I’ve been strapped into this car so tightly I can barely draw breath. My steering wheel is clipped on, and then a pair of mechanics fit the snug cockpit surround in place, banging it fixed with what seems the finality of nails in a coffin lid.
Not that I’m scared, or resigned to an early grave. I’m excited, impatient even. And this moment —punching the start button on an F1 car and feeling its mighty V10 beating menacingly behind me — is something I have dreamed of since I was a kid.
We are at the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track near Marseille, France, where Renault has invited a small group of people to sample two laps each of an F1 car, to gain a better understanding of the skill required to drive one of these machines. And no, this is not a two-seater with a professional up front — I’m on my own in here.
This Renault is the 2004 car but with an ’05 front wing to give it a downforce boost. The grip promises to be mind blowing at speed, but I’m a bit anxious about the slower stuff combined with the hypersensitive throttle. Each centimeter of pedal travel is worth about 200 horsepower.
Altogether I have 700hp to play with, slightly down on its original 900hp, but weighing only 580kg it’s still like, say, driving a hatchback with 2000hp.
Two laps. That’s all I’ve got. Enough to experience the sensations of a grand prix car, but not enough to push. I keep reminding myself: No one becomes the best driver in the world in two laps. Just get back in one piece!
I’ve been rattling around in this carbon-fiber cigar for all of three minutes, and I feel lightheaded. I ache, but I’m elated. It’s like a hangover, but after the best party ever and one that I’d been planning for years.