To play a round with Tiger Woods or to knock some balls with Andy Murray would be the greatest thrill for dedicated fans of golf and tennis – but the prospect of going for a drive with Lewis Hamilton reaches out to far greater numbers.
Of course, the chance would be a fine thing… and a fine thing it turned out to be for 50 customers of Hamilton’s McLaren team’s chief sponsor, Vodaphone, and 100 of their friends, as the Vodaphone VIP scheme arranged for them to take part in a huge go-kart endurance race.
Lewis fans will be familiar with camcorder footage of a cherub-faced pre-teen tearing up the Tarmac in a kart; it was a love of – and a tremendous talent for – the sport that set the young Hamilton on a path to his 2008 Formula 1 driver’s title and who knows how many more in the future?
So it came as no surprise to see Hamilton looking perfectly at home sliding around the track in a tiny racer once again at Milton Keynes’ Daytona Motorsport centre. Hamilton was on hand to answer both press and public’s questions before laying down a marker out on track. His 74-second lap of the twisty circuit was the challenge for all the racers.
Of course, a tiny go-kart is a far cry from the 700bhp machine Lewis drives at work these days, but the fundamentals of driving and the race-craft he learned in his go-karting days is what stands him in good stead against Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and even his team-mate Jenson Button at glamorous race tracks across the globe.
“I learned everything in karting. Simple as that,” said Hamilton.
“As a kid people generally frowned when I said I was going go-karting. I think they thought I was just going to some random place down the road just to have fun for £10 – but it was an actual hobby and something that I really enjoyed doing that has grown into something even better.”
Of course, since Hamilton’s success in motorsport, go-karting has seen a popularity boost among young racers keen to emulate his success. How does that make him feel?
And how did I stack up against the F1 super star? Not well. Like any good ‘wannabe’ racing driver I had a number of excuses ready – the busy circuit and an unfamiliarity with the track being chief among them – but there was no disguising the six second gap that put Lewis in a different league.
Fortunately, there’s no shame in being beaten by the best.
By Richard M Hammond