I write this column for any deluded parents. When I was growing up, the path to racing success was thus: Formula Ford or similar as early as 17 years old if your parents loved you enough, then a step up to Formula Renault or similar. If the folks still had any budget left, it was British F3 and then, maybe by the time you were 28, someone in F1 might notice the depth of your talent, or your parents’ bank balance. And there was always the World Series by Renault if you weren’t quick enough for F3.
In my day, karting was for hobbyists and certainly not an essential grounding. Old men who didn’t have a rich daddy when a child went karting. GT racing? Well that was where retired/failed F1 drivers earned a meager living. Those who did not make the grade in single-seater racing simply stopped, and at best had an Autosport feature written about them a decade or more later, relating how they were quicker than Senna but ran out of budget.
Today, karting is king. Parents start their children racing as young as three years old. Then they can get into racing cars at 14 in series such as the Ginetta Junior series. Thereafter the prodigies have a failed year in a single-seater and then come to race against me in GTs…
When they arrive, these children look at 43-year-old me as done, washed up. Easy meat. (Actually, they look at anyone over the age of 21 as old.) The kids get driven to the circuit by Mama or Dada as they are too young to drive on public roads. Then they drive on circuit against me, spending their inheritance as they try to send one up the inside from too far back.
Daddy listens to the team principal, who secretly knows the offspring isn’t nearly good enough to get picked up – and even if he or she is, the chances of landing a Red Bull contract is near zero – but that team principal is going to milk every cent until daddy realizes it.
Career? Do me a favor! Your boy or girl can’t even out-qualify amateur-racer-me, who started hobby-karting at 28 years old and raced a bunch of other old blokes in a Caterham at 31 years old. I sit at a desk all day running a business – or as now, on a plane traveling to the States to oversee the operation of one of our exhibitions. I last sat in a race car a month ago and I won’t do so again until March 2018. Even then I’ll do just three test days all year and a mere seven race weekends. The gym? I call that my ‘quiet place’ because my daughters don’t go in there. Exercise? It’s got a TV on the wall and thus ‘going to my gym’ is the only time I get to watch racing. Meanwhile little Jonny is exercising his already naturally fit, fat-free teenage body for hours every day in preparation for racing glory. When not in the gym, he’s in the simulator. And when not in the simulator he’s playing racing games on the PlayStation Grandma bought him. Or he’s polishing his helmet.
My 35-year-old team mate Mike Robinson – who works with me five days a weeks here at PMW Towers – and I call ourselves the ‘career wreckers’, the idea being that if you can’t beat us, you’ve zero chance of getting picked up and paid to drive. Mike and I are reasonable peddlers, but trust me, we both know we’d be whooped by genuine Hamilton-like talent. Before I started racing cars, I’d picked up over 14 years of terrible road-driving habits, especially as I had a decade-long career as a motoring journalist, where my job was to go sideways, not fast.
And so dear mommies and daddies, think twice before you reach for your wallets. Perhaps the race formula was right back in my day – let your proudest achievement make their own way in life. Trust me, little Jonny will get far more benefit from your money when you are dead than if you waste it on four-wheeled fun when he’s too young to even understand money. Oh, and yes – my daughters have started karting!