Highly-regarded Edmundbyers karting star Matty Graham is hotly-tipped within the sport for a very bright future indeed, and as he endeavours to one day follow his F1 heroes all the way onto the grand prix grid, he has been given a precious glimpse of what that future may hold.
As a reward for his stand-out performances in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars Championship (FKS) in 2010, Matty was one of just three privileged competitors selected for the honour of travelling to Valencia in Spain to participate in an official pre-season test for the inaugural Formula BMW Talent Cup, one of Europe's leading young driver programmes.
Formula BMW is a well-established training ground for Formula 3, and boasts some extremely high-profile alumni, with no fewer than eight of last season's F1 drivers - Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Adrian Sutil, Timo Glock, Sebastien Buemi, Bruno Senna, Christian Klien and the sport's new youngest-ever world champion, Sebastian Vettel - having passed through the series on their way to superstardom.
BMW has traditionally espoused a comprehensive and holistic approach to young driver development, and over the course of his two-day outing under the Spanish sun, Matty was educated in the areas of fitness, nutrition, set- up, data analysis and media and sponsor relations - as well, obviously, as driving the car.
"The week before, my dad had shown me a picture of the Formula BMW and asked if I liked the look of it," the 14-year-old explained. "I said, 'yeah, it looks pretty fast', at which point he asked me, 'would you like to be driving one next week?!' I didn't feel too sure at first because it looked such a big step-up from karting, but I went along and did it and I really enjoyed it."
Having watched the likes of Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso - F1 World Champions all - pounding around the 2.5-mile Circuit Ricardo Tormo the previous day, Matty prepared to take to the very same ribbon of tarmac for a series of 20-minute sessions interspersed by debriefs with Formula BMW instructors to discuss areas for improvement and to benefit from expert advice and feedback.
What's more, the Ponteland Community High School pupil was given the same car as had once been campaigned by Vettel himself - and one that bore the German's signature - for his single-seater debut, only his second time out in a racing car full-stop. And being more accustomed to a 75mph KF3 kart, the 140bhp, 140mph slicks-and-wings Formula BMW machine - capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in less than four seconds - was, he confessed, quite an eye-opener.
"We watched some other drivers on-track first, and there was one guy who crashed pretty badly, which I think shook everyone up a bit," he revealed, having squeezed in some last-minute gear-changing practice in a hire car in the circuit car park beforehand. "Also, when I first sat in the car, I could only just see over the top of the steering wheel and could barely see anything else in front of me, which I thought might make things a bit interesting..!
"I was so nervous before I went out for the first time, but once I settled into it I was pretty relaxed, to be honest, and the visibility was fine. It was physically harder to drive than a kart and it demanded a lot of concentration, but it was so much fun - and it just felt really, really good to be out there on a proper circuit that is used by F1 cars!
"I had been expecting the Formula BMW to be pretty fast, but not as fast as it was, especially around the corners. There are six gears, too, and even when I put it into fifth, I could feel the air getting underneath my helmet and trying to lift it off my head - it's such a weird feeling, almost like it's trying to pull your whole head off! After a few laps, I found I was getting used to it quite quickly, though, and it started coming more naturally.
"With the gears, the instructors told us to try what they called 'the blip', where you go into the corner, brake, put your foot on the clutch and then blip the throttle slowly whilst going down the 'box. It sounded really complicated at first, but you could push the brakes really hard, which slowed the car down really quickly and then you just used your foot to tap the throttle a little bit. I definitely got better at that with the more time I spent in the car - and I had a huge smile on my face every time I got out of it!"
With his inexperience palpably not a problem, Co. Durham's single-seater novice - one of the very youngest drivers in attendance - acquitted himself superbly and didn't put so much as a wheel out-of-place throughout. Thanking the FKS team and BMW Motorsport for the invaluable opportunity, it is one that has evidently whetted Matty's appetite for more.
"It was fantastic, just brilliant!" he enthused in conclusion. "I learned a lot - driving a single-seater is different from karting in so many ways. I feel more prepared now for the next time I get into a racing car - and I think I'll be a lot more relaxed about it all then, too! I've always wanted to get into single-seaters eventually anyway, but this has just made me even more determined..."
-source: marty graham