on potential F1 future on ‘inspirational’ McLaren visit
For any motor racing fan, an opportunity to meet and chew the fat with one of the sport’s true greats in the shape of Lewis Hamilton is manna from heaven – but for Matty Graham, a highly promising young Edmundbyers karting star bidding to one day follow in his hero’s wheeltracks, it was far more than just that. It was, he confessed, ‘inspirational’.
In recognition of his magnificent achievement in finishing inside the top three in the KF3 class of the Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship in 2010, Matty was invited to join some of his friends and rivals on a VIP visit of McLaren’s state-of-the-art F1 factory in Woking, Surrey.
A guided tour of the ultra-successful outfit’s impressive headquarters began with a privileged look at some of its most celebrated creations, from the beautifully-preserved, very first model campaigned by eponymous founder Bruce McLaren almost half a century ago through the nigh-on invincible MP4/4 of 1988 right the way up to Hamilton’s title-winning car of 2008.
There was also the pioneering, never-raced six-wheeler of the 1970s, the distinctive M23 with its innovative high airbox – a car driven to world championship glory by Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi back in 1974 – as well as the machines from McLaren’s dominant era in the 1980s, when the likes of Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna all claimed the ultimate prize behind the wheel of one of the red-and-white cars.
Moving nearer to the present day, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen’s cars were also on show, and it was not just F1, either, with models that competed in the iconic Indianapolis 500 across the Pond in America, the similarly stateside Can-Am Series and the famous round-the-clock Le Mans 24 Hours – including the race-winning 1995 entry and striking Gulf-liveried F1 GTR of two years later. There was even the unique, record-breaking MP4-T5 soapbox, at 80mph downhill, the fastest ‘Gravity Racer’ of the 2002 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
“I was really excited when I found out about it,” enthused 14-year-old Matty. “To have the chance to meet Lewis Hamilton for the first time and go round the McLaren factory – which isn’t open to members of the public – was something pretty special. The tour was really good. The factory is really high-tech and spotlessly clean, with not so much as a drop of oil even in the garage areas.
“We were shown the early stages of the 2011 car – it was amazing how precise everything has to be – and we saw all the little aerodynamic parts being made, too. The dedication is just phenomenal – something like 33,000 parts go into the wind tunnel to be tested, and only ten per cent of them are good enough to use. We saw the wind tunnel, as well, with a miniature car inside it that was an exact scale replica of the real life-size one – that was pretty cool.
“Then there were all the historic cars from all through the decades – there was one that was nearly 50 years old, and a road car Lewis has wanted since he was 11! We also saw the hundreds of trophies McLaren has won over the years – it was mind-blowing how many there were!”
With team members explaining all of the processes to the avid FKS crew, Matty was left to take away with him a memento of a gift bag packed full of McLaren goodies – and he made a point of thanking all those who had made such a wonderful opportunity possible.
Admitting that he ‘couldn’t have asked for any more’ from what was a brilliant day, the best part, acknowledged the Ponteland Community High School pupil, was getting to rub shoulders with 2008 F1 World Champion Hamilton, a man who has incredibly fought for the crown in three of his four seasons on the grand prix grid to-date – and whose tremendous exploits Matty one day hopes to emulate.
“Lewis is a really nice guy,” revealed the Co. Durham speed demon. “He’s definitely one of my favourite drivers, and we chatted to him about his career in motorsport. He told us all about his lifestyle and his journey from karting to F1, gave us some driving tips and told us we shouldn’t have any superstitions because they only get in the way!
““We were shown a video of when he was in karting like we all are now, and even back then he looked a really smooth driver. He’s exceptionally talented and has gone all the way from karting to F1 World Champion – you have to be completely serious and focussed in order to do that, but it’s encouraging to see that it can be done – and being inside the McLaren factory shows you the rewards that are there when you reach the very highest level of motorsport. It was really inspirational.”
Matty is seeking sponsors to help support him in 2011; if you are interested in backing the north-east’s most promising young hotshot, please contact him at: email@example.com