“Maffi Racing is truly an academy that extends beyond drivers to include mechanics, engineers, and managers, fostering continuous learning for everyone involved.”
What is your background and how did you become involved in motor racing? What made you start your own racing team? (Alex Thouvenin, Co-founder of Maffi Racing) So, I have to be honest, I think my passion began with my dad, who was also a big car enthusiast. I remember my dad taking my brothers to rallies, and as a kid, I was always super envious watching them go on historic rallies with those super nice cars. Of course, I wanted to go too, and I kept asking, ‘When is it my turn?’. When I was eight, he finally took me to my first rally, a classic car rally in Corsica. I think that’s when my passion was born. I was fascinated by the cars, and there were always a couple of old drivers in those rallies whom I loved talking to. My first rally was in 2006 in Corsica, and I was completely fascinated. I became obsessed with racing, building racetracks in my room with those wooden blocks. I’d replicate race scenarios and have so much fun doing it. My parents used to make fun of me. I always wanted to race myself, do something with cars, but it was quite challenging in Switzerland. Motorsport isn’t as popular, and racetracks in the country were even prohibited after the 1955 Le Mans crash. A law was only revoked in 2021.
(AT) Although my dad is a car enthusiast, he’s not into racing, so they had no idea how I could start. My pragmatic parents told me to study and go to university for a better future, which I understood. Despite that, I started racing competitively at 15 in karting, participating in the Swiss championship. My dad insisted I work to fund my races, so I also became a ski instructor in my free time. This helped me race for five years until I went to university to study engineering, aiming to work in motorsports. After studying for three years, I had the opportunity to go on an exchange to Montreal. Simultaneously, my racing team proposed to help finance my races but I chose to go forward with my opportunity in Montreal. After finishing my studies, I worked in finance for two years, contemplating my next move. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about returning to racing. That’s when I met my two future business partners, and during our discussions, we quickly came up with the idea of creating a Swiss racing team. And just like that, we went for it.
“I appreciate the human aspect of racing. It’s not just about the driver; it’s a big human adventure. You have the driver, engineers, mechanics, and team managers, all sharing the same passion.”
What do you like about racing so much? (AT) I think there are two sides to it. First, there’s the driver’s perspective, where the speed, the passion, and the intense focus all come together. When you’re behind the wheel, your brain enters a state of total concentration. You become one with your body and the car, creating a sense of relaxation even at high speeds. I enjoy the mental state that driving puts me in—it’s like there’s only you and the track, and everything else becomes secondary. I believe I’m addicted to this feeling. Then, there’s another side to me, more in the role of a team manager. As a racing enthusiast, I appreciate the human aspect of racing. It’s not just about the driver; it’s a big human adventure. You have the driver, engineers, mechanics, and team managers, all sharing the same passion. While the race may showcase only one driver behind the wheel, it’s truly a team effort. Every person in the team must perform their job with perfection to make it work. I love this human side of racing behind the scenes.
What were the challenges of building your own racing teams, when you didn’t have any idea to do it? (AT) That’s a spot-on question, and I believe we’ve faced numerous challenges—so many, in fact, that it’s hard to sum them up. Our story is particularly unique in that we started our team from scratch. Two years ago, we found ourselves in downtown Geneva, near Furlan Marri, with just the three of us: my two business partners and myself. We were in a classic car garage, and one of my partners, skilled in repairing old cars, especially classics like Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis, and more, floated the idea of creating a race team. At that point, we only had paper and three ambitious brains.
“When we initially presented our project to people, some would look us dead in the eye and skeptically declare that we wouldn’t achieve anything, that we wouldn’t make it.”
(AT) We had to embark on everything from researching to purchasing what we needed to establish a basic race team—race cars, equipment, a truck, a trailer, and all the essential ingredients to have a racing presence. When we initially presented our project to people, some would look us dead in the eye and skeptically declare that we wouldn’t achieve anything, that we wouldn’t make it. This was in October 2021. Remarkably, six months later, we found ourselves on the grid for the first race of the Italian F4 Championship, known as one of the most competitive F4 championships. The challenges are everywhere. Financially, motorsport is a very expensive sport. It’s a highly competitive field where everyone competes to win, and there are no freebies. It’s often difficult to read people’s true intentions; there’s a lot of talk, but not everyone follows through. Navigating this ecosystem requires learning and adaptability. Despite the challenges, we’ve been incredibly lucky to meet amazing people along our journey who believed in us and played a crucial role in enabling us to reach where we are today. While we remain a young team with much more to accomplish, reflecting on what we’ve achieved in just a year and a half feels surreal.
