All images by Stephanie Lee for RICE Media unless stated otherwise.
In ‘Singaporeans Abroad’, we share with you the stories of locals who—thanks to living in a globalised world—have found success in different corners of the globe, whether financially, romantically, or for the pure joy of adventure.
We recently heard from Bella Lee, a social work graduate who chose a job counselling orphans in Thailand for no pay. Then, there was Debbie Chia, a Singaporean who found love with a fellow DJ before building a life and raising her child in Berlin, Germany.
Now, we bring you Christian Ho, a Singaporean-Korean teenager living alone in the UK to chase his Formula One racing dream.
2023 has been a big year for me. Like many other 17-year-olds, I took my GCSE ‘O’ Levels. I also took a step closer to my Formula One (F1) dreams by competing in the F4 Spanish Championship and finishing second.
Most karters with the same dream as me start young, training in karting before racing in FIA Formula Four (F4). From there, you go on to Formula Three or Formula Two. Each series is more competitive than the last.
My final goal (and many of my racing peers) is making it to Formula One. The highest class of international racing, with only 20 drivers each season.
None have been Singaporean, but I’m hoping to change that.
I must confess, I’m lucky that my parents have been supportive of my dream. They’ve done so much for me—from putting me in karting lessons and finding me coaches to sending me to the UK to study.
Discovering the Need for Speed
I don’t really remember much about my life before racing, simply because I got into it so young.
I used to go to the F1 races quite often, starting from when I was around four years old.
When I was about seven, I was on a family vacation in Phuket. I’d gone go-karting with my family and finished third.
The track manager at Phuket told my dad I should try to start karting if I was interested. As an F1 fan, of course I was.
When we returned to Singapore, we wasted no time finding coaches and a racing team: KartMaster Racing at the KF1 track.
I was also lucky enough to be coached by Roland Chong, the former vice-president of Motor Sports Singapore and the brother of Singapore’s top pro race driver, Ringo Chong. Roland taught me the basics, but it wasn’t just about driving fast. He also helped me lay the groundwork for the future. I learned the fastest way around the track and braking with muscle memory.
Professional go-karting is a different ballgame from leisure go-karting. You aren’t just having a fun time on the track. You’re fighting to win.
After two years of training and racing in Singapore, I moved to Italy in 2017 with my mum while my dad remained in Singapore. I was about 11 and approaching the end of my Primary 5 school year.
My dad was always keen on me pursuing this path. Mum was a little more worried—and still is—but she’s just as supportive of my dreams. I completely understand her anxiety. You’re driving at high speeds, and crashing is a risk. With karting, there are no seatbelts—some racers say it’s safer to be thrown out than strapped in—so crashes can be quite big.
I’ve broken my arm and my shoulder on separate occasions thanks to racing accidents. I usually try not to think about the danger when I drive, but sometimes, the trauma does take over. There was one accident that happened during karting when I was about nine. I’d been trying to overtake when I flipped my kart.
It left me with a fear of overtaking. But I knew I had to pull it together. If you’re afraid of overtaking, how can you be a race car driver? I had to get a hold of myself and will myself to overcome the fear.
Of course, safety-wise, it’s gotten better over the years in the world of racing. The F4 cars are also a lot less open than karts. They’re also consistently introducing more safety upgrades, such as better chassis design and adding onboard safety signalling systems.
Life in the Fast Lane
Our reason for moving overseas was simple. Europe is the heart of racing, or karting, basically. And most of the F1 drivers karted here. Not Italy, specifically, but Europe—all the major races are based around here.
If I’d continued staying in Singapore and I needed to go to Europe for a race, it would be a really, really long flight. Not to mention it’ll be quite expensive as well.
The competition in Europe is much higher. And I think naturally, when you’re in an area where competition is much higher, you learn a bit more as well when you push yourself. My parents also engaged former world karting champion Felice Tiene as my coach in Milan. He helped me to understand what it really takes to win in Europe.
I’ve realised that preparing mentally is really important in sports in general. Focusing on that has really helped me to become a faster driver.
I was quite happy to move to Milan at the time, honestly. School was easier as well—and not as competitive—so it was quite a fun time for me.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty was adjusting to the food because I really enjoy Singaporean food: rojak, chicken rice, mee tai mak. Even today, while I’m currently based in the UK, I always try to find Asian foods.
