Racing Ahead

Portugal may have found its ‘North Star’ in 12-year-old go-karting prodigy Maria Germano Neto, who has her sights set on Formula 1. 

Maria Germano Neto is a Portuguese female pro-karter. She has shown a standout skill set in karting. At such a young age, it is astonishing that she has already signed a contract with Ferrari and the infamous Tony Kart, one of the world’s leading go-kart teams. 

Born in Guimarães (a city and municipality located in northern Portugal, in the district of Braga), she started karting at the age of just four years old. The young girl, unlike most kids her age, wasn’t ‘taking the back seat’. 

Following her father to a meeting at a go-kart track, Maria tried it out and almost instinctively showed a hunger for the sport. Her invincible ‘drive’ for karting started developing from this point, but who could have guessed where this road would take her? 

Maria with her father by her side, during one of her first of many big wins, courtesy of @mariagermanoneto

Maria explains, I have always had a passion for cars in general. Even before I ever set foot in a go-kart, as a young girl, I enjoyed going in the mini-cars a lot, for fun. Karting feels like something I was born to do. It’s in my blood.”

After one month, Maria was competing in the Portuguese Cup in Leiria. At the age of five, she won the Portuguese Cup. At nine, she won the Bridgestone Cup, the Portuguese Championship, and the Portuguese Cup. Maria Germano Neto was the youngest girl ever to win all the races of the Portuguese Federation of Motorsport and Karting (FPAK). From that point, the typical course of action was to compete at an international level. 

From an early age, she began to compete in international competitions, namely in the Spanish Championship, the Italian Championship, and the European and World Championships at IAME. Maria became the youngest to win a karting event in Spain and then in Italy. To what does she credit her success? I am seriously disciplined with my training plan. I put my everything into this sport.”

In 2019, Maria became the national champion and won all competitions organised by IAME in Portugal.  In 2022, she competed in the World Series Karting and the European Karting Championship. Now, Maria is expected to continue competing in go-karts for another two to three years before making the jump to Formula Cars. The future could lead to Formula 1. Maria told me, “Ever since I have been a Rising Star, I have become better known worldwide, especially in the world’s motorsport. I won the 2021 Girls on Track, a competition organised by FIA, which allowed me to join the Ferrari academy team, leading me to compete at the highest level, in the OK Juniors category, in the official Tony Kart team, which is the Ferrari Academy team in the Kart modality.” 

Her career took flight when she secured her contract with Ferrari after winning the Girls on Track – Rising Stars. This karting aptitude termination tournament, aided by the International Automobile Federation in 2020, merited her sponsorship this year with everything paid for except for stays and food.

Race at Rodby: Fia Karting Championship Round 3 Photo © @sportinphoto
Photo © @sportinphoto
Photo © @sportinphoto

Maria has faced many setbacks in her career. She sustained two serious injuries in 2022 in an accident with two other drivers on 16 July. She fractured two vertebrae and compressed the D6 vertebrae. Following a full recovery from that first ‘fork in the road’, she would suffer a fractured collarbone in the closing part of the season. Now she is in perfect health and shape and has finally healed. 

Now 12 years old, Maria’s schooling still takes up most of her time, resulting in her having to make a substantial amount of sacrifices and forgo karting at times. In 2022, she averaged a third of the classes she attended. But she had a ‘5’ in everything except music education. She is an applied and super-responsible student. Usually, the tests are on Mondays and Tuesdays. 

Maria wakes up at 6.30 am to study, demonstrating just how resilience is part of her innate nature, manifesting way beyond the four wheels. 

Maria’s father, Germano Marques Neto, believes that Maria has “got the better of the physical problems.” Next year, therefore, looks set to be one of affirmation for the young Portuguese racer.” 

A highlight of 2023 was when Maria made it to round three in the FIA Karting Championship in Rodby, Denmark. This strenuous pro-karting competition has free practices, including training, qualifying and qualification sleeves. The driver said she had “a positive weekend, but Sunday was an unlucky day.” An accident in Super Heat did not allow her to qualify for the final, but she has taken the loss in her stride. 

A key to Maria’s success is to also understand the technical aspects of the sport. “I have gained invaluable insight from many mentors in my profession. We have a new unbelievably skilled mechanic this year. He understands karting at a very high level. He knows the sport inside and out.”

