My life in cars

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My fam­ily has a trans­port busi­ness, so I grew up around trucks and the truck yard. I had a mo­tor­bike for the field at a very young age and went kart­ing at 11. Even be­fore that, I re­mem­ber sit­ting on my dad’s lap at kart races – he’d do the ped­als and I’d do the steer­ing. I turned 17 at the end of March and I passed my driv­ing test the first week of April, but I didn’t have my own car un­til I was al­most 18. We had a Mercedes 508D kart­ing van: it had bunk beds in the back of it and karts in the very back.

When I even­tu­ally got a car, it was a Re­nault 5 Turbo – oh, I was big time – but I’d been driv­ing a van for a year, so I de­served to step up. I was rac­ing in For­mula Ford and won both the cham­pi­onships, so it was a treat. I had a great time in that car; the seats re­clined all the way back, which was handy as a teenage boy. It dou­bled up as some­where you could, erm, well, you know what I mean...

Then I moved to Eng­land to drive for Paul Ste­wart

Rac­ing, Jackie’s son’s team, so I bor­rowed my mum’s BMW 318i. I was meant to have it for a week, but man­aged to eke it out for three or four months. I didn’t ac­tu­ally buy a car for a while be­cause I had a Ford con­tract with Jackie and had an RS2000 on ro­ta­tion, then a Scor­pio with the most go­daw­ful body kit on it. Then, briefly, an Es­cort Cos­worth with the big rear wing – that was proper boy racer. That got stolen out­side The Point in Mil­ton Keynes when I was in the cin­ema.

When I be­came a test driver at Wil­liams, I went to a Re­nault La­guna au­to­matic, just as a means to get to the track and back, re­ally. Then I ac­tu­ally paid for my first car. I was 23 and bought a 1971 Mercedes 280 SL, the same age as me, which I still have to­day. Our son will in­herit the 280 when he’s old enough to drive, on the ba­sis that un­der no cir­cum­stances can he sell it on.

Then I didn’t buy any­thing for a while. I was at McLaren so I had a run of Mercedes in­clud­ing a C63 AMG wagon. My wife is an As­ton fan, so a few years back I bought her a DB9 con­vert­ible, which she still has. We also have a 1984 G-Class 280 short wheel­base with no roof on it. It looks amaz­ing. It was white when I bought it, but I had Mercedes re­spray it in gun­metal sil­ver and move the seats back, so it’s a proper five-seat restau­rant car for the South of France. I keep it in Monaco where there’s a whole bunch of Brabus and AMG G-Wa­gens, but noth­ing looks as stripped and as cool.

I’m not like Jen­son, who’s quite a buyer and seller of cars, but I have on or­der the As­ton Valkyrie and the Mercedes Project One, both of which should come through in 2019 or 2020. The rea­son I can af­ford Adrian Newey’s Valkyrie is I was lucky enough to drive rac­ing cars he de­signed, so it’s a tip of my hat to him. Project One: I’m still a Mercedes guy, and it’s such a unique propo­si­tion, I don’t think any­one will do some­thing like it ever again. But the car I drive more than any is my lit­tle Smart Con­vert­ible – every ex GP driver in touch with their rac­ing spirit should have one of those.

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