Max Esterson like the rest of his rookie class is adjusting to life in Formula 3. But what separates him from the rest of his contemporaries is the route he took to get here.

While many of the drivers would have started out karting from a young age, he took a different route through sim racing. It is one he admits he did not expect when he was younger, but that he is most certainly enjoying now.

“My dad was involved in the sport, he was an engineer in the 80s,” Esterson explained. “He was designing F3 cars and other cars, and he worked in IndyCar for a bit, so that's how I got into it. I think the first race I went to was either the 2005 or 2006 Daytona 24 Hours.

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“That was my first memory of racing I suppose and then for sim racing, my older brother got gifted a Logitech G25 pedal and steering wheel set for his birthday. He used it a bit, but he was nice enough to share with me.

“I took it over and got more into it and that's when I started playing iRacing, maybe when I was nine or 10, and it kind of took off from there.

“Obviously, I had watched so much racing up to that point, but it was never something I thought I could do myself. So, having a sim - when I say sim it was just a Logitech wheel at a desk - but having that at home was a way for me to get closer and experience racing.”


Esterson got his start using his brothers pedal and steering wheel set
Esterson got his start using his brother's pedal and steering wheel set

By age 13, the American was beginning to make a name for himself and after taking part in a number of competitions in the Pro series, he became ranked as one of the top sim racers in the world.

“I think when I was 13 or 14, I started to get quite good at IRacing,” he said. “I was starting to win a lot of races and then in 2018 I had my first season in the pro series, it was a GT3 Pro series, and it was my first taste of that whole experience.

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“I think in the first race of the year I qualified second or third out of 60 cars and then it progressed from there. I did it for one more year in 2019 and I finished seventh overall which was good, but it was a lot of work.

“Obviously on iRacing, the practice is unlimited, it is as many hours as you have in the day to do it. So, you need to learn how to practice effectively and not get burned out, but the competition was so good.”


Now 16 and having gained plenty of recognition online, Esterson briefly went to karting. It was not something he had planned to do but he jokingly reveals it all started with a request from his mother.

“It started one summer, my mum kind of wanted me out of the house, she was tired of me sitting inside on the sim,” said Esterson when asked how he started racing in real life. “So, I found l an outdoor karting camp close to me in New York.

Esterson started racing in karts at the age of 16
Esterson started racing in karts at the age of 16

“I did that and loved it and then did a few low-level club races and then did a bit more of that the following year. I was doing well for how little experience I had but it was never amazing.

“Then, I tested a Formula Ford in the US, and instantly it felt natural to me compared to the kart. It wasn’t too alien to me I guess from all the sim experience and that was when I knew it was something I could do. The first few laps there was a lot going on, but you get used to it.”


The next step for Esterson was to go to compete and having done some races in America he moved across the pond in 2020 and took part in the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy.

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He would eventually win both, the latter in 2021 – which came alongside his third-place finish in the National Formula Ford Championship – and the former in 2022.

That same year he competed in a GB3 Championship field that included current F3 rivals Luke Browning, Cian Shields, Tommy Smith, and Callum Voisin. He finished seventh in the Standings having scored three podiums that included one victory at Donington Park.

“It was good,” he said when speaking about competing in GB3. “Obviously coming from Formula Ford, it was a huge jump. Formula Ford has no wings and has treaded tyres, then GB3 is quite a quick car. It's not so much slower than the F3 car, so that was a big jump.

“Testing was good for getting used to the car and it’s a strong field. The UK tracks are also quite tricky but luckily, I had raced them the previous year. I had one win at Donington which was really good. It was a bit up and down that season I would say, but overall, it was positive.”

Esterson made his Formula 3 bow with Rodin in 2023
Esterson made his Formula 3 bow with Rodin in 2023


In 2023, after finishing a second season of GB3, Esterson competed in two rounds for Rodin Motorsport at Silverstone and Budapest in Formula 3. He would later race for Jenzer Motorsport at the Macau Grand Prix.

“When a seat opened up at Rodin, we took it,” he said. We were trying to figure out what to do for this year and you don't get many opportunities to test or even race an F3 car, so that was really good to do, especially Silverstone was the first one.

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“It was good experience; I learned a lot. I did the post-season testing with Jenzer, and then Macau, which I hope to do again, and that was my favourite race of the year.”

He then took one of the Jenzer seats in Formula 3 for this year, and he made an impressive start in a “super tough” field. He qualified 10th at the season-opener in Sakhir and finished sixth after defending well from PREMA Racing’s Gabriele Minì giving him his first five points in F3.

“The start was really good, maybe better than I expected, or a lot of people expected. Qualifying 10th in Bahrain was really nice, obviously you want to be on pole but being in the top 12 in F3, that's what you need to do to have a chance at scoring points.

“So, starting third for the Sprint Race was a good start to the year, and I finished sixth. I was pretty close to scoring a podium, but it just didn't work out. The front two were just fighting too much so it backed me into the guys behind.

Esterson was in contention for a podium in the Sakhir Sprint Race but finished sixth
Esterson was in contention for a podium in the Sakhir Sprint Race but finished sixth

“But anyway, it was a good race and some good battles, everyone seemed to like the one with Minì, so it was fun. I struggled in the Feature Race but overall, it was positive to score points in the first round, I'm not sure many were expecting that.”


Next on his calendar will be Imola for Round 3 of the season, which follows three days of testing in Barcelona where he feels both he and Jenzer made progress. But he had some time to reflect on his journey to F3.

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“Once in a while I do look back, Formula 3 is something I would not have expected to be doing at this point,” he acknowledges. “I was at a really tough school in New York, which was my main focus and then Covid happened, and I was able to do school remotely.

“So that was what allowed me to move to the UK, to kind of start this off. It was really all by chance, and I don't think any of us expected to be here, but I am enjoying it.”

When asked about his future, he calls winning the Formula 3 title this year the “ultimate goal” not just for him but for the rest of the 29 drivers. However, he says standing on the podium would also be “very nice”.

As for his career goals, Esterson said: “F1 would amazing. Obviously, you have to shoot for that because that's the top, but I'd be happy getting paid making a living driving.”