Dion Gowda: New kid on the formula racing block
After a solid show in the British Formula 4 Championship, the 16-year-old will be racing in the Italian Championship this year
On a normal day, Dion Gowda is just like any other 16-year-old. But when the visor comes down, the teenager transforms into a racer with reaction times like a fighter pilot, g-forces pin him down too. All for one goal – to battle through cut-throat competition and progress in the world of formula racing.
Born in Bengaluru, Dion’s interest in racing was kindled at the age of 9 by a visit to a Singaporean kart track after he was inspired by watching Formula 1 great Lewis Hamilton. The Gowda family also have racing in their blood. Dion's father Santhosh is not just a motorsport enthusiast but also took part in the Indian National Rally Championship back in the 1990s.
Dion quickly moved through the karting ranks, competing across Asia and Europe at the highest levels. Seeing his boy race, Santhosh quickly realised that Dion had a natural talent for racing and moved to London in 2018 to pursue the teenager's newfound dream of becoming an F1 driver himself. “Although it was quite competitive in Asia, it is not near the level of Europe. It was the main reason why we shifted. Europe is where all the main championships are," said Dion.
Dion made an impressive debut in formula racing last year at the British Formula 4 Championship with consistent performances that included four wins, six podiums and three pole positions, finishing an overall fourth – quite a feat for a rookie racing in one of the world’s most prestigious F4 series.
"Competition in motorsport is tough. The smallest things make the biggest difference. The biggest thing in motorsport is consistency; being able to deliver every weekend. F4 is very tough which is considered a learning championship. Everyone wants to win. So you need to be perfect to be able to win or compete," said the London-based Dion.
Formula 4 is the entry series for formula racing with better drivers then progressing to F3 and F2 with the creme de la creme making the cut for the pinnacle of motorsport, F1. In Formula 4, cars can reach a top speed of 230-240kmph with a 0-60kmph time of 3.4 seconds. Acceleration and speed increases as they go higher up the ladder.
"In the British Championship, I was part of one of the biggest teams in motorsport history. Rodin, which was formerly called Carlin, has a very successful background with drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Max Verstappen, Lando Norris driving for them. Even Jehan (Daruvala) drove for them in F2. There was a lot of learning at the factory doing prep work, speaking to the managers and engineers,” said Dion.
After a solid show in Britain, Dion will be racing in the Italian Championship this year. His excellent rookie season got noticed in Italy too as Gowda earned a seat with Prema Racing for 2024.
“Prema Racing is the best team in the world in all the junior categories. It is very hard to get in. Drivers like Charles Leclerc and Oscar Piastri among others have come through the junior field racing with Prema. I am fortunate enough to get to drive for a top team," said Dion.
But before racing in Italy, with the championship beginning in the first week of May, Dion is currently taking part in the five-round UAE Championship for Mumbai Falcons, being held at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit and Dubai Autodrome in January-February. This championship is a winter series where upcoming drivers usually take part to keep their racing juices flowing, not allowing rust to settle in during the off-season.
Dion enters his second year of Formula 4 racing with the aim of not just being the third Indian after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok to race in F1 but the first Indian to win a Grand Prix. His goal may be big but Dion is not unrealistic, having a clear route in his mind he wants to take to make his way forward.
"F1 is my goal. Currently I am doing F4. Then the next step is F3, then F2 and then F1. I will also be preparing for F3. It is a dual programme as the average is two years for every championship, for you to win it. You can’t move up without winning. Some people, if they have the budget, do more than two years but F1 teams discard them because the belief is that if you are good enough you should be able to do it in the first couple of years," said Dion, who recently cleared his GCSEs through online schooling.
"Some people make it in their first year but most take two. If you are doing a third year, you have not performed or not got the results. It is unlikely you will get to F1 as F1 teams look at how fast you adapt."