But ultimately, moving to Italy back then was worth it because it took me to new heights in my racing journey. In 2019, about 18 months after I moved to Italy, I managed to win a race in the Deutsche Kart Meisterschaft (DKM) German Karting Championship series.
It meant a lot because I was the first Asian driver to win the championship.
Racing Through Exams and Tracks
Since I started racing, I’ve been going where racing takes me. At 15, I transitioned to F4 cars, and so I moved to the UK.
For the first week, I was a little homesick—Dad, Mum, and my little sister remained in Singapore. But I got over it and don’t dwell on it all that much.
I currently go to an international school near Leicester. Most days, I’m in school since races are mostly on weekends. And when I do miss class, I’m able to catch up on what I missed online.
Here, it’s a bit less free, though. Because I’m in a boarding school, I can’t go out too much. We have a 6 PM curfew and can’t leave our dorms after hours. Well, I suppose it stops us from getting in any trouble.
I work on my physical fitness in the gym daily with the usual cardio and weight exercises. In the lead-up to a race, I also attend training camps with Campos Racing, where I get to prepare on the simulator and work on my racing technique.
Campos had actually scouted me since my karting days, but I ended up racing with MP Motorsport for my very first F4 Spanish Championship in 2022. Once I split with my management and the team, Campos approached me again.
It was a no-brainer to go with them for my 2023 season, considering they had dominated the year before.
My main focus is always being one step ahead in physical training. To always be more ready than other people.
The UK is where a fair bit of Formula action takes place, but I still have to travel a lot. Races are held all over Europe. This season’s F4 Spanish Championship took me from Belgium to different locales in Spain.
Racing really only affects my studies when it clashes with my exams. Obviously, as a Singaporean, my educational goal is to try to get the best results possible. But managing GCSEs this year was really hard. One of my exams was on the same day as one of my F4 Spanish Championship races!
I skipped the last half of my exam because I had to take a train to the airport and get to Spain. I remember being really stressed about it the night before. I was in my dormitory, timing myself while cramming practice papers to make sure I could finish the paper in an hour. I ended up only completing three-quarters of it.
To make things worse, it was Further Maths, my best subject. My mum was not very happy about that. But if I had to do it all over again? I’d probably still skip the exam.
It was a flight I couldn’t miss because I’d already missed the practice sessions for the race.
It ended up being my worst race. It was the reason why I lost the championship this year. But I’m still happy I did the race.
A Big Dream: F1
If we’re being realistic, making it into F1 is tough . Only 20 drivers in the world make it. But countless others dream of it. In fact, when I started racing in Europe, everybody around me had the same F1 dream. So I think my challenge was to always try to beat all of them and try to get ahead of them.
I really look up to racing legend Michael Schumacher and basketballer Kobe Bryant. They’re both winners in their sports. I think they’re both legends. And I think what separated them from the rest is their mentality. That’s what I’m trying to build currently and take inspiration from.
There have been sacrifices, of course. I had to give up a normal childhood in Singapore to achieve my dream. I left Singapore right before Primary 6 and never really settled down long-term in a specific country or area after that. I’ve always been jumping in and out of school as there was a race almost every week in karting.
Even if I don’t reach the F1 level, I think I’ll still try to pursue racing. There’s also IndyCar and Formula E, which I think are good options for racers too. I’ve been racing for so many years. Obviously, if all of that would come to nothing, it would be a waste.
But most of the time, I don’t really think of this stuff. I just try to do my best.
You always have to set the target high. Because once you set that target high, the worst you can get is not so bad.
Don’t Think, Just Drive
To go from watching races at the Marina Bay Street Circuit to actually speeding down it would be such a proud moment.
Motorsports are mostly dominated by Europeans, so representing Singapore on the world stage would be a really big milestone for me. If I’m able to accomplish that, I will be amongst the few athletes from Singapore who have been able to make an impact on sports in a global way.
I don’t think I ever had doubts about my F1 dream. For me, it was quite simple because it was one of the sports I was really good at in the first place. Driving a car and driving fast feels natural. It feels like your body is part of the car, basically. And I don’t think I really felt like that with many other sports.
When I’m on the track, I’m always in the zone. Adrenaline takes over. The doubts vanish, and I just do what I’ve known for my whole life.