Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky’s road to success has been full of twists and turns. After a difficult couple of years, a last-minute drive in the 2018 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship – STCC – saw the Swedish driver bounce back. With a race win this season and a top 10 championship finish, Mikaela is more determined than ever to achieve her goals while maintaining a happy and healthy state of mind.
Despite being from a motorsport-orientated family with both of her parents, her grandfather and brother all drivers, Mikaela recalls having no interest in racing when she was growing up. In fact, she “resented it”.
“I didn’t want to go with my brother to the karting races he had or go to the rally in the town where I grew up in Sweden,” she says.
However, this all changed when her brother went to sell his kart.
“As his little sister, I was used to getting his old stuff,” she says. “I remember sitting at the table saying “hey, I should get the kart!” – I don’t know why I said it, but I know that I protested to get it. In the end I got it and went karting. I also liked it, after all!
“I was never pushed or forced to start motorsport, so the passion that I have for it has been founded by me. That’s important.”
Since discovering that she was fast in a kart, Mikaela decided to follow the path that led her to touring cars. While it wasn’t an easy decision for her to make, she felt the cost involved in single-seaters was too high.
“It was quite obvious for me as I knew that if I wanted to go racing I would have to finance it myself with sponsors,” she says. “Looking at the prices in single-seaters going all the way up to being a paid driver is huge. Touring cars are expensive, but it’s not on the same level in my eyes.”
2018 has seen Mikaela flourish with PWR Racing. With one retirement out of 12 starts, she has proven her ability to be consistently quick under race conditions. To top it all off, she won the second race at Sweden’s most prestigious track – Karlskoga Motorstadion.
“It’s been my best season to date,” she says. “I wasn’t certain that I was going to race this year and it really was a last-minute call that I would be the fourth car in the team. Up until March, the plans were all up in the air. I’d had two tough years previously, and I just wanted to have some fun this year. If I didn’t enjoy it, I knew that I would stop at the end of 2018.
“I had a fantastic time with my team and we worked with a step-by-step plan for each weekend. I wanted to finish in the top 10 and I finished 10th overall. I do wish that it would’ve been higher. I never dreamed of a win, though.”
After months of uncertainty, Mikaela’s win has been made official. After the race back in August, an appeal was made by another team about the exhaust system on her PWR car. Two weeks ago, the appeal was dropped and Mikaela’s win stands.
“I knew from the start that I deserved that win,” she says. “There was nothing wrong with the exhaust system and I knew that there was no advantage to be gained from it. From my side, I knew that on that day and in that race, I was the quickest. I had the most consistent laps and I didn’t make any mistakes – I had a great race. I’ve always seen myself as a winner in that round, despite what the ruling could’ve said. Now it’s all finalised, it’s relieving and I’m happy that I have the win back.”
Although nothing is confirmed for 2019, Mikaela is adamant that she will be back out racing again, with the end goal of making it to the World Touring Car Championship – WTCR – when the cars make the switch to electric powered engines.
“My goal is to continue in the STCC with PWR,” Mikaela says. “In the future, I want to go into the WTCR when they make their switch to electric cars.
“They will be different as they will be rear-wheel driven, but if I continue with PWR then they know what I’m like as a person and how I work so they will support me. If we get a plan together then I’m 100 percent certain that we’ll make it.”
Mikaela headed to Spain a couple of months ago to take part in the first FOA women drivers assessment programme test.
Ran by the FIA Women in Motorsport initiative, Mikaela tested two types of machinery, including a single seater. Accompanying her were 14 other drivers, including Tatiana Calderon, Jamie Chadwick and Christina Neilson.
“I loved how supportive the other girls were,” she says. “We had lots of chats about our experiences as we’re all in different forms of racing and it’s not that often that we’re able to talk to each other. A few of my friends back home try their best to understand what my life is like, but they never get the full picture. It was fun to be able to discuss racing with other girls and exchange our different experiences.”
Mikaela also maintains the importance of programmes that the FIA is working on in the bid to try and get more females involved in motorsport.
“The work that they’re doing – in particular the Girls on Track – to get more females into motorsport is so good,” Mikaela says. “I always get asked why there aren’t more girls in motorsport, and media campaigns and initiatives have a big impact. They show that women can be in motorsport and we can be as good as and if not better than the boys.”
However, Mikaela’s opinion is more divided when it comes to the new female-only W Series that will take to the track next year.
“It’s a good way for women to get into motorsport if you don’t have the budget or means to get into a mixed series,” she says. “You can show your potential in a single seater too.
“In my opinion, it won’t solve the problem of getting a female F1 driver. There’s so much more to racing than just winning one race and one championship. That’ll take you one step closer but that isn’t necessarily enough. You need to physically prepare for a big series and you need the full package, equipped with a good mentality and the right contacts.”
2016 and 2017 were difficult periods for Mikaela, and she isn’t afraid to admit it. A constant source of pressure meant that racing became too much and a step back was needed. However, the 25 year-old has learnt from her past experiences to ensure her mental state is on par with her physical.
“I lost myself during those two difficult years,” she says. “Things got very big in such a short amount of time. I got lots of partners and it all got incredibly serious. It got too much for me to be able to handle. When I got stressed, I lost the joy of what I did. Like in all disciplines, you need the time to rest – I didn’t have this. I was constantly on the go. I’m a lot stronger now and, more importantly, I’m a lot happier.”
Her journey means that she knows motorsport isn’t always an easy ride and, despite the difficult times, she doesn’t want people to “feel sorry” for her and instead wants people to learn that it’s okay to “lose sight of your passion”.
“The road to success isn’t the same for everyone,” she says. “For some people, just having motorsport all of the time is their route. I learnt that this method wasn’t mine as it didn’t work out. For me to succeed, I need the balance and to have down time with friends and family. It’s okay to have a different way of living your life within motorsport. The same method doesn’t work for all of us.”
Now, Mikaela is a member of the Red Bull Family and they work together as a partnership. She speaks highly of them, and describes Red Bull and her team PWR as being a family.
“With Red Bull and my team, it feels like they’re my family,” she says. “I enjoy coming into each race weekend or event because I can be myself. I feel so comfortable. It’s vital to me to have fun otherwise I won’t produce the results. It’s all about balance.
“When I was really down last Autumn, I didn’t think that Red Bull would continue their partnership with me. They told me that they believed in me and my strength and talent. It was Red Bull and PWR who kept me going in those times. Red Bull are doing some amazing things that are really out there. If you have a crazy idea, they listen. They may change some things but they’ll always try and make it happen.”
As her plans for next year get finalised, we look forward to cheering her on!