The mechanic’s role is to make sure to examine, troubleshoot, restore and oversee the maintenance inspections, monitor inventory, assemble mechanical components, and perform repairs. Maria explains, “The team often meets with him to give him an understanding of our concerns and identify the issues of the racing cars.”

Mark Adrigò after winning one his numerous titles at the F1 Word Championship

Maria also uses the computing expertise of ex-driver and Italian karting legend Marco Adrigò, who won a world championship. “Advice-wise, Mark helps me on the track, shows me how to change my strategies and become the fastest and most skilled driver I can be.” Adrigò, an official Tony Kart driver, won three FIA-World Championships, five FIA-European Championships, a FIA-World Cup, two FIA-AsiaPacific Championships and six WSK Champions Cups. Could a young karter ask for a better guide?

In October this year, Maria will go to the World Championships in Italy, racing on the Franciacorta karting track with the Tony Kart official team. If she wins, she will have the title of the first woman in the world ever to win a world championship. Her father tells me proudly, “Her statistics do not lie. Maria only races against boys in the OK Junior category. She is up to five times faster than male racers, boys between the ages of 12–15 years. Maria is performing better than boys, older than her as well.” This has led to expectations that she could compete in the male-dominated arena of F1 motorsport. 

The Running suit of Maria with her sponsors on it

But, for now, all roads lead to the European Championship. Today, Maria is among the best in the world, competing in the OK Juniors category, the European Championship and the World Championship, organised by the FIA. This success is due to the unconditional support of her family and sponsors who believe in this promising young lady. Through the media coverage achieved, they guarantee a return to the brands investing in her. And Maria is dreaming big for the future. “At 13-and-a-half, I will begin tests, working towards Formula 4. Once I turn 14, I will race in Formula 4. From there, it’s only up. Formula 1 is my dream. I know I will get there someday.”

As the great Robert Frost once declared in his one-of-a-kind poem The Road Not Taken, ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.’ I believe that this rings true for the pro-karting rising star. What she went on to achieve and has yet to achieve is nothing short of incredible.

Main image The pro-go-karter photographed with her @lucky_design_official helmet during The Champions of the Future weekend in Rodby, Denmark. Photo © @sportinphoto

A Q&A With Maria Germano Neto

Question: What motivated you to become a karting racer?

Answer: I was only four years old when I tagged along with my father to the kart track, referring to the one in Fafe, [a municipality in the northern Portuguese district of Braga]. I had the opportunity to try karting a lot and sooner or later I began doing races.

Question: What does your daily routine look like? 

Answer: I go to school Monday to Friday and keep up with my studies. With regards to racing, I am in the gymnasium three times a week, rigorously training for my next race.

Question: Which strengths do you believe you have that make you a great athlete? 

Answer: I am seriously disciplined with my training plan, I put my everything into this sport. Question: Describe one of your worst sports performances. What did you learn from this? 

Answer: There’s not one particular race which comes to mind. Most recently I was in Rodby, Denmark, Sunday the 21st of May, competing in the Champions of the Future Round 3. Everything was going well. Suddenly, in the last race, I crashed. It was unexpected. The race that took place on Sunday was unfortunate. I learned to never give up and just keep going.

Question: When was your most successful season in karting? 

Answer: My most successful season in karting is undoubtedly this year. Compared to last year, I have accomplished more of my goals.

Question: Why is karting your favourite sport? 

Answer:I have always had a passion for cars in general. Even before I ever set foot to a go-kart, as a young girl I enjoyed going in the mini cars a lot, for fun. Karting feels like something I was born to do, it’s in my blood. 

Question: What is your best piece of advice for young athletes who want to go pro in any sport? 

Answer: That is a tough question. I would have to say it is to keep a positive mindset. For example, in karting, for me to get from Formula 4 to Formula 3 to Formula 2 to Formula 1, I have to stay optimistic.

Question: What do you see yourself accomplishing in the next five to ten years? 

Answer: At 13 and a half I will begin tests, working towards Formula 4. Once I turn 14, I will race in Formula 4. From there, it’s only up. Formula 1 is my dream. I know I will get there someday.

Question: Where is your favourite track to race in Portugal? 

Answer: In Portugal, one hundred percent Kartòdromo de Viana in Porto, Portugal. 

