk ever be enough for you to stop racing altogether?
MAX: No. I don’t want to say that having these massive crashes is part of this sport because we try to avoid it at all costs. There’s no way we want to see incidents, but that kind of crash, it is really rare for that kind of thing to happen and the safety has been amazing because he did hit the wall, originally, he was fine, he would have been okay if he just hit the wall. The problem with racing at the moment is that stationary car and someone hitting you at high speed, it’s just the G-Force for the human body. Hopefully they find a way around it, it is a one-in-a-million, and, I think it’s part of the sport, it’s part of the risk we take. It could have happened to any of us, really. We know what we’re getting into when we race. It definitely shook me up because it was so real. I literally raced forty minutes before him, went through that corner exactly the same, same day and it could have been any of us. To see it then happen to him, it was a big shock. It’s part of the sport, sadly, it’s the risk we take, but it is a very rare crash and the FIA have been doing amazing with the safety of the cars and credit to them. Even in F2 this year, we’ve seen some big crashes and the guys get out, and they’re okay. We just need to keep pushing the safety, I know they [the FIA] are and it’s been really good. The cars are so safe nowadays. That was just a rare and really unfortunate accident.
ELLIE: Is there anything you learnt from Anthoine that you take still forward with you today?
MAX: There’s definitely a few things. For one, his positive attitude. Even if a session didn’t go his way, he was like, ‘right, this is what we did wrong’ and he would take that and learn from it for the next one and just be so upbeat, ready for the next session. He didn’t let the result get him down. I think that’s why he was so strong in a team that were struggling that year because he wouldn’t get down about being at the back, he would just crack on, find what the problem was, try and resolve it as much as they can to get the best result he could. His attitude was something I would take away from him and try give myself a bit of that. His organisation was amazing, he was always so prepared, and always very organised which I think was really important in life in general. That’s what I’d take away from him.
"I won't forget it, or him."
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Photo Credit: Max Fewtrell