Luis Leeds is the latest Australian to head to Europe with Red Bull backing. But who is he? And how did he land such a coveted role?
For the last couple of years, the Red Bull Junior Team has largely dealt in big-name signings, whether it be beating Mercedes to Max Verstappen or bringing the likes of Pierre Gasly, Alex Lynn or Dean Stoneman on board.
But the approach appears to have changed somewhat in 2016, with the programme adding three lesser-known names – Niko Kari, Sergio Sette Camara and Luis Leeds.
Of them, Kari and Sette Camara have already made an impression on the lower rung of the European ladder below F1, the former winning the SMP F4 title and the latter enjoying a solid rookie season in F3. Leeds' career, however, has mostly been confined to his native Australia.
So, who exactly is Luis Leeds and how did he land what is among the most coveted roles in junior racing?
The Mexican Grand Prix
Luis' big break came on the heels of a very convincing outing in the non-championship NACAM F4 opener – a race that supported the returning Mexican Grand Prix.
“It was actually a very last-minute decision,” the Aussie recalled. “I was in school on the Monday and dad called me and told me I had to fly to Mexico and race that weekend.
“So Tuesday morning I got a flight there - and the car actually arrived after me. I had to help the team build it.”
His arrival proved to be bad news for the rest of the field as Leeds, driving for Team Ram, topped practice and qualifying before controlling the 24-minute race.
“After I had won the race, I was returning to the F4 paddock and I was told that Dr. [Helmut] Marko watched my race and wanted to meet me.
“I was a bit astounded – it was my first international race win in F4 and all of a sudden I'm being pulled into the F1 paddock and having lunch with Dr. Marko. He just asked me a few questions and, then, yeah, it just really took off from there.”
The Red Bull link-up happened a year into Leeds' car racing career, with the Aussie having competed in national Formula 4 and Formula Ford categories in 2015.
In Fords, he finished the season third overall – and the same result appeared likely in the CAMS F4 series, only for him to non-score in the final round and slip down to sixth.
“We always had the potential and the pace to qualify on pole and win races, but being so young and lacking the racecraft that the others had, it did cost me a little bit,” he recalled of his F4 stint.
“But in the big picture, for a 15-year-old racing in two championships, the whole season was really good.”
For 2016, the Australian has relocated to Milton Keynes as he prepares for his first campaign in Europe in the British MSA Formula championship – a campaign he says would not have been possible without Red Bull's support.
“Being in this Red Bull programme helps quite a bit - but from the start, when I was racing go-karts, if I told other people that in three years I would be a Red Bull junior, everyone would've doubted me,
“Nobody would've thought that could happen, especially for a kid from Australia. It's so tough to make it somewhere on the international scene, so I'm really thankful for everything that's happened.
“I wouldn't be able to race the MSA championship this year if it wasn't for the Red Bull backing. Possibly, [I would be doing] another year in Australian F4 or heading for the V8 Supercars route.”
Top-three goal for UK debut
MSA Formula, where Leeds will race with Arden, had a very strong grid for its first season in 2015, the title narrowly won by Lando Norris – who then raised his and the championship's profile by comfortably upstaging more experienced competition in the off-season Toyota Racing Series.
For 2016, the class of the competition in the MSA category is unlikely to drop off in any meaningful way – and Leeds says he wouldn't want it to.
“[A good MSA grid] is a good thing. I think it has got to be the toughest Formula 4 championship in the world at the moment.
“The level of competition will be high and it'll prove if I've got what it takes to go where I want to go. I think Dr. Marko made a really smart decision to put me there, with all the names already confirmed, there is undoubtedly going to be huge potential and talent in the field this year.
However, with MSA Formula using the same Mygale F4 chassis as Australian F4, Leeds has set a high target for his second season with the car – as have his benefactors.
“A top-three in the standings is my goal and I think it's the same for Red Bull.”
Webber and Ricciardo
Leeds is not the first Aussie to become part of Red Bull's single-seater stable, his arrival predated by two top-line drivers who have won Grands Prix for the energy drink giant – Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo.
And it was Webber's F1 career that originally inspired Leeds to make the category his goal. “Mark Webber was a big inspiration in my go-karting career and he really started my interest towards F1,” Leeds said.
“I would stay up all the time, when I'm 12 years old, until midnight just to watch him race.
“[Daniel] is another fellow Aussie that I look up to - he's always smiling and that does inspire me. I like to take a leaf out of his book.
“A lot of F1 drivers are really serious but I think Daniel is a really down-to-earth sort of character and that's what I aspire to be when I'm older. I want to be someone who's always happy and always a positive influence to people around me.”