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Thu 20 Feb 2020 12:50 PM

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What it's like to do an interview at 300km/h around Abu Dhabi's F1 track

Arabian business attempts to interview Formula One's Mercedes AMG reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez as he tackles a hot lap at 300km/h

What it's like to do an interview at 300km/h around Abu Dhabi's F1 track

Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Mercedes GP. Image: AFP/Getty Images

I love adrenaline. If I could skydive to my office every day, I would. But it’s not logistically possible and I don’t have AED1,499 to spend per dramatic appearance.

So when I was invited to be driven around a race track by a Formula 1 driver as part of the F1 Pirelli Hot Laps programme, I was thrilled. It’s an experience that can’t be bought. It requires an exclusive invitation from Formula One or its official tyre supplier Pirelli. But every lap, which lasts a maximum of two minutes, boasts a commercial value of a whopping €50,000.

I had to make the most of it. So I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea – interview the driver as he tackled a hot lap at 300km/h.

I was paired with Mercedes AMG’s reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez, and while it’s not so brilliant trying to distract someone as they attempt to drive at maximum speed, he did wonderfully.

And I failed miserably. So petrified was I that I struggled to string two sentences together, let alone remember my interview questions.

Mercedes office

Luckily, Gutierrez is as good a driver as he is an interviewee. At just 17-years-old he became the youngest Mexican driver to win an international championship, the 2008 Formula BMW Europe championship, before going on to drive for the Sauber and then the Haas F1 teams and ultimately signing with Ferrari and more recently Mercedes AMG to become their test and reserve driver.

“Welcome to my office,” he says as I get in the car.

And what an office it is - a Mercedes AMG GTC to be exact, one of four cars that are part of the Pirelli programme, including the McLaren 720S, the Aston Martin Vanquish DBS and the Lamborghini Huracan Evo.

I barely buckle up and we speed off – I’m already clutching the edges of my seat.

“I was going to ask you if it ever gets boring, but does it?” I ask Gutierrez, already knowing the answer to my rather naïve question. He laughs, “Do you think it gets boring?”

No, sir, I do not – and my facial expressions caught in the in-car Go Pro will tell you the same thing. Forget skydiving, I want to make an 8am work appearance in a Mercedes AMG GTC with Gutierrez in the driver’s seat.

He tells me his F1 hero is Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian racing driver who won the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship in 1988, 1990 and 1991 before passing away in a tragic accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

“He’s definitely a legend,” Gutierrez says. “The best driver we’ve had in Formula 1”.

Music to my ears

The twin turbo V8 engine is so loud that I struggle to hear Gutierrez, and I ask him if the noise ever bothers him. He’s shocked and almost insulted, “Nooo,” he says, “this is music to my ears”.

We reach another turn and I’m taken aback. I’m quiet and he notices, so he holds up our conversation when I’m unable to.

“So what do you do in Dubai?”

“I’m a business journalist, basically,” I say, barely finding my words, “but I think I should be an F1 journalist because it would be so much more fun, wouldn’t it?”

I’m visibly frightened but I manage to ask him if he himself ever gets scared.

“No I never get scared,” he says. “This is pure, pure adrenaline; emotions - I love it. It’s my passion”.

And how can it not be his passion if he’s been racing since before most of us learnt to even drive? But what’s even more impressive about Gutierrez is the fact that he’s got more personality than most Formula 1 drivers we’ve interviewed outside of the track.

I don’t realise this until after the lap is over and I watch the footage from the Go-Pro, but Gutierrez has nerves of steel. He may be racing at 300km/h but you wouldn’t be able to tell. I ask him about the most exciting person he’s ever had in his car. Calm and charming as ever, he glances over and replies, “You”.

Regrettably my two minutes with Gutierrez are over, and I wish they weren’t. Not only have I been swept off my feet by a smooth-talking Formula One driver, but I’ve had the adrenaline experience of a lifetime.

And with the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix coming up in March, you too could be swept off your feet. Would you be able to handle it?

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