Britain’s top GP2 driver is focused on his dream of racing in Formula 1. But there’s much more to the 22-year-old than going around in circles…

Remembrance Sunday is approaching (November 13) and the use of poppies in sporting arenas is currently a hot topic of discussion. You carry a poppy on your crash helmet. Why?

The poppy feature surrounding the Tower of London in 2014 really inspired me. Also my grandad has told me stories over the years about his childhood during the war. One of his grandparents who fought in the First World War is buried on the coast of France. There are a number of centenaries related to the war over the course of these years, so featuring a poppy on my helmet seemed like something personal I could do. I’ve had it for two years now.


What’s your opinion on FIFA banning the England and Scotland football players from featuring poppies on their kits this week?

FIFA is strict on its political policy, which I completely understand, but I don’t think this quite falls into that category. The poppy doesn’t refer to one single event, and it’s not just a symbol for one country. It’s a symbol for the world and all who have fallen in wars. For the England and Scotland football teams, it’s just a suitable tribute to the families who have lost loved ones in wars.


You make regular visits to Birmingham Hospital to visit sick children. What is your connection to the hospital?

When I was 11 months old my mum noticed a lump on my stomach. To cut a long story short, I was operated on very quickly. My left kidney was removed and, touch wood, I’ve been fine ever since. I’ve always returned for check-ups and I do as much fund raising for the hospital as I can.


Away from the tracks, training and physical fitness is a big part of your life. Aside from keeping you in top shape, what do you take from your love of athletics?

I was lucky enough to come from a very sporty family. Before I found motor racing I wanted to be a professional footballer or rugby player. Unfortunately, my genes stopping me being a rugby player and motor racing stopped me from being a football player. But I still love playing all the sport I can and in recent years I’ve discovered a love for athletics and triathlons. I still run at county level for my local club Leamington Athletics and I’ve been along to a few meets this year. It would be nice to think I can even compete at international level one day, but that’s a grand idea! To reach Formula 1 and run for my country would be a massive achievement, but I’m not sure how realistic it is. Formula 1 is my top goal, but I gain a lot of enjoyment from pushing myself to the limit in athletics.


On the circuits, you’re heading into the final round of GP2 in Abu Dhabi on November 25-27 as the top British driver in the series. How would you assess your season?

Overall I’m pleased with the season. The biggest thing for me was getting two wins, one being at my home Grand Prix at Silverstone which was very special. Multiple wins and challenging for podiums all year shows the big step forward we have taken. As for the overall championship, I guess I’m a little bit disappointed. I’m a massively competitive person and I hate losing, so finishing anything other than first is always going to hurt. You can always look back at a season and see where you could have improved, but it’s pointless.


Tell us a bit more about that win at Silverstone. What was it like to win at your home Grand Prix?

That has got to be my biggest one-off career high. You are so engrossed in the process during the race you don’t really take on board anything else that is happening, but the biggest moment was having finished the race I was heading down towards Brooklands corner where the British Racing Drivers’ Club is based, and the club’s grandstand was pretty full. Seeing all the union flags flying for me was something special to remember.


What would you say has been the highlight of your racing career so far?

Winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 2013. You don’t really register how much it means at the time. But when I picked up the trophy at the prize-giving at the end of the year I looked at the other names on it, such as Ayrton Senna and from more recent history, Daniel Ricciardo. To have your name etched on the same trophy alongside figures who are held in such high esteem is a strange feeling.


Your target is a race drive in Formula 1. Right now, how close do you feel you are to achieving that ambition?

I’m as close as I ever have been. I started out on this journey 12 years ago and I’m almost there. I’ve now done a morning free practice session at a Grand Prix, so the next step is a weekend race drive. But it’s also true that the closer you get the harder it gets, and the more you have to work for it.


When you made your Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend debut in Free Practice 1 at the US Grand Prix for Manor Racing, your race number 42 was a talking point. Why does it matter to you?

The first race I ever did in karting on novice plates was at Kimbolton, and I was given race number 42 – and it stuck. It now feels quite nice to have kept the same number all the way through, from day one.


Aside from your racing ambitions, what else do you want to achieve in life?

How long have we got? There are so many. There are things like swimming the English Channel and climbing Mount Everest, which are personal challenges. But I love pushing myself and doing as much as I can in all walks of life. I aspire to greatness and in turn, I’m inspired by it too. Anyone achieving outstanding quality in sport, such as an Olympic gold medal, or even something in the business world can motivate me. Whatever I do I always strive to get to the best level possible.