Who is McLaren junior and American F1 hopeful Ugo Ugochukwu?

In the second-biggest bombshell in motorsport this week, Prema Racing announced that 15-year-old Ugo Ugochukwu would drive for them in the ADAC F4 round at the Nürburgring, with further appearances for the team still to be announced. As the only member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme, Ugochukwu will be watched with prying eyes. Currently sitting in third place in the British F4 Championship, Ugochukwu has had a brief but prosperous car racing career thus far.

By Alexander Studenkov

Ugochukwu, full name Ugo Ugochukwu Orlandi, was born in New York City to a Nigerian model and an Italian fashion designer. He began his karting career at the age of six and soon stepped into national competitions, winning the Florida Winter Tour in 2015 in the Micro Max class and the Junior ROK class of the Challenge of the Americas in 2018.

By that stage, the young American had moved over to compete in Europe, where accolades would soon follow. After taking his maiden European karting title in the X30 Mini Cup in 2017, Ugochukwu joined Ricky Flynn Motorsport for the 2019 season, a team that has seen the likes of Lando Norris and Dan Ticktum walk through its doors. Having equipment with which he could be competitive, Ugochukwu finished eighth in his first year of the FIA Karting European Championship, scoring a sole podium at Le Mans.

European glory was just around the corner, however, as the American brought home a closely contested OKJ European title in 2020. Ugochukwu beat out current Red Bull affiliate Arvid Lindblad by a mere five points despite clinching the title before the main race of the final weekend. He accomplished this with the support of the Sauber Karting Team, which is affiliated with the Sauber Academy and therefore Alfa Romeo Racing in F1. The programme had picked up Ugochukwu after the opening round in Spain.

The McLaren deal

This partnership wouldn’t last long, however, with McLaren Racing announcing that they had signed a long-term agreement with Ugochukwu, then 13 years old, in March 2021. McLaren CEO Zak Brown was quoted as saying that they had been interested in his services and vowed to support Ugochukwu throughout his junior career. “When the opportunity to sign an agreement with him became available, we had no hesitation moving on it,” Brown said.

One year later, it is hard to question Brown’s actions. After his sole season in Senior karting, Ugochukwu ended up finishing seventh with KR Motorsport – the team that locked out the top three in the European Championship with Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Rafael Câmara and Lindblad. Ugochukwu would progress into car racing for the 2022 season.

“I’ve been at the factory a couple of times this year, for training and seeing how everything operates there. It just gives you that confidence to work throughout the season,” Ugochukwu told F1 Feeder Series in April about his partnership with McLaren.

Carlin candidate

In preparation for his jump into single-seaters, Ugochukwu tested programme with Motopark throughout the latter part of 2021 at tracks like Oschersleben and Estoril whilst being coached by the likes of Tim Tramnitz, last year’s ADAC and Italian F4 runner-up. Ugochukwu then became the first driver to be announced by Carlin for their British F4 Championship line-up, partnering Williams Driver Academy member Ollie Gray and Formula Ford race winner Louis Sharp.

The signs looked promising for a good start to the season, and even though Ugochukwu only turned 15 – the minimum age to compete in the series – on the first day of the weekend at Donington Park, he got pole position on his first attempt. A podium came from the opening weekend, and since then, the 15-year-old has taken two victories, one at the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit and another at the most recent event at Knockhill. He has also scored a podium at every round so far this year.

He currently lies third in the championship while leading the Rookie Cup, although the amount of private testing he has done diminishes the significance of his accomplishments this season.

Ugochukwu’s confidence in the Tatuus T-421 is unquestionable, and with the same chassis being run in Germany, the McLaren junior shouldn’t have too many issues with the transition between the two series. The question that lies ahead of onlookers, however, is whether he can maintain the same form going forward.

Header photo credit: Prema Racing

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