Karting star Oleksandr Bondarev has spoken out about his journey in karting in 2022 and how he feels he carries the expectation of his entire nation on his shoulders in international sport, as the war in his native Ukraine continues.
By Jake Sanson
2021 was Bondarev’s first full-time assault on European karting, taking on the sport as an independent with his family run team of no more than five people. Incredibly, in a competition where being in a big team is a tremendous advantage, Bondarev was regularly running in the top ten against drivers with more experience and a higher budget to spend on testing and racing, underlying the youngster’s phenomenal talent.
“It was a really important year for me, because it was just a few of us – my coach, my mum and dad, and my grandpa. They taught me how to drive in the OK Junior class, so this year I was able to make the step up to a big team like Ricky Flynn Motorsport with some experience and confidence behind me.
“I think every driver should do that – before they join a big team – because if you go to a big team unprepared, it’s very difficult. You already have team-mates in their second year, but more than that it’s probably even tougher mentally. I managed to score some podiums as a privateer, which really helped because there was no pressure, no expectations.
there’s never been a question of whether I’m going to be strong this year because I know I have more knowledge, more wisdom and more self-belief going into one of the best teamsOleksandr Bondarev
“Coming to the first tests of 2022, I felt ready. I felt good enough, so there’s never been a question of whether I’m going to be strong this year because I know I have more knowledge, more wisdom and more self-belief going into one of the best teams.”
After competing in the prestigious FIA Karting Academy Trophy in 2021 under his nation’s flag, Bondarev who now lives in Monza in northern Italy stepped up a title assault in the OK Junior class where Lando Norris made his name as a youngster, racing for the same team – Ricky Flynn Motorsport. The team is also working in collaboration with the McLaren Formula 1 driver who supplies the team with his own brand karting chassis under the OTK banner.
Off to a good start
2022 has already begun in triumphant fashion for the young Ukrainian after he became WSK Super Master Series champion after four tough weekends in Italy. He was competing for the Champions of the Future Winter Series title in February and was likely to score a podium before a last lap incident where another driver was judged to have deliberately forced him off the track. He was also the fastest driver in timed qualifying at the season opener of the Champions of the Future Euro Series at Portimao, just a stone’s throw away from where Lewis Hamilton became 7 times world champion in 2020.
“Of course, every time you are racing at the front – whether you set the fastest lap in qualifying or win heats – it always raises your confidence. You stop worrying about things like ‘do I have the pace?’ You start pushing yourself to the limit.”
Now he is competing in both the FIA Karting European Championship and the Champions of the Future Euro Series with events in Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Italy during the season, with September seeing him bid to become the first driver from Ukraine to become World Karting champion in the junior class at Sarno near the ancient city of Pompeii.
When the season began in Italy, he was as surprised as anyone to be winning races straight out of the gates when he triumphed on the road in the first event after only three tests with the team.
But in 2022 the horrifying events of the Ukraine invasion weigh heavy on the mind of young Bondarev who continues to compete despite the ever-increasing horror back home.
“It’s really hard to see that I’m one of the only Ukrainians in karting right now, even one of the only ones in international sport. Everyone from my country is staying at home during these hard times, including some of my racing heroes.
“Many of the sports facilities in Ukraine are ruined now. The track where I grew up in Kyiv is just rubble. It feels really bad to see what a hard time Ukraine is having, so I’m trying to win as many races as I can right now to raise their motivation to go and fight, to win the war.”
Many of the sports facilities in Ukraine are ruined now. The track where I grew up in Kyiv is just rubbleOleksandr Bondarev
After Bondarev claimed victory at the famous La Conca circuit in Italy, he proudly wore the flag of Ukraine around his shoulders on the podium and created scenes of unbridled joy within the team and indeed the whole karting community.
“The war started just after the second race of the WSK Super Master Series at Lonato. It made me feel even more responsible for my driving on the world’s stage, for how strong a country Ukraine can be. My ‘front’ is karting so I’m trying to win on my front, and then by seeing this hopefully it’ll inspire the troops to never give up, and we can triumph together.”
Seeing how strong his results have been in recent weeks coupled with the war back home has given Bondarev more inner strength to keep pushing and stay motivated. His journey continues at the second round of the FIA Karting European Championship at Zuera in Spain on April 28 – May 1st, which you can watch on Motorsport.TV and on the FIA Karting YouTube channel.
Header photo credit:
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly