At only age 16, Nicole Havrda is paving a new road for herself in the competitive and male-dominated world of racing.
A former skier and competitive swimmer, the British Columbian athlete was first inspired by motorsport after watching a Formula 1 race in Austria with her family in 2018. Just one year later, she sped her way through the karting circuit, earning her first podium finish in 2019 and being named Rookie of the Year in the West Coast Karting Club. Since then, she’s earned several more podium finishes and placed sixth in international events such as the Challenge of the Americas in Tuscon, Arizona. Today, fans can find Nicole Havrda training to compete in Formula 3 in 2023 in the open-wheel racing car category for junior drivers, a pit stop for those hoping to secure a spot in the illustrious yet exclusive world of Formula 1.
“It’s important to start at a young age because it takes a while to build your skills and credentials,” she says when asked about the difficulty of breaking into the highest echelon of the sport. Racing is a lot more physical than most would imagine. Havrda trains for two hours a day specifically focusing on the legs, core, shoulders, and forearms. “Racing is a cardio sport where we’re driving 30-40 minutes,” she explains. “So cardio is very important.”
This season continues to be a banner year for the young racing sensation, who is leading by example to showcase women in motorsport alongside her teammates Demi Chalkias and Cherie Storms. Not only is she one of the faces of the “She’s Mercedes” campaign – launched to encourage women to join the sport – but she is also part of an upcoming documentary that aims to promote equality in the racing world. After Formula 3, she’ll be competing in the W Series, a free-to-enter championship that eliminates financial barriers for women to progress in the highest levels of the sport. Ironically, this all comes with her not yet having a driver’s licence (but that’s next).
In recent years, Nicole Havrda has seen young women get more involved in the sport thanks to increased media exposure, such as the beloved Netflix series Drive to Survive. “When I started karting three years ago, you only saw three girls at the track. Now, there are so many young girls, older girls, and even moms at the track.”
Most recently, she attended the Grand Prix in Montreal to interview renowned driver and fellow Mercedes representative Lewis Hamilton. During the interview, the seven-time Driver’s World Champion offered some valuable advice to Havrda.
“If you’re frustrated, you can rely on your team but you also have to visualise what you’re going to do in any given situation,” she reiterates. “A lot of our training is mental and it’s important to block out the negative and focus on your own plan.”
But of course, Lewis’ experience offers a unique perspective given that he remains one of the few BIPOC drivers on the grid and by far the most prominent. Yet as a gender minority in her own right, Havrda’s outlier status has granted her wisdom far beyond her years.
As for her own advice for women hoping to follow in her footsteps as a trailblazer, whether in Formula 1 or beyond, she explains that a large part of carving out your own space and identity is embracing the pressure that comes with it.
“Pressure is a good thing, in a way. When someone tells you to do something specific, you know what you have to do. It helps you hit your milestones,” Havrda explains. “But it’s a lot more challenging when you have so few people in your world who look like you. You don’t necessarily have the blueprint, so you have to make it yourself.”
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With the rest of her career still awaiting her down a promising (albeit largely unpaved) road, Havrda is hoping to one day be a figure for fellow Canadian women hoping to break into Formula 1 can aspire towards, driving alongside fellow advocates such as Chalkias and Storms. But for now, the teenage driver is more than happy to keep embracing both the work and the pressure that comes with it.
“I want to be able to help bring other women into the sport and see the dynamics change,” says Havrda. “But that doesn’t really mean much if I can’t back it up. […] I want to grow the sport but I think the most important part of that is being one of the best. […] Not the best woman. I mean the best, period.”