What's driving Lewis round the Benz?

PUBLISHED: 01:16 08 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:57 20 February 2013

Lewis signing autographs at Mercedes Benz World

Lewis signing autographs at Mercedes Benz World

You're probably used to watching Formula 1 racing star Lewis Hamilton speeding round a track, attempting another aggressive overtaking manoeuvre for his McLaren team...

GLEAMING Mercedes comes screeching to a halt on once hallowed tarmac, while children, and their just as excited parents, vie for the attention of the young lad sat smiling broadly behind the wheel

Two years after the driving academy was launched at Mercedes-Benz World in the heart of the worlds first racing track at Brooklands, Weybridge, Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton has returned to visit its pupils to celebrate.

When I was younger I didnt have these opportunities, says the 26-year-old ambassador for the scheme, who was admittedly already winning karting championships at the age of ten.

They take kids from about 12 here and its nice seeing them getting behind the wheel at a younger age. When youre 17, you think you know it all I was no different but this gives them the chance to overcome some of the pitfalls and mature before they are out on the road.

Famed for his fearless driving style, of course, Lewis is quick to point out that track driving is a very different proposition from most peoples average day behind the wheel, however.

I dont want to sound like a parent, but when youre racing on a track everyones going in the same direction; you dont really have to worry about anyone elses safety and you are in a relatively controlled environment, he says. But when youre on the road, you might think that youre comfortable in your own driving but there are other people around you.

Pole position

Since it was launched, the Mercedes-Benz driving academy has achieved a first time pass rate of 78 per cent, which is almost double the national average, and they are now set to go global.

Their first overseas venture will open in Los Angeles, which in some ways is quite timely as Hamilton has just appeared in his first Hollywood feature film (at least, hes lent his voice to Disney Pixars Cars 2 alongside Michael Caine, among others).

The reason for the success of the courses stems from the fact that the lessons go far beyond just car control, covering psychological issues such as dealing with peer pressure in the car, personal motivations and time pressures.

They also take on students from as young as 12, which means by the time kids hit the road theyve already got years of car control under their belt.

When I turned 17, I wanted to do my test straight away and be out on the streets. You have that buzz, that excitement, but maybe not the maturity, explained Lewis. Fortunately, I passed first time.

As one of the worlds best drivers though, the excitement of being on the road does lose its buzz after a while.

I try to drive as little as possible these days to be honest, he laughs. More often than not Ill get chauffeur driven, but sometimes, if its a beautiful day, Ill take the cover off one of my babies and head out for a drive. Generally though, I dont need the stress of traffic.

When not on the track driving for the Woking-based McLaren team, which he has been part of since before his teenage years, or being chauffeur driven, he still enjoys cutting loose in his Mercedes black series, which is one of the best ones theyve done, and his McLaren MP4-12C supercar, which costs over 150,000.

A life in the fast lane

His introduction to McLaren is now the stuff of legend: the story goes that he introduced himself to chief executive Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards, saying, Im going to drive for you one day.

Having seen this prophecy fulfilled his mentor stood down as McLaren F1 team principal in 2009 to take on an executive chairman role with his focus on the companys new commercial supercar. I wonder if that has affected his relationship at all?

I probably speak to him more now than ever, he says. Ron was always at the races but these days its more relaxed. Its not the boss and competitor now. Hes an old friend, a dear friend, and I wouldnt be here without him.

Lewis early Formula 1 days were spent living close to the McLaren Technology Centre in an apartment near Woking train station, often jogging to work, but he has since moved to Zurich but still travels over as much as I can to work with the engineers.

Life for a racing driver has changed much since Britains first world champion, the Farnham-based Mike Hawthorn, set the pace and much of their time is spent travelling the world satisfying commercial commitments.

Back in the day it was just race weekends, says Lewis. The guys were sharing cars, working to keep them going themselves and now its hugely political and massive business.

Sat behind the wheel, aiming for the chequered flag, remains Lewis Hamiltons natural environment but back in the more mundane world of road safety, he suggests first time drivers should: relax, make sure youre aware of your surroundings and always, always keep your eyes on the road.

Wise words indeed from one of the worlds very best drivers.

Lewis Hamilton's Hertfordshire life

Born in Stevenage January 7, 1985. Grew up in Stevenage and then later in Tewin.

I remember doing sports days in Stevenage when I was growing up. I didnt move to Tewin until I was a lot older. Tewin is very, very quiet and I get a lot of peace there. I find when I go there I can absorb the beautiful scenery and countryside.

Attended the John Henry Newman School, Stevenage.

My best mates came to the John Henry School with me and there are about three people Im in touch with and they are still my closest friends.

Trained at the Rye House Kart Circuit in Hoddesdon.

Going back to your roots is a great thing getting back in a kart is great. I got good support from Lancaster Hertford [now Mercedes-Benz of Hertford]. I gained a great friendship with the people there.

Lewis had his first Forumla 1 win at the Canadian Grand Prix 2007 and won the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship.

Its all been a bit of a dream not just for me but for everyone, not only in Stevenage but all around the world. Everyone that dreams of being a racing driver dreams about being in Formula 1 and Im doing that.

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