Josef Kaufmann Racing won the Teams Title in 2012, 2015 and 2016, as well as taking Robin Frijns, Stoffel Vandoorne and Lando Norris to the Formula Renault Eurocup crown. This year, Sacha Fenestraz now leads in the general classification. What is the secret to the success in this family-run team ? Let us now hear from Josef and Lars Kaufmann !
Earlier in the year, we presented two Formula Renault Eurocup teams run by former drivers. Josef Kaufmann raced himself in F3 and was also still competing when he started his race team, now run in concert with his son Lars !
Four decades of success
“I was still racing when I began to build a team that took shape in 1982 with Gerhard Berger and Arie Luyendyk”, recollects Josef Kaufmann. “I hung up my helmet in 1984. A year later, we won our first title in German F3 with Volker Weidler (winner of the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans) !”
“We made our way to Formula Renault in the German Championship between 1991 and 1993. We won straight away, before turning our attention to F3 then Formula BMW with success. Following the demise of Formula BMW, F3 became expensive. So, I preferred a solid, competitive and professional category like Formula Renault. We began by winning the title with Robin Frijns in 2011. It was no small feat !”
The Kaufmann approach
“Before joining us, Gerhard Berger had no experience at all and two years later he was in F1 !”, he delights in evoking his former drivers. “Stoffel Vandoorne and Nico Hülkenberg were also special, as was Robin Frijns, who won three titles in three straight years and two of them were with us. Others like Frank Biela, Esteban Gutierrez, Marco Wittmann, Adrien Tambay, Christian Vietoris, Timo Scheider and Sébastien Buemi have had great careers. And I am convinced that Lando Norris will be the next to go to F1 !”
“The only secret is to teach them to correctly get the most from the car“, adds Lars. “We stay focused on the racing, freeing them up to be supported by programs that can help them progress physically or mentally.”
“After so many years, we know what it takes to provide the best car to the best drivers”, explains Josef. “I will never dare to say that our setup is perfect, but some parameters attract talents. You just have to understand their needs and convince them to make the right choices, such as not going directly from F4 to F3. We only have to instill in them how to handle their car and work on the data... And although I am getting old, I know what to say, I was also a driver when I was 15 !"
“I will never dare to say that our setup is perfect, but some parameters attract talents... And although I am getting old, I know what to say, I was also a driver when I was 15 !"
A family-run team
“Since day one, my team has always been more or less a family-run structure because my brother was by my side”, details Josef Kaufmann. “Lars began helping us when he was 16 before coming onboard full-time after he finished university in 2002.”
“Today, my father runs the technical side and I look after the management, logistics and organisation”, continues Lars Kaufmann. “At the track, I am the data engineer and he is the track engineer. Concurrently, half of the team has been with us for longer than I can remember !”
“Some have been with me for forty years”, says Josef. “I have seen them progress for the good of the team. They all know what they have to do and it is harder with bigger structures ! That is why I have never wanted to compete above F3 despite some propositions. It is a lot simpler in Formula Renault thanks to cost controls, a fine calendar and the professional organisation… The risks are controlled and I now am certainly too old to be taking any ! (laughs)”
“It is a lot simpler in Formula Renault thanks to cost controls, a fine calendar and the professional organisation… The risks are controlled and I now am certainly too old to be taking any ! (laughs)”
“Refusing to get involved in anything that cannot be controlled is a good philosophy both in motor racing and in life !” sums up Lars. “Our organisation allows us to employ everyone full-time. They all live less than 15 kilometers from the shop in Wolsfeld and the communication is always clear as all of us Germans are !”
"It is not necessarily a choice”, says Josef. “Nevertheless, being homesick can prematurely interrupt working relationships and I don’t want that. Ironically, we are the most international team because we have never had one of our compatriots race with us in Formula Renault !”
2017 : victory in Monaco and the title in sight
“So far everything has gone according to plan in 2017”, confides Lars. “Right from the first winter tests with Sacha it has been easy to work with him. He listens, he is consistent in qualifying and he hasn’t made many mistakes in the races. This is the key for winning a very competitive championship. It was also fantastic to win in Monaco ! There is a photo of when we finished second in the F3 Grand Prix in 1997 in my father’s office. I told him that maybe we had a chance to get our revenge 20 years later !”
“Before Sacha won this year, we tried without success to win in Monaco, but mistakes are costly, especially on this track…” concludes his father. “Generally speaking, we always try to be on top, but nothing ever comes easy. This year, five or six drivers are capable of winning the title. We know very well our rivals as we have already worked with Max Defourny and Robert Shwartzman, but we feel good about our chances with Sacha.”