“I remember the experience—past midnight, navigating the streets of downtown Geneva, unloading the F4 car under the glow of streetlights.”
What would you say was the most memorable moments while building the team? (AT) I have two moments in mind that were quite significant for us. The first one occurred in February 2022, just four months after launching our project. We traveled to Italy to bring back our first F4 car to Geneva, towing it with a small trailer we had at the time. I remember the experience—past midnight, navigating the streets of downtown Geneva, unloading the F4 car under the glow of streetlights. It made us feel like absolute legends; that was undeniably a powerful moment.
(AT) The second memorable moment was during the first qualifying race three months later in Imola for the first race of Italian championship. It was a challenging qualifying session with rain, and despite the tough conditions, we qualified P7 out of a grid of 40 cars. The emotions were intense because, after all the hard work, achieving such a performance was truly amazing. This was particularly significant for our super young team, often referred to as ‘gypsy’ due to our resourcefulness. We still managed to prove ourselves.
Where is Maffi racing currently competing? (AT) Maffi Racing is actively present across three levels today. In Formula 4, which marks the initial step of our project, we primarily compete in the Italian F4 Championship. This championship stands out as one of the most competitive F4 series globally, featuring top-tier teams and drivers. It resembles more of a European Championship, given its high level of competition. Additionally, this year, we’ve begun exploring opportunities to compete in other championships, such as the ACC in F4, covering the eastern part of Europe. Over the next one or two years, we aim to participate in the UAE F4 Championship, which is showing promising growth. These three regions are our primary focus in Formula 4. Moving on to karting, we collaborate with our partner Kartbox, participating in various Swiss championships. Our goal is to gradually expand into larger European karting races. Lastly, in the realm of eSports, specifically sim racing, we’re in the process of building a team of sim racing drivers to compete globally.
“The transition from karting to Formula 4 is especially challenging.”
What are the different approaches to competing in Formula 4 compared to karting, for example? (AT) It was quite unique when we started to create a team that is present in both karting and Formula 4. This juncture is a key step in a driver’s career, most drivers won’t make it, many face challenges, whether financial, due to a lack of skill, or simply not knowing the way forward. The transition from karting to Formula 4 is especially challenging because of age factors. Most karting drivers begin at ages between 8 and 11 years old, and then make the leap to Formula 4 around 15 or 16 years old. In karting, even though young drivers race seriously, it’s crucial to maintain a fun environment for them. Having fun is essential for performance I think. However, when they transition to Formula 4, they must adopt a professional mindset. This entails working with a team, engaging in physical and mental training, focusing on nutrition, and developing targeted marketing strategies to attract sponsors. The shift to Formula 4 is where everything becomes more professional, and we strive to teach these young drivers to behave like Formula 1 drivers early on.
“Adapting to Formula 4 involves deconstructing old habits and building new ones, a critical step in the transition from karting to Formula 4.”
(AT) From a technical standpoint, the driving styles in karting and Formula 4 are entirely different. We often observe that drivers who excel in karting face challenges when transitioning to Formula 4. Even the best karting drivers can struggle in Formula 4 because they bring with them habits that worked in karting but may hinder their performance in the new environment. Adapting to Formula 4 involves deconstructing old habits and building new ones, a critical step in the transition from karting to Formula 4.
“The ultimate goal for Maffi Racing as a racing team is to function as an academy for drivers.”
