Vendela Kördel: "Racing is the only thing that makes me really happy"
14-year-old Swedish karting driver Vendela Kördel aims high as she climbs the formula cars ladder: her ambition gained her a RXR mentorship program from compatriot Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Nico Rosberg. Find out more about our conversation with the interesting Vendela!
In case you never heard the name Vendela Kördel, here's your chance to discover this young up-and-coming talent from Sweden; we got in touch with the 14 year old (almost 15) karter, who talked us through the past, present and future of motorsport, revealing a rich personality that will likely go far in the sport. So, who is Vendela Kördel?
"I find it so difficult to describe myself in the best way, but the way many people describe me outside of racing is that I am a joy-spreader who always has a smile on my face", she replies. "Also that I am a very humble and happy girl most of the time."
"But in karting, I would say that I am a focused girl with a unique will to overcome holdbacks, something that has been proven during this improving and also tough season", she adds.
"I also welcome criticism from knowledgeable drivers who can help me move forward."
Like many others, Vendela caught the motorsport bug through relatives – but probably not in the most common way.
"It was my grandfather who introduced me to motorsport, we were watching Formula 1 one day – at that time I had hardly any idea what Formula 1 was – I was around 8 years old, and he said 'that's what you are going to do Vendela'. So me and my mother went out to the local motor stadium in my hometown Örebro, where the people who worked there saw good potential in me," she recalls, "which led to me to then get my first go-kart."
"And that's where it all started. I've always had a family with a lot of interest in cars and racing, as my uncle and grandfather are very familiar with Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, for example. But there was no idea that I would get caught up in it." – Vandela says.
"Motorsport for me is an amazing community where everyone is helpful and friendly to each other, while you are each other's worst competitors on the track. [It's an] amazing racing culture where everyone has the same interest and becomes friends so quickly – I think it's amazing."
And we all know that father-daughter teaming up is a common way to get into motorsport – but who says racing can't be a mother-daughter activity?
"Something that is quite different about me in karting is that I don’t have a dad supporting me like others have. Because the norms in karting is that the kids have a dad that is taking them to the competitions and taking care of the car and stuff like that." – she explains.
"Me and my mom had to learn everything by ourselves, because my dad is not into racing like me and my mom are."
We asked about Vendela's recent season in karting, the first ever she contested in J125, a bigger class and a step forward in her journey in the sport that, as normally is the case, featured some ups and downs for the young Swede.
"There were many drivers who warned me that it would be a difficult year, so I was very well prepared for setbacks and not to expect high scores", she explains how she took on the challenge. "Over the course of the year, I have met new drivers with more experience than me who have given me tough obstacles, but something about me is that I have no problem being faced with obstacles."
"I followed the middle Swedish karting series during the year and the highlights of the year were Södertälje – where I placed very well and showed good potential as a driver – but also Rasbo, where I started last in the final after a crash and gained eight places. And at the end of the season I came 11th out of 45 drivers in the MKR series which is a nice first season" – Vandela continues.
But karting wasn't the only thing on the menu for Vendela in this busy motorsport year, as alongside her best karting moments this year she could not but highlight a very special moment in each racing driver's career: the first single seater test. Furthermore, the test involved a series where a fellow female driver had just made history, as Emma Wigroth had taken the first ever female victory in Formula Nordic.
"My best moment of the year was when, on October 17th, I was given the chance by the Swedish Motorsport Federation and the Westcoast Racing team to be part of a test day for Formula Nordic, where I got to drive a formula car and also complete my racing license", Kördel says. "And as soon as I had driven my first lap, karting sounded really boring to me."
But, with every highs and hopes, each racing season inevitably brings the lowest lows.
We therefore talked about her setbacks during the past year – and what she learned the most out of them.
"There have been a lot of setbacks, such as big crashes that I myself could not influence at all. But also the Prince Carl Phillips Racing Cup, which is one of Sweden's most prestigious competitions organized by the Prince of Sweden. Such a nice competition means spending a lot of money, and to our trouble we didn't get the kart to work and I was last almost the whole competition, even though I had good potential on that track" – she recalls.
"What I have learned the most this year is that success comes with hours of practice. The only way to success is to practice and be really passionate in what you are doing!"
As known to anyone involved in the sport, a big factor of motor racing is always the financial aspect – and Vendela Kördel is well aware and driven by the importance of planning the next steps in her career. But one thing is also certain: this young lady is not going to give up easily.
"The hardest part in my career is the big amount of money my mom has to spend in one season", she tells us, "so my plans for the next season are still unsettled. In the best scenario, I will try to climb up to formula cars, or otherwise move up to senior karts".
"But one thing is sure, I will keep competing in the mid Swedish karting series and keep working as hard as possible to climb up the field", she continues. "I want to improve as a driver as much as possible, and to fulfill that I have to practice a lot both on and off track."
At this point we discussed the crucial topic of support for young drivers – especially young female drivers – in motorsport, just as Formula 1 announced plans to run the newly-founded F1 Academy project - a new platform for female athletes moving from karts to race cars.
