Eighteen years ago, a young Lewis Hamilton walked up to Ron Dennis, introduced himself and told the McLaren chief he wanted to drive for him one day. Thirteen years later he was, and the year after that he won the world championship. It was a turning point in F1 teams recruiting young talent, and one that McLaren is keen to continue.
With other teams launching similar programs, the Woking-based outfit has announced the McLaren High Performance Programme. Such a program could by itself refer to just about anything, from the onboard computer in the new MP4-12C to the three-legged race at the company picnic. But here it refers to the team's young talent program, and along with it McLaren has announced its first new recruit.
Nathan Aston is only 13 years old, but, after winning the Formula Kart Stars Cadet championship, has been signed to a new dream deal with McLaren – not unlike the deal that Ferrari signed last year with 11-year-old Canadian karting champ Lance Stroll. Give it another few years – okay, maybe more than a few – and we could be seeing the two of them dicing it up for the F1 world championship. In the meantime, you can follow the jump for the full press release on McLaren's latest hire and the program in which he'll take part.
KART ACE ASTON JOINS McLAREN FORMULA 1 PROGRAMME
Cumbrian karter Nathan Aston is one step closer to chasing his dream of becoming a Formula 1 driver after being selected to the McLaren High Performance Programme.
The 13-year-old will join a small group of elite young racers on the McLaren scheme to help find the next generation of Formula 1 drivers for its Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team.
Aston caught the eye of the McLaren scouts after clinching the Formula Kart Stars Cadet championship last year – in only his second season of serious racing.
His competitive career has been short but very sharp – he first sat in a kart just three years ago after a one-off trip to an indoor circuit. But the youngster caught the bug and, after a season of stunning performances including some scintillating displays in the wet, is now one of the top young karters in the country.
The McLaren Group is serious about its development of aspiring, young drivers and has created the McLaren High Performance Programme to offer year-by-year guidance, assistance and endorsement to help promising young racers – regardless of nationality – to climb the motorsport ladder.
The exclusive programme aims to provide training and support in areas such as physical training, nutritional needs, career guidance, driving skills and media training. However, possibly the biggest advantage for Aston is the endorsement from one of motorsport's most established names and the growing reputation that will enable him to continue his career with increased independence.
McLaren has been heavily involved in the foundation, funding and running of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award – the celebrated scheme that has helped develop the careers of junior racers since its inception back in 1989.
Past winners of the award include former world champion Jenson Button and 13-time grand prix winner David Coulthard.
McLaren engineers have also quietly fostered the careers of a number of junior racers, providing feedback, assessment and training to help develop their skills. The most notable success in this area has been Lewis Hamilton, whom McLaren helped develop from a 13-year-old kart racer into a Formula 1 world champion.
The team knows only too well that to succeed at the pinnacle of world motor racing is incredibly difficult and that even the greatest of potential talents requires more than just raw skill and financial backing in order to achieve the greatest success.
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has been closely monitoring the team's involvement with young drivers and has been instrumental in formalising the varied disciplines that form the programme.
Aston signed with the Intrepid factory team for 2011 and is contesting the WSK series across Europe.
Nathan Aston said: "This is an amazing opportunity and a great honour for me. I am so grateful for the support of McLaren and it will definitely help me develop a lot of my various skills and career. Their factory is amazing and it just blows you away when you see how much innovation there is. This year is going to be a big challenge but this support will be invaluable."
Martin Whitmarsh, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal, said: "The McLaren High Performance Programme doesn't require drivers to conform to a singular template, or metric, it's about assessing the needs of a small selection of drivers and providing them with our expertise and experience to see them through the motorsport year. We are looking for drivers with the right approach, attitude and potential, and we will seek to assist their careers in a range of different ways, not simply through providing them with the financial means to extend their careers."