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Boy Racers: From Karting to Formula One

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Tamsin Barber 12:29, Monday, 30 May 2011

Editor's note: While Lewis Hamilton might be in the news today for the wrong reasons, Boy Racers - available to listen to on the Radio 4 website for the next seven days - follows the same arduous path to the top that Hamilton took and hears from some of the drivers looking to become the stars of tomorrow. (PM)

racing car

Britain has a long and successful association with motorsport and Formula One in particular, boasting champions such as Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell and Lewis Hamilton.

For someone who passed their driving test five years ago - and hasn't driven since - I wanted to find out how someone becomes a professional racing driver and why they want to drive round and round a track at eye-watering high speeds for a job.

There are many routes to F1, but most young drivers start out in karting, initially as a hobby encouraged by their fathers. I found seventeen year old Alex Lynn and eighteen year old Oliver Rowland, through the British Racing Drivers' Club Superstars scheme, a mentoring programme for up and coming drivers.

Having made the transition from karts to cars, both are in the early stages of their professional racing career, with the ultimate goal being Formula One World Champion. Team-mates - and rivals - they compete in the same category: Formula Renault UK, the same route that Lewis Hamilton followed.

I first met the boys in March at a testing session early one misty morning at Rockingham circuit in Corby, Northamptonshire. This is part of the training before the first race weekend of the season at Brands Hatch in Kent.

Never having been to a race track or seen any sort of live motorsport, I wasn't sure what to expect. The cars, which are like smaller versions of F1 vehicles, were lined up from the various teams. Each car costs sixty thousand pounds and has two mechanics that spend all day tweaking the engines, hoping to make the car go that all important hundredth of a second faster.

Training is gruelling - hours are spent in the gym - drivers need to be fit enough to be able to turn the steering wheel at high speeds and also maintain their weight so they can fit into the small cars. Most of their time is spent travelling up and down the country to various training facilities, working closely with the team to improve the car, as well as psychological and media training.

The noise at Brands Hatch, cars zooming past at 150mph, and competitive atmosphere creates an exhilarating event, and the appeal of the sport became clearer. What struck me and my presenter Aasmah Mir most, was the complete dedication to training and driving. For the mechanics, drivers and their families, motor racing is a way of life. When talking to Alex and Oliver about their desire to win - the love of driving instantly comes across and their eyes light up at the thought of competing.

Formula One only has 24 drivers, so competition is tough, but after watching these two teenagers, I reckoned one of them might just have what it takes to make it.

Tamsin Barber is the producer of Boy Racers.

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