A Life of speed
PUBLISHED: 15:06 04 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:32 05 July 2016
© ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
As the world of F1 turns its focus to the British Grand Prix next month, Damion Roberts spoke to Royston-based race ace Mark Blundell about Stevenage's world champ Lewis Hamilton and the new generation of drivers Blundell is helping to accelerate into the sport
Motor racing fans’ eyes will be on Lewis Hamilton early in July as the Hertfordshire driver returns to Silverstone looking to win his fourth British Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old, who grew up in Stevenage and honed his driving skills at Rye House Kart Raceway in Hoddesdon, was first across the finish line in his McLaren-Mercedes in just his second season of Formula 1 in 2008 before his Mercedes took him to victory in 2014 and then again last year.
He hopes to make it three in a row on the weekend of July 8-10 and one man who believes he can is former Formula 1, IndyCar and World Rally driver Mark Blundell. The Royston-based racer-turned-businessman has watched Hamilton’s rise from kart tracks to superstardom, and believes the triple world champion has what it takes to add another British win to his collection.
‘Lewis has the equipment to win and he has the power of the British crowd to lift and spur him on to victory. I know the drivers give 100 per cent every time but to race in your own country and see those Union Jacks waving just takes you beyond your best efforts; you want to be the Brit who brings the best result home.’
Blundell was there at the start when Hamilton was making his way in the sport. ‘I presented him with one of his first ever racing trophies in karting. I sent him a letter to say one day he would be an F1 driver like me – he has gone a few steps better than me, with three world titles and hopefully more to come.’ Blundell is now working with a new generation of bright young talent in motorsport and golf with his company MB Partners.
On his board of directors is chairman Theo Paphitis, who many will know from BBC’s Dragons’ Den, and managing director Ian Childs, chairman of Red Letter Days.
MB has offices in both Royston and London, with Blundell’s association with the Hertfordshire town going back to his childhood days.
‘I lived in Royston and went to school here as a young lad so have been very much a local guy for many years,’ he says.
The 50-year-old, who also did a stint as a TV racing pundit, describes MB as ‘a boutique sports management and marketing company’ and that he and his partners are ‘very much hands-on’ with their clients.
‘It’s a 24/7 role and one we all love in the company as we run with our clients on the highs and lows of their performances and in a very small way contribute to that success on and off the track or course.’
That contribution includes support via an in-house motorsport simulator, with MB ‘the only athlete management company in the UK’ to have one in its offices.
‘It’s great for our clients and for other young drivers and other sports people to try, plus for corporate guests, as they can drive a F1 car around Monte Carlo and it’s probably the closest they will get to the real thing.’
Clients include Le Mans 24 veteran Marino Franchitti and F1 driver Roberto Merhi plus MB’s Young Drivers Academy racers Casper Roes Anderson and 13-year-old Kiern Jewiss, a five-time British karting champion.
Talking about Jewiss, Blundell says, ‘He has a tremendous record and we have very high hopes for him, but there is a long road to travel down and many miles to go.
‘We hope with his ability and talent and our guidance we can get him to the top tier.’’
Blundell knows just what it takes to make it in this most glamourous yet demanding of sports. He started out riding motocross bikes before turning to cars at 17 and ‘progressing up the ladder’. The rungs included F1, IndyCar and Le Mans, a race which saw him reach pole position in 1990 – ‘to this day I think I am the youngest driver to have sat on pole at Le Mans by the biggest margin ever of some six seconds’ – before claiming victory in 1992 and second place in 2003. He also finished fifth at the 1995 F1 British Grand Prix in dramatic style.
‘I finished the race by crossing the line with only three inflated tyres on my McLaren car as I had just been hit by another driver trying to overtake me on the last but one corner.’
Lewis Hamilton will hope for better luck when he takes to the Northamptonshire track in a few weeks’ time – and Blundell will be urging him on.
Greatest racing driver? Senna.
Your scariest moment in racing? Brazil IndyCar race 1996 in Rio. Just Google ‘Mark Blundell Rio crash’ and you’ll see why!
Best car you’ve ever driven? FW14 Williams F1 car – wow!