Lisa Billard: “Esteban Ocon and I started out with the same people, in the same place”
Lisa Billard, 13, already has all the makings of a great driver. The Normandy native, who shares the same beginnings as her role model, Formula 1 driver Esteban Ocon, has her ambitions well in mind: to win the French Junior Karting Championship and to make it to the pinnacle of motorsport - F1.
France, a land of racing drivers? That's what one might think. Certainly, Normandy seems to be a land where talented drivers are born: Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, two Formula 1 drivers from the region, are no doubt familiar to you, but today we’re turning our attention to a young Normandy driver who’s making a name for herself.
Her name is Lisa Billard and she’s 13 years old. She was encouraged by her father to take up karting at the age of seven.
“My dad is passionate about motorsport and so he wanted me to try it,” she says. “I tried at first to make him happy because I didn't have that idea at all and in the end, I did it once, twice... This is how it came about. I started to compete and I became passionate about it too.”
And it's fair to say that her dad must be pretty proud of where she is today. Just recently, in March, Lisa won the first round of the French Junior Karting Championship, moving her into the lead of the championship.
“On Thursday it started well in practice,” Lisa says. “The weather was good and I did the best time every time. Then on Friday, it rained and I was third and on Saturday it was a bit harder for me - I finished second and third.
“And in the final, it was a nice day, so I started second and I managed to come back first. So for the championship, I'm eight points ahead for the moment.”
Lisa's talent does not go unnoticed in the motorsport world and rightly so. In fact, she was selected to take part in the FIA Girls On Track Rising Stars programme.
“I was already very happy because there were 146 applications at the beginning and in the end, I was one of the eight to participate,” she says. “After Le Castellet, it went very well with the physical and mental tests and also with the karting. I was chosen to take part in the final.
“My weak point was English. They told me to work on it for the final which was in Maranello. So I went to England for two weeks during the holidays in October to improve.
“Then in Maranello, it also went well but they decided to go with Zoe [Florescu Potolea].”
Although she was not crowned the 2022 winner, it remains an invaluable experience for Lisa. She was able to meet the Ferrari teams in Maranello and get valuable advice from former racing driver Cathy Muller.
“She mentored me a lot, giving me advice on my goals,” she says. “She helped me a lot. It was also thanks to her that I went to England to perfect my skills.
“I like Cathy because she also shared with me a bit of her journey. She didn't always have an easy time and she still managed to make a place for herself in ‘a boy's sport’”.
FIA Girls On Track - Rising Stars is not the only programme to have spotted Lisa's talent. She has since joined the flagship of French motorsport: the Fédération Française de Sport Automobile (FFSA). This Federation has seen some of the greatest French drivers pass through its ranks: Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Romain Grosjean, Simon Pagenaud, Jean-Éric Vergne... the list is long and keeps on growing with the new generation of drivers such as Theo Pourchaire, Victor Martins or Isack Hadjar. Now we can add Lisa Billard's name to this illustrious list.
“It's a good opportunity because they help me,” she says. “And it's a Federation that has brought great drivers to F1.”
The promising driver already has the mentality of a winner despite her young age. Focused on her goals, she doesn't just follow in the footsteps of these drivers but instead creates her own path.
“In the championship I will try to do the best I can because last year I finished fifth,” she says.
“Of course I would like to win the French championship. After that, I would also like to do well in the CIK Academy.
“I'm going to try and prepare myself as well as possible physically and I'll also go to the FFSA to work on the points that Alpine will tell me I need to work on to be ready for 2024.”
Lisa has joined the BWT Alpine F1 Team as part of the new Rac(H)er programme, which aims to significantly increase the number of women in the F1 team.
“In terms of communication, it’s a major advantage for me to be able to find sponsors in order to continue,” Lisa says. “Then, of course, they help me a lot. I'm going to go to Enstone to do some training sessions at the academy - sports training but also media training.
“What they want is to prepare us as well as possible for the car.”
Being in this programme means that she also benefits from the experience of the other drivers, such as Abbi Pulling.
“When I went to Enstone for the first training session, so that they could introduce us to the programme, she told me a bit about her experience and then gave me some advice,” Lisa says.
But being part of the Alpine family also means having the opportunity to learn from fellow countrymen Gasly and Ocon. As well as being from the same region, Lisa shares other similarities with her role model Ocon.
“We started out with the same people, in the same place and so on,” she says.
“In fact, Esteban got his start with my coach, Didier Blot, with whom I am currently working. I had already heard a lot about him from Didier, so I knew a bit about his background.
“When I met him, Didier had mentioned me to him, which means that he already knew a little bit about me.
“I met him at the presentation of the new F1 car and then I saw him again in Anneville-Ambourville, because he came to do some karting - it's also where he first started.”
If the support of an F1 driver is nice, nothing beats the support of those closest to you.
“I have a lot of support from my parents because they are proud,” Lisa says. “With my dad, it's a shared passion.”
There's no doubt that Lisa's journey is just beginning and that you are going to hear more and more about her. So keep an eye out, because the goal is set. To be the next woman in F1.