Sunday, 6 January 2013

Good drivers

Aptitudes run in families. Ours was driving. Passing driving tests first time was obligatory. The requisite gene, I am sure, was my mother's. She rode motorcycles in the war. Father wasn’t very good, but my eldest brother had whatever visual acuity or sense of balance that makes a natural driver. He never lost the keen spatial awareness and skill he showed in a rally car. Or a Challenger tank I put him into in his 70s. Son Craig shows the same sort of natural talent, masterminding yachts at Cowes or in Atlantic races. Daughter Joanna showed it as a teenager on horses. Daughter Charlotte? Well, she kept her head tumbling out of aeroplanes, much as eldest brother did a generation ago.

The gene is on show again. Teddy is only four but, just as you can tell racing drivers with natural class within four laps, he took to driving as naturally as walking. Mercedes-Benz put him in an electric at Brooklands last Friday. Before setting off the kindly man-in-charge asked him what would happen if another child’s car got in his way. Teddy’s appraisal of the danger was instant. “We’d crash.” He observed.

He didn’t crash. Kind man showed him the reverse switch only once and he backed up, counter-steering, as though he’s been doing it all his life. He leaned into corners, obeyed the traffic light and was totally unafraid. His great-grand-mama would have been so proud. But she’d be completely unsurprised. It was as natural as riding a motorcycle.

I started driving seriously aged about 12. All my family did, and I have long been convinced that the foundations of a long and safe career at the wheel are laid long before you are 17. Great credit then, to Mercedes-Benz for giving 118,000 under 16s their first drive at Mercedes-Benz World. These young people have driven around a million miles since the scheme was launched in 2007. The only requirement is to be tall enough to reach the pedals of an A-class. There is guidance from professional driving coaches in 30-minute or one-hour Driving Experiences, which extend to dynamic handling and skid management.

The youngest under-16 to drive at Mercedes-Benz World was a tall-ish seven year old. What a great use for the historic Brooklands track.

Dear Teddy. You could be behind the wheel again inside three or four years.

There was, of course, some serious road-testing to be done. Above is the S600L in Magnetite black metallic with Passion Sahara Biege and black leather. It was, not unexpectedly, superbly smooth and quiet and worth £137,810 (with all the accessories) of anybody’s money. The girls Joanna (Teddy’s mother) on the left and Charlotte were collected from school in press test cars so took in their stride the Bang & Olufsen rear seat entertainment package, Beosound AMG sound surround system with 15 speakers and covers in aluminium and illuminated tweeters. Below is another picture of them I took earlier, with another test car. Charlotte on left this time, Joanna right.

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