Question: Where is your favourite track to race abroad?

Answer: Abroad, it would have to be the Franciacorta karting track, the reason being that is the track where the F1 championships are held. A track where I hope to be racing for the title one day. 

“Maria continues:” I was very well received and cared for by all the team members, and I have the opportunity to compete in the most demanding competitions in the world (European Championship and World Championship), along with the best drivers of the sport. It’s been a wonderful experience, in which I have evolved a lot, both as a driver and as a person. With the help and competence of my team, I believe that I am at a much higher level today, as was recently seen in Franciacorta, a track that I will remember forever because it was there that I became a Rising Star. I was awarded “the accolade” by the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth and by the Ministry of Sports with the Young Sports  women in motorsport, and I wish the greatest sporting successes to all of this years selected Rising

Stars. In the next two years, I expect to improve at this level and gain the opportunity to move into Formula racing, namely into Formula 4.

A personal phone call Discussion with Maria’s father, Germano Neto, (Maria’s father) gave “his perspective on where Maria’s pro-go-karting career is headed.”

Question:: One simple question, what do you see happening for Maria in terms of pro-go-karting in the near future? 

Answer: Next year she will qualify for the World Championships and the European Championships. At eleven years old, she won FIA with Ferrari, the best girl in the world. Maria won at only eleven years old, usually you would have to be at least fifteen years old to participate in such a competition.

This year she has continued to run in the best competitions in the world. 

At this moment, Maria, still just twelve years old, is two, three, four, five times faster in all competitions. Her statistics do not lie. Maria only races against boys in the OK Junior category. She is two, three, four, five times faster than male racers, boys between the ages of 1215 years. Maria is performing better than boys older than her as well.

[Between] 4–8 October this year, Maria will go to the World Championships in Italy, racing on the Franciacorta karting track with the Tony Kart official team. If she wins, she will have the title of the first woman in the world to ever win a world championship. 

The same will happen next year. With OK Junior, she will win the world championship again. It will be easier than the year before. 

This year, in the 18th challenge of the European championship, Maria was too young, younger than the younger pilots there. For next year we are prepared. 

We don’t have a lot of money. No private plane, like others, have. 

Regardless, Maria is a girl, the best girl in the world, younger than other guys. 

She has a great future ahead in all categories.

What We Can All Learn From Maria Germano Neto’s Journey Towards Formula 1 

It was my privilege to interview the karting star. Before carrying out this investigation into the increase of female drivers in Portugal I knew little about the world of professional go-karting, the only information I had was from secondary sources. From now on I have a further understanding and objective view of how much goes into the sport by words that are beyond price, voiced to me by Neto during an individualized interview, this article comes to a close. 

Maria Germano Neto has put Portuguese pro-karting on the map for everyone, especially young girls who wish to follow in her footsteps. The aspirations of junior athletes can seem so out of reach for themselves sometimes, with comparison being the thief of joy and a negative attitude crushing your spirit. We, you, I, our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, our grandparents, or whoever can learn at least two important lessons from Neto’s bumpy yet beautiful ride to encompass F1. 

The first has to be, the significance of support in one’s life, whoever that may be for you is entirely independent, the point is that everybody needs a shoulder to lean on during the good, bad, and the ugly instances we encounter. Find that rock. As I finish this article in the early hours of the Irish Father’s Day (18/06/23), as an eighteen-year-old Irish youngster living in Lagos, Portugal, having the other afternoon talked with the Netos, it pushes me to reflect on the love I have for my own Father and how proud I am to be his daughter. 

The second is that no matter what, for your wishes for your future in this world to come to fruition, never take your eyes off the road. Just as Maria, in defiance of her struggles in karting, hasn’t put the brakes on her dream of becoming a Formula 1 World Champion in female professional go-karting. Living up each and every day, to one of her favourite quotes by her idol Serena Williams, Tennis Hall of Famer, “It doesn’t matter what your background is and where you come from, if you have dreams and goals, that’s all that matters.” With her family, her team, and Portugal cheering her on the whole way, Maria Germano Neto is unstoppable! 

To follow Maria and her team on the quest to Formula 1, check out her Instagram page and Facebook


To experience the joy of go-karting in the Algarve, head to Karting Almancil Fun Park, further information found at


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