CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

F1 star Lewis Hamilton on McLaren, Woking and what's driving him round the Benz in Weybridge?

PUBLISHED: 11:18 28 September 2012 | UPDATED: 10:46 23 May 2014

F1 star Lewis Hamilton on McLaren, Woking and what's driving him round the Benz in Weybridge?

F1 star Lewis Hamilton on McLaren, Woking and what's driving him round the Benz in Weybridge?

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, but did you know he supports a pace setting driving academy here in Surrey too? Matthew Williams meets the former world champion at Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge to learn more

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2011

Photos by Mercedes-Benz World

***
 

A gleaming Mercedes comes screeching to a halt on 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 world’s first racing track at Brooklands, Weybridge, Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton has returned to visit its pupils to celebrate.

“When I was younger, I didn’t 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 it’s nice seeing them getting behind the wheel at a younger age. When you’re 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 people’s average day behind the wheel, however.

“I don’t want to sound like a parent, but when you’re racing on a track, everyone’s going in the same direction; you don’t really have to worry about anyone else’s safety and you are in a relatively controlled environment,” he says. “But when you’re on the road, you might think that you’re 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 driving test 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, he’s 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 they’ve 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,” explains Lewis. “Fortunately, I passed first time.”

As one of the world’s 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 I’ll get chauffeur driven, but sometimes, if it’s a beautiful day, I’ll take the cover off one of my babies and head out for a drive. Generally though, I don’t need the stress of traffic.”

Or the potholes of Surrey, I suggest, to a laugh.

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 they’ve 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, ‘I’m going to drive for you one day.’

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

“I probably speak to him more now than ever,” says Lewis. “Ron was always at the races but these days it’s more relaxed. It’s not the boss and competitor now. He’s an old friend, a dear friend, and I wouldn’t 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. 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 Britain’s 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 it’s hugely political and massive business. “

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

Wise words indeed from one of the world’s very best drivers.

***

Get behind the wheel: the essential facts...

What? The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy is, they say, a whole new philosophy for driving tuition: from learner to licence to lifelong skills.

Where? Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands Drive, Weybridge KT13 0SL

Why? Lessons take place on purpose-built handling facilities, where kids who are at least 1.5m tall can begin to learn the basics in a safe, traffic-free environment.

How much? A six-hour pre-road package is available for £370 and a similar licence package is available for £220 (a 12-hour package comes in at £395). There are also one-hour packages available for all levels.

More info? Visit http://uk.mbdrivingacademy.com.

More from Surrey Life

10:53

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
10:47

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Yesterday, 14:32

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Yesterday, 12:56

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Yesterday, 12:13

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Friday, November 9, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Year 5 pupils at Reigate St Mary’s School (RSM) who designed and carried out a community project as part of a UK wide Make a Difference Challenge, have won the London area competition for their stunning scrapbook record of their project

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search