Who do you think you are? Jenson Button?

March 8, 2010

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Muscles acheing, and body sagging under the lingering effects of jet-lag, I wiped away beads of sweat and warily contemplated our newly-arrived karting opponents.

They looked like proper Formula One drivers.

A British media v Lewis Hamilton/Jenson Button “challenge” could only be a mismatch, even if one of our more souped-up members did bring his own race suit and helmet to the party.

The past two world champions were certainly considerably better turned out than this reporter, squeezed as he was into ill-fitting overalls with a dodgy fastener that kept bursting open.

McLaren had organised a 50 minute ‘endurance’ test in two-man teams as a warm-up while we waited for two of the fastest men in the world to join us at the indoor track on an industrial estate near London’s Heathrow airport.

Just a couple of stints at no more than 40mph was enough to remind an ageing and unfit hack just how strong real racers must be to manage a full grand prix distance for up to two hours at speeds in excess of 200mph.

My left arm had gone strangely numb.

Then they turned up, Hamilton with his familiar yellow helmet and Button with the British colours on his. Trim, smart overalls, bursting with fitness and accompanied by their race engineers.

Handshakes all round, a few predictable jokes at our expense and then, like true professionals, both decided they should probably try to get the hang of the layout before the race proper.

Button finished off a piece of chocolate cake (note to self: the diet of champions) and stepped easily into the 200cc kart for a couple of laps. 

He immediately slashed a couple of seconds off the best time set by Fleet Street’s finest in nearly an hour of endeavour — our session admittedly punctuated by the odd red flag for crass incompetence.

This was never going to be much of a race, more an honour to be on track — even if only fleetingly — with two of the quickest talents around.

But it was fun to watch how the hottest line-up in Formula One was getting on with the season start just around the corner.

The body language suggested that here were two men genuinely at ease with each other, at least before the first wheel is turned in anger and one gets the better of the other when it really counts.

It may all end in tears. But we at least could say we helped with the bonding process.

Our less than stellar performances certainly gave them and their engineers plenty to laugh about. And it gave us the chance to boast about the day we ‘raced’ against the champions.

PHOTO: A KNACKERED-LOOKING ALAN IS ON THE FAR LEFT BEHIND BUTTON AND HAMILTON (McLaren)

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