Would you hoping Maffi racing to be an Academy for young drivers? (AT) Absolutely. The ultimate goal for Maffi Racing as a racing team is to function as an academy for drivers. We aim to support them across various platforms, karting, sim racing, and then guide them into Formula 4. As we continue to expand, our vision includes moving into Formula 3, GT, and exploring other racing categories. Our objective is to provide drivers with the opportunities they aspire to, recognising that making it to Formula 1 is highly selective and only a few achieve it. Not everyone can reach Formula 1, but they can find success in GT, endurance racing, and other categories. So we try to bring them all the skills and all the tools, they need to become professional racing drivers. However, our focus isn’t solely on drivers. We also aim to educate our mechanics and engineers by taking in young talent and instilling in them the spirit of motorsports. It’s truly an academy that extends beyond drivers to include mechanics, engineers, and managers, fostering continuous learning for everyone involved.
Switzerland is not widely recognised for having a strong presence in racing teams or racing culture, so what you’re doing is really a first of kind. (AT) Absolutely. This is why we saw an opportunity — to tap into the untapped market in Switzerland that often had no outlet or means to use their potential. Creating a team here made sense, especially given Switzerland’s international nature. It allows us to attract drivers and individuals from all corners of the globe, which is fantastic. There’s another aspect I want to mention. Despite being a Swiss team, our origins trace back to Ethiopia. My two business partners, the Maffi brothers, have Ethiopian origin, a less common background in motorsports. Their father played a pivotal role in creating the Ethiopian Motorsport Federation in the 60s and organised races in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. At one point, he owned the largest garage in the capital. The Maffi brothers grew up in that garage, learning to prepare cars at the tender ages of eight and nine, in Africa. Eventually, they moved to Switzerland and continued their journey in racing. It’s an incredible story that highlights the idea that, regardless of your origins, with hard work and passion, you can achieve remarkable things. Our team is a fusion of showcasing Swiss precision and knowledge while celebrating our Ethiopian origins. It reflects our commitment to share our passion, history, and motorsport knowledge with the world.
Who are the drivers for Maffi racing now? (AT) Currently, in Formula 4, we have eight drivers who competed for us this year—five young men and three women. Additionally, we have ten drivers in karting with Kartbox, representing the future of Formula 4. This year has been particularly exciting for us because, when we initiated the project, we aimed to support young girls in finding their way into motorsports. Although last year we couldn’t find any girls interested in starting Formula 4, this year, we already have three young girls who have started testing and competing for us. It’s a positive development, and we hope to see more in the near future.
Why do you think it is important to promote women drivers in motorsports? (AT) At Maffi Racing, we often emphasise that once the helmet is on, we don’t care if you’re a girl or a boy—what matters is speed. In motorsports, it ultimately comes down to the stopwatch. We come from Ethiopia, where access to any form of motorsport was limited. Our aim is to show that, regardless of your background or gender, a future and career in motorsport are possible. So we wanted to show that wherever you come from, whatever gender you have, you can have a future in motorsport, you can have a career in that domain. We are happy to be part of this movement, that seeks to bring more women into every level of motorsport. Whether as drivers, mechanics, managers, or engineers, we believe that diversity strengthens our team. By having men and women from different cultures, we bring varied perspectives and approaches to situations. In the end, the more diverse strengths we combine, the better we become.
“Motorsport has so much potential to bring and showcase new technologies for society. When envisioning Maffi Racing, it is not only about competing but also serving as a platform to showcase and bring innovation.”
What are your goals for Maffi racing? (AT) Our primary goal is to establish a racing academy and compete in various categories, including Formula 4, Formula 3, Formula 2, GT, and endurance racing. Another core objective integral to our project is promoting innovation through motorsports. I think it’s sad today that motorsports has a bad reputation, especially in Europe as a polluting sport. On the contrary motorsport has so much potential to bring and showcase new technologies for society. Various categories, such as Formula E advocating for electric engines, Formula 1 exploring sustainable fuels, and endurance racing experimenting with hydrogen engines, demonstrate the versatility of motorsport in proposing solutions. As a young team, being only two years old since our inception, we aspire to participate in guiding motorsports in the right direction for the future. Rather than replicating past paths or dwelling on history, we want to be innovators, continuously integrating technology and exploring new avenues. Additionally, we are keen on promoting sim racing and eSports as valuable tools for talent detection and driver training. When envisioning Maffi Racing, it is not only about competing but also serving as a platform to showcase and bring innovation. We actively collaborate with universities, bringing students on board to contribute fresh ideas and perspectives to our sport.