Tom and Max Chilton - Reigate’s motor racing brothers
11:14 08 May 2013
As boys, Tom and Max Chilton dreamt of racing fast cars. Now on the cusp of international acclaim - one on the touring circuit and the other in Formula One - they owe their success to childhood days spent hairing round muddy fields in Leigh, as they tell Louise Poynton over lunch at their local
As children growing up under the Gatwick flightpath, Tom and Max Chilton would race cars against each other in a muddy field, harbouring dreams of podium finishes and the starry heights of motorsport.
Since becoming the youngest racing driver to compete in the British Touring Car Championship at 17, Tom has matured from a spiky-haired blond youth to a 28-year-old with sights set on becoming world champion. Younger brother Max, meanwhile, is poised to become the new darling of Formula One, with the 21-year-old joining Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and co on the Grand Prix grid this season.
It’s all a long way from a childhood spent messing around with engines and chasing each other in two Ford Escort Mk II cars next to the family home in Leigh, where they lived with parents, Grahame and Nadine, and sister, Alice.
“That’s what taught us car control,” explains Tom, when Surrey Life meets the pair in the cosy Plough pub near Redhill. “I would also lark about on a quad bike and Max would follow in his roll cage buggy, which had no suspension and would rattle his teeth out.”
The pair’s motorsport enthusiast father is vice-chairman of insurance giant Aon, which has led to some whispering that they may have bought their way onto the starting grid. Money obviously helps in motorsport but it is no replacement for talent and both have proven their abilities on the track at every level they have raced.
Tom started in saloon cars when he was 14 and just two years later he won the BRSCC Winter Saloon Car Championship, before moving to the British Touring Car Championship and winning the 2010 Independent Drivers’ title.
Max took a different path, racing in karts from the age of 10 before moving to Formula Three after a spell in T-Cars, a championship for drivers aged 14 to 17 that his brother had also raced in. He then made the leap to GP2, last season winning two races and finishing fourth in the championship. Following a young driver test with the Marussia F1 team, Max was named as their reserve driver for the final six races last season, taking part in the first practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Just before Christmas, he secured a full-time drive for 2013.
“At Abu Dhabi I was stepping up, with all eyes on me and sharing a track with six world champions. There was pressure, but as soon as I put my helmet on it all disappeared,” says Max, who regularly cycles circuits of the Olympic road race course up Box Hill’s Zig Zag Road as part of his gruelling training regime.
“Those first few laps at Abu Dhabi, I was just taking it all in and couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face,” he says. “At one point the engineer came on the radio and said ‘Fernando Alonso is four seconds behind you and Michael Schumacher is on track’. I was only a couple of months old when Schumacher started out and here I was sharing a track with him. It was simply surreal.
“After finishing 2012 in GP2, I went to a good number of F1 races with Marussia and was like a fly on the wall, taking everything in and seeing how everything works. I was in the engineers’ meetings and also got to see what the drivers were saying about the car.”
Now at the cutting edge, Max has already shown outright pace and consistency at a number of the circuits he will race again in 2013, while Tom lines up in the WTCC with reigning world champions RML alongside triple champion Yvan Muller.
Growing up, the brothers fell more in love with motorsport and it became clear they had the explosive speed and formidable strength to excel in their chosen sports. Formula One was always the aim for Max.
“To be in F1 has been my dream for so long,” he says. “I have put in so much time and effort to be here, that to finally be an F1 driver is really special.”
Tom, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at school and could have carved a career in woodwork or motorsport engineering (he studied the latter at Brooklands College, Weybridge), admits that the stresses of racing took time to adjust to.
“I love racing, we both do, but when you start you are learning to try and be good at something, and it is never fun,” he says.
“I would lay awake until three in the morning going through all the different scenarios and what to do in different situations as I wanted to be so much better than anyone else.
“As you get older, you think ‘well, I’ve done 1,000 race starts now, just get on with it’. Your experience kicks in,” he laughs. “Sometimes you can want something too much and that’s one reason I worked with a sports psychologist for a time. I was overdriving at times and actually going slower because of it.
“I am due to become a father this summer, so I want to give this season everything and become world champion. Becoming a father changes your focus on everything.”
For Max, 2013 is a year to prove his worth and put his raw talent to the ultimate test. A former student at Ardingly College, near Haywards Heath, where he was a member of the hockey team, he learnt track craft through karting and Formula Three where, on the weekend of his 16th birthday, he was the youngest driver in British F3 history.
Having only driven a Grand Prix car for the first time last year, he has spent the winter months working harder than ever on his fitness and it is this commitment and ambition that his brother feels will help lead to success.
“Max hates not being good enough at anything,” says Tom, with Max out of earshot. “When he was eight years old in cadet karting he made a little mistake and was crying in his helmet and hitting his fist on the steering wheel in frustration so hard he bent the steering wheel round the steering column. That’s how cross he got. He has to be a perfectionist, get the best out of himself – at everything.
“I see him most days and see how hard he is working, the hours he is putting in at the gym and with the Marussia simulator work. My fitness training is once a day, four times a week. Max is in the gym twice a day, six days a week. He needs to be ultra fit and mentally sharp to race a F1 car, his neck and core strength need to be exceptionally strong.
“He has got tougher mentally and playing golf, which he took up six or seven years ago, is good for him. It focuses his mind. When we play on the courses around Reigate he is not as good as me on the approaches, but on the greens he’s very sharp. I can’t putt for toffee!”
With their brotherly competitiveness fortunately focussed on differing objectives, don’t be surprised to see Max leave his mark on Formula One and Tom push for the world touring championship this year. They’ve come a long way from that muddy field in Leigh - and they’re clearly loving every minute of it.
• To follow Max and Tom Chilton’s progress, visit their respective websites at maxchilton.com and tomchilton.com