Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – and I’m sure you have, as it’s the only claim to fame I’ve got – but back in the early 90s I had a brief, unsuccessful and only mildly remarkable career as a young racing driver. It was remarkable mostly for who I raced alongside, because the kart tracks back then were the proving grounds of what would become a golden age of British talent. There were the likes of Dan Wheldon, Jenson Button, Justin Wilson, Anthony Davidson and Mike Conway to name a few, though to say I went wheel to wheel with them might be overstating it a bit. I’m not sure any of them ever noticed me while I toiled at the tail-end.
There was one driver I got to properly race against, though, just as he was starting out. We were novice drivers, racing – as the rules dictated – at the back of the field, which would soon prove to be my natural habitat. Still, I came in to the race in Rye House’s winter series off the back of a class win, so I was as confident as I’d ever been – confident enough to be taken aback at the young kid who outbraked me heading into The Esses in the dying moments of the final to take this particular class win. As a veteran of some three races I went to go and offer congratulations and some sage advice after the race. “You’ll do alright,” I patronisingly said as I shook his hand and his dad packed their kart away in the background.
You’ve probably already guessed, but that kid was Lewis Hamilton, who went on to become one of F1’s all-time greats. I liked Lewis back then – he was sweet and humble and from a more modest background than most drivers at the time – and while we’ve not met since that one encounter back at Rye House I like him even more now. His six world titles don’t tell half the story, really, his achievements unsullied by the unsavoury tactics often employed by Senna and Schumacher, and all done in the face of persistent prejudice.