Williams Racing‘s reserve driver Jack Aitken made his sensational Formula 1 debut in 2020 at the Sakhir Grand Prix, standing in for George Russell who had made a temporary switch to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team to stand in for COVID-afflicted Lewis Hamilton.
Whilst he only managed to finish in sixteenth place, which was still a brilliant result considering it was his first Formula 1 race ever and he was in a car that was decidedly a backmarker, Aitken became the recipient of a huge amount of enthusiasm from fans all over the world. Surprisingly, a huge amount of that came from South Korea!
Whilst Aitken, who is half-Korean and half-British via his Scottish father and South Korean mother, makes no secret of his heritage in public (he has had Korean flags on his cars in the past and has his Korean name 한세용 [Han Se-Yong] in his social media profiles), he typically hasn’t had a huge amount of interest from his second home country up until this point.
“There was a big response – more than I expected – which was amazing because traditionally Formula 1 hasn’t been as popular in Korea,” Aitken told the South China Morning Post about the reaction that followed his F1 debut in Bahrain. “Interest in motorsport is still young.
“We do have a lot of Korean fans getting in touch and many who follow the races because of my heritage. I’ve had a lot of questions asking about how to get involved.“
South Korea did hold a round of the Formula 1 World Championship from 2010 to 2013, but the round was dropped from the calendar as it was a commercial failure. Aitken, however, hopes that his close ties to the country through his heritage could help to raise interest in the sport there again.
“It’s well documented that motorsport is not cheap and you need to be able to be marketable… Markets in the East are very attractive and Korea is definitely high up on that list. If they (manufacturers) can utilise me to make themselves more marketable, that’s a real plus.“
Could we maybe see a surge in interest in Formula 1 in South Korea once Aitken (almost) inevitably becomes a full-time driver with Williams? It’s something that could be very interesting to see. The South Korean market for basically anything that involves sports (both real and virtual) and entertainment is a booming one and one that’s ripe for international collaborations.
One thing is for certain, though; If his more than capable performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix is anything to go by, Aitken is going to be a name we’ll be hearing in Formula 1 circles for a very long time.