Mexican driver Alexandra Mohnhaupt sports a formula for success

Mexican driver Alexandra Mohnhaupt listens to her Douglas Motorsport mechanic as she prepares for the British F3 Championship. Mat Acton

MEXICO CITY – Alexandra Mohnhaupt fell in love with auto racing after she circled a lap behind the wheel of a go-kart at 9 years old.

“As soon as I felt the motor rumbling and the wind in my hair, they couldn’t drag me off,” recalled the native of Puebla, Mexico.

She has been racing practically every weekend since.

Mohnhaupt, now 18, is set to debut this weekend in the British Formula 3 Championship, driving for Douglas Motorsport only one month after she became the first woman to win a race in the North American regional Formula 4 circuit.

Both F3 and F4 are regional feeder series for the prestigious Formula One. Formula 3 offers more than 10 regionalized championship series that allow local drivers to gradually rise through the system. Beyond F3, drivers can go through the newly rebranded Formula 2 series, though some have made the jump directly to the big show.

In North America, the F3 Americas Series is set to debut in April. Mohnhaupt elected to race in Europe, in order to make it easier for Formula One teams to monitor her progress, she said. Though still growing in the sport, her ambition is clear.

Racing evidently flows in her blood. Torsten Mohnhaupt, Alexandra’s father, immigrated to Mexico from Germany in his youth to work in the automotive industry. He has actively championed his daughter’s racing career since her initial interest. In 2015, he even built a racing team, Momo F4, so Alexandra could compete in Formula 4 in Mexico, investing much of the family’s finances in the venture.

Mexico is steeped in racing tradition. The Hermanos Rodriguez track hosts various high-profile events, including the F1 Mexican Grand Prix. The Formula E, a competition for electric cars founded in 2014, also holds a race at the track. Elsewhere, Mexico boasts a regional NASCAR circuit.

“I think Alexandra is coming up in the perfect moment for this to happen,” said Marco Tolama, a former racer and motorsports commentator working for Claro Sports in Mexico. “My first impression of Alexandra was very positive. I covered one of her races, and another driver got in a big accident with her. The other person retired, but she kept racing. That’s character right there.”

Should Mohnhaupt reach the F1 circuit, she would become the first Mexican woman amidst six compatriots who have raced in the competition. Moisés Solana, Héctor Rebaque, Esteban Gutiérrez, Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez and brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez are the only Mexicans who have achieved the feat. This season, Perez is the only Mexican in Formula One.

“I’m proud we have [Sergio], it proves there’s talent in Mexico. All we need is the support to get there,” Mohnhaupt said.

“If you look at the history of Mexican auto racing, there are some pretty impressive names, past and present,” said Niky Pauli, who runs a public relations firm, Media Racing. “Today, you’ve got Sergio Perez in Formula One, Esteban Gutierrez in Formula E, Daniel Suarez in NASCAR. She could very well join them.”

Only five women have officially raced for Formula One teams in its history. Italy’s Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first, in 1958. Lella Lombardi, also from Italy, followed in 1974 and became the first and only woman to earn points from a race. Divina Galica, from the United Kingdom, raced in 1976 and South African Desiré Wilson entered in 1980. Italy’s Giovanna Amati was the last female driver to appear in Formula One, failing to qualify for three races in 1992. The five combined for a total of 29 Grand Prix entries.

For the 2018 season, Sauber F1 Team has promoted Colombia’s Tatiana Calderón to test driver, a rung below full team driver. Like Mohnhaupt, Calderón signed on to the British Formula 3 Championship before moving on.

“I would advise [Alexandra] to keep dreaming, to work hard to achieve her goals,” Calderón said in a phone interview. “She’s got to show everyone she really wants it. When that happens you are able to find success.”

Calderón has been vocal about her own struggles, saying she has dealt with backlash from men for years.

“I’ll often hear about how my performance was good -- for a woman. I take it as motivation to show people we can compete at the highest level,” Calderón said.

Mohnhaupt has pressed on. On Saturday, at Oulton Park in Cheshire, England, Mohnhaupt is set to drive the No. 5 car for Douglas Motorsport in the BRDC British F3. She will be joined by a female teammate, Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, a 19-year-old who was the first woman and youngest driver to win the British GT Championship.

Mohnhaupt is focused on her immediate challenge, and looking forward to the ultimate goal.

“I’m working to reach Formula One because women belong here,” the driver said. “I want to be an inspiration to future generations.”