I talk to Malaysian teenager and Formula One prospect, Weiron Tan, about his family, his aspirations and his dislike of the English weather.
It’s a drab afternoon in a somewhat soulless lecture theatre in central Harlow. A young Asian man takes his seat in front of a crowded room. He looks nervous as he recognizes they are in attendance to prod and probe him, and he seems unused to the attention of the media.
Weiron Tan introduces himself with a sentence that appears to have repeated into a mirror earlier in the day or at least inside his head as he approached the venue “The weather changes every day, I like the winter but I don’t like this.”
I can tell that he is nervous, but he has a glint in his eye that suggests a determination to survive the experience of his first interrogation. As he slightly readjusts the helmet he has brought along, the only prop maintaining a wall between himself and the forthcoming questions, his perfectionist nature emerges. The gentle smile from his chiselled face gives me the impression that he wants to make me feel comfortable and he wants to represent himself well.
Weiron Tan is the future face of Formula One, flown in by Caterham (previously Lotus) to join their development squad. According to all accounts he is set for a very bright future, enjoying success in global karting pursuits already in his young career. Part of his evolution from a teenage karting champion to motorsport superstar is having to face the media, and I am pleased to be one of his first interviewers.
The discussion starts on common ground as we discuss how he is finding his new surroundings, his new country. He continues to maintain the look of a young man trying not to offend, a childish smirk included as he weighs up the pros and cons “I can’t even drive in the UK yet and I come from a tropical country so I don’t like the weather but the food is really good”
He has arrived wearing the green and gold of Caterham. At 17 unlike many young sportsmen, he looks every ounce that age. His svelte demeanour and unimposing height gives the impression of a child prodigy as opposed to a young adult trying to force his way into the big leagues. His attitude is pleasant and likeable, and does a good job of owning the notion of ‘likeable young boy does good’.
The discussion moves towards racing and his beginnings in the sport “When I was 13 my father took me to a karting track in Malaysia and he saw my potential. I could feel something as well, me and the kart were having a lot of fun.” When asked if starting at 13, a reasonably old age for Wieron replies diplomatically “I did start really late but I still believe that I can make it”.
It is obvious even from this initial converse that Weiron is very fond of his father and feels the need to repay his time and effort. “He is one of my heroes and has been a big influence on me,” he says, without the forced sentiment of a child once pushed into certain pursuits. “I’m funded by my father, he has put in a lot of effort and it’s a big deal to me to make him proud”.
His connection to his father is one of respect and love, his clasped hands release as he talks about his family and he clearly feels comfortable talking about those he loves. “My mum is always worried about crashes. She tried to persuade my dad to stop me driving.” He beams as he speaks about his mum, recognising her position as the matriarchal stereotype. “My mum says what will I do if I don’t make it? That I have nothing to fall back on, which gets annoying”.
His mother’s unconvinced attitude has appeared to irk Weiron and he dives into explaining why he loves the sport, suggesting the thrill it gives him is enough to ensure he succeeds “I can’t describe the feeling, it’s like nothing else matters, it’s the best feeling you can have.”
Weiron’s focus is very impressive for such a young man. “My goal is to become an F1 driver, to represent my country and to live my father’s dream”. As we talked about whom he wished to emulate, his knowledge of the sport came to the fore, supporting the powerful ambition he has already exuded. “Michael Schumacher was my hero, and Senna. He was different; he worked harder than everyone else. I respect everyone in F1 and how they have made themselves stand out, how they are different to all the other drivers in the world”. It appears it could well be that this calm, respectable mind-set is what puts him above his peers.
It isn’t only his sporting knowledge that shines, but his political understanding. Many Formula One enthusiasts have noted the European domination of the sport and questions have been asked as to why there is such a lack of diversity in the driver’s paddocks. “I don’t let the lack of Asian drivers get in my way, I will look up to those who have raced and say why can’t I? We all have one head and two hands, we are no different”. As the brief conversation moves to a conclusion any previous media training has evaporated and his warm smile now represents his mood rather than reflecting a need to impress on behalf of his employers.
Wieron Tan clearly has an understanding of who he is and what he wants to achieve, which is amazing for any 17 year old. His impressive work ethic and mature attitude is a mark of a driver who has every chance of fulfilling his ambitions and before he leaves I ask him where his career is headed “I give myself four years, by then I want to be in Formula One or GP2, the backup plan is to just do what I do and find my own sponsors”.
There is no doubt in Weiron’s mind that he is born to race, his smile and warmth also tells me that he possesses the right type of personality to go far in a very tough line of work. From the chat one thing stands out at me and it’s the respect and belief he has for himself. If he sticks to his calm maxim of “I want to do my best and see where it goes” I am sure he has every chance.