"I’m not very aware of the details of the F1 Academy series for females, but from what I’ve read and heard I think that is such an awesome opportunity for girls to climb up to Formula 1", Kördel says enthusiastically. "We haven't seen any girls in Formula 1 yet and I am really looking forward to the day where that will change! The F1 Academy is a first step towards that", she hopes.
"For me, it is quite important to see more girls competing in motorsport", Vendela stresses, highlighting how representation at the top of the sport can positively impact on the younger generations. "Racing in general is a men dominated sport and therefore I think it needs some women to come in and change that. And, if thanks to this F1 Academy there will be an opportunity to change and see more females in the racing community, more girls will get interested in racing. As a girl in karting I’ve realized that all the girls support each other – and that is something really beautiful!"
Of course, we had to ask who her idol was, in order to understand if there was an important female figure that had inspired her in her quest to succeed in this sport.
"This question is easy!", she hits back. "My biggest idol is probably Mikaela Kottulinsky."
"Apart from her amazing success in the motorsport industry, I’ve met her two times and really realized how much of an idol she is and what a great personality she has. She is the first ever female STCC winner and currently competes in Extreme E for Rosberg X Racing. She's had a rocket career and I am really looking up to her", Kördel continues, proving the point.
At the same time, being a woman in motorsport is not always easy, and at a young age drivers soon learn that there are shadows as well – experiences that Vendela also recalls. "I have both faced difficulties and lightness in being a young girl in motorsport", she says. "I think that many people look down on you only because you're a girl. Of course this sport has a lot of lovely people who support you as a girl and think you're really cool – but others seem to be able to pick you out just because you're a girl." "I have met many drivers who looked down on me and changed their attitude just because I am a girl; for example, if I pass a guy, they are so ashamed of being beaten by a girl that they become rude and end up making excuses". The phenomenon, while fortunately less common than in the past, is often a common experience for female racers. "It's very distasteful and sad for the future generations of talented girls that we should be treated differently", she adds. "Regarding looking for sponsors, it is a big plus to be a girl", Kördel believes, as the numerical disproportion could potentially translate in more opportunities for some female athletes. "Many sponsors think it is cool to support a young girl in motorsport and could therefore choose a girl rather than a boy. That is something I have noticed, that it is easier for me to get sponsors than other drivers of the opposite gender."
In the last few years there have certainly been projects – both on and off the track – that contributed to change the perceptions, as well as helped the involvement of the younger generations. Teams such as Iron Dames, or championships such as Extreme E helped to reshape conventions. The inaugural team champion of the electric off-road series – one of the few to reach gender parity among the competitors – also launched a new program to take the concept to a new level: Rosberg Xtreme Racing will provide mentorship to three young women aged between 13 and 18, with help from Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Nico Rosberg themselves. Vendela Kördel is one of the winners. "I got really really excited - and the funny thing is that I found out the news two days after it got announced", she recalls. "I got a snap from my great friend Alexia Danielsson where she said 'did you see that we won the Rosberg competition?'. And I had forgotten about that since it had been a long time since I applied for the mentorship session. But then I went to check their Instagram and I saw that I was a part of this opportunity out of three girls". "I got very excited, jumped off my chair" – Vendela says. "Because this is such an opportunity to ask my questions to two professional drivers, and such a coincidence that both me and my best karting friend Alexia got in!" It is noticeable that there's a small yet growing movement in Sweden of talented female drivers gaining momentum, with many up-and-coming karting talents coming out from the Scandinavian country. While Vendela agrees, she also offered some insights into what are the main issues that are holding them back. "I think that the movement is going quite slow", she explains, "and the most understandable reason for that is that since it gets too cold outside, there is little chance for us to practice and compete [in the off season]." "Which means that the other countries are a bit further ahead in their track time than us Swedes. So yeah, I think there is a small movement in Sweden – for both female and male drivers. I do have some friends that I think are definitely on their way up in the industry. Some friends are going to be in formula cars and others are starting to compete on a national level."
Motor racing certainly requires big commitment and increasingly from a younger and younger age. At 14 years of age, it's quite interesting to learn about how Vendela balances a highly-intensive sport like racing with her education and daily activities of a teenager.
"I am currently in ninth grade which means that it’s really busy in school right now", she says. "I have a lot of tests and long days. But luckily I have such understanding teachers that are fine with letting me skip a day or more for my racing."
"Although it does get harder to find time to study for big tests, and my mom doesn’t like this. I am prioritizing racing before school right now because racing is the only thing that makes me really happy" – Kördel sums up.
"And of course competing in karting means that you are away a lot in your free time, from friends and from school but for me, it's quite easy to skip being with friends on weekends if I am able to drive my Go Kart – because that is often more fun than anything else."
Everyone has a happy place where we tend to find ourselves – and for a lot of people in the motor racing family, that place is the racetrack. Increasingly more young female karters like Vendela are finding their happy place – and the friends to share their passion with – at racetracks around the world.
Opportunities such as the RXR mentorship program are going to make a big difference in the development of young drivers and, in Vendela Kördel's case, having the chance to learn directly from your idols can be life-changing.
Hopefully, we'll soon learn more about her next steps in motor racing, as she pursues her dreams behind the wheel.