Over the winter break, Christian Lundgaard will have sat down and had a drink with a friend. For him, that period of relaxation would have been just as important as any of the physical preparation and training he did.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with that,” says the 19-year-old, who briefly contemplates a world in which he’s never allowed to shut off. There are some who may expect him to be in the gym 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but that’s just not realistic, nor healthy.
“If I didn’t get to relax, then I wouldn’t be able to compete at the highest level possible,” he says. “You would get tired. You would get frustrated.”
Given his background, Lundgaard’s opinion should hold some weight too. His father was a European Rally Champion, while his mother raced in Motocross. His uncle, cousin and brother all drove at one point or another as well. They’re a racing family – or a “family of speed,” as he so articulately puts it.
Simply, they know the fine line between success and failure, and they know what it takes to ride on the right side of it.
“I absolutely love what I do, and I enjoy every second of it, but you need to enjoy life in other ways as well,” Lundgaard asserts. “I chose to go racing and therefore I choose not to see my friends. I don’t go partying, I don’t do any of the stuff that a 19-year-old boy does, so it is very important to have a break and to relax when you get the time.”
Lundgaard is a hugely positive presence: he’s hard-working and headstrong, but also realistic and bluntly honest. He knows that there’s an almost infinite list of people who would take his place, but that doesn’t mean he believes the life he’s chosen is perfect. There are risks, there are pitfalls, but he’s here to enjoy it. Warts and all.
If I didn’t get to relax, then I wouldn’t be able to compete at the highest level possible
“We accept everything in order to enjoy the sport that we love to do,” he continues. “We are risking our lives here and we have all seen what can happen. As many other drivers have said, including F1 drivers, we are living the dream, but at the end of the day driving 300 plus kilometres per hour is not safe.
“My dad was a good rally driver, but I am never going to be driving a rally car. Don't worry about that. I will stick to four wheels and a racetrack. There are accidents in all forms of motorsports, but I have never really been a fan of driving in the mountains as fast as you can because there are so many ways in which it can go wrong.”
Although he may not fancy following the same dirt path as his father, Lundgaard knows he would not be where he is today without his influence.
Naturally, Henrik Lundgaard played a defining role in the careers of both Christian and his brother Daniel, who previously raced as well. The older Lundgaard brother no longer competes. He now designs his younger brother’s helmets and can often be found alongside him at races.
“I cannot thank my family enough for this opportunity. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Lundgaard says. “I think that my dad actually stopped racing because of me and my brother. I think he felt that our dreams were something that he wanted to focus on more than his own. He had already been doing it for a long time by then.
“My brother and I only raced against each other once. Our parents weren’t too keen on us doing it together. At one point in karting, we were swapping places race by race in the same championship although that was partly because of budget.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I was lucky, but I wasn't unlucky when it came to the timing of things. I waited a year longer than my brother did to move into cars, and that opened up more opportunities in international championships, which helped me to get my name out there, whereas he went into Danish Formula Ford. I am happy that I have him by my side to help me now.”
Championship titles followed for Lundgaard, winning SMP Formula 4 and Spanish F4 with MP Motorsport in his first season of single-seater racing, before narrowly missing out on the title in Formula Renault Eurocup where he finished as vice-champion.
Formula 3 represented a sizeable step-up, but the early signs were promising. He crossed the line first in the season opener, although he had to settle for second after a five-second penalty demoted him.
However, the subsequent four races yielded zero points and derailed his title charge before it had even begun. He recovered to take a victory and finish sixth overall - the highest placed racer to have never driven at that level before.
That jump to F3, it got us so much closer to F1,” he recalls. “That has always been the dream. I have never had a plan b where I said 'okay, if this goes south, where do I go and what do I do?' I was born into a family with racing history. I think this is where we are supposed to be.
“I started well in F3, nearly put it on pole and won the first race but I was demoted to second. Then in the next round, we’re P12 in Quali. Ultimately, it was very up and down and none of us were happy about it.”
Despite the inconsistency of that maiden season in F3, Alpine – then named Renault – decided that Lundgaard’s future was better served in the tier above, Formula 2. Lundgaard had shown enough in his rookie F3 season to justify the move, while a switch to larger 18-inch tyres was likely to even out the playing field.
My dad was a good rally driver, but I am never going to be driving a rally car
Although, Lundgaard’s assessment of the switch was typically uncomplicated.
“At the end of the day, it’s four black circles of rubber,” shrugged the Dane. “If they are bigger than the others, what differences does it really make? Yes, they behave a bit different, but it’s the only thing that has any contact to the track, and as long as the wheels stay on the car, then I don’t think it’s really that different.”
His first F2 campaign was not without its challenges, least of all missing the entirety of the pre-season testing when he was quarantined at a hotel in Spain with members of the Renault Academy team.
Despite the hitch, Lundgaard showed plenty of his undoubted talent throughout the year, in particular his raw speed. More than anything, Lundgaard is quick - sublimely quick.
If you want to know what he’s all about, then look no further than Mugello 2020. Taking pole, he only lost the Feature Race lead late on after a Safety Car snatched the victory from him. Undeterred, he responded emphatically on the Sunday, winning the Sprint Race over Louis Delétraz by a mega 14s. Take the Safety Car out of the equation and Lundgaard absolutely dominated all three points scoring sessions.
And yet, for all of his obvious pace, Lundgaard continued to be dogged by inconsistency last year. A four-race pointless spell in the middle of the season stuttered his title charge, before a run of five pointless races from the final six closed the door.
It’s an issue he’s determined to tackle in 2021.
“It is pretty clear that I didn’t want to be P7,” he says. “We didn’t really have too much bad luck: there was the DNF in the first race at Budapest where the front wing was taken off, then we also had a puncture, a hydraulics problem and a gearbox issue, but that was about it in terms of bad luck. We just weren’t fully satisfied with where we were.
“No one is perfect and there’s always stuff to improve on. I think I’ve had my struggles personally and we’ve had our struggles as a team too. We just haven’t really put everything together.
“I am 100% sure that if we put everything together, then I don’t think it is a question of where we will end up. We had the pace last year, we just didn’t put everything together.”
No matter how good his rookie season in F2 was, Lundgaard already knew ahead of the 2020 campaign that there wasn’t going to be a space for him at Alpine, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon already tied down for 2021, but this year represents a fresh opportunity with the latter currently out of contract at the end of the season.
Akin to the rest of the conversation, Lundgaard’s opinion on getting in the door is pretty matter of fact.
“I don’t think they would take a guy who finishes P7,” he says bluntly.
But does he think they would they take someone who finished first?
Without hesitation, he responds, “Absolutely.”