Max Chilton has been taking risks for his sport since he was a teenager – and not just behind the wheel. The racing driver left school at 17 to dedicate himself to his training: “School and university is correct for some people,” he says, “but a lot end up going there when they don’t know what they want to do in life.”
Instead of running up thousands of pounds in debt Max left school after his GCSEs: “Education is very important, but at 17 I knew the next few years were critical for my career and didn’t want to mix it with my studies as I’m not that academic. I took a gamble and I stick by my decision.”
The 24-year-old is no stranger to gambles, spending most of his life since he was a boy behind steering wheels: “I started karting at nine and fell in love with the sport. I always knew I wanted to be in motorsports – it’s like a drug, it’s addictive.”
Despite his “strict” parents encouraging him to stay in school, the motoring star has had serious success on the track all over the world, driving in Formula One races and for Nissan in the World Endurance Championship: “I always wanted to be a racing driver. I only did F1 for two years and I might go back to that, but I had to say to myself – is F1 over? Being a works driver [for Nissan] keeps me being a racing driver for a fairly long time.”
Racing drivers are without a doubt athletes, considering the amount of hours not only spent training behind the wheel but also in the gym: “It’s one of the misunderstood things about this sport – it’s so physically demanding.
“You’ve got to keep your concentration levels in high humidity at 200 miles an hour – my heart rate didn’t go below 170 for two hours in one race – you’ve got to be physically fit.”
Despite his incredibly sharp mind on the track, Max suffers “severely” from OCD and has to play out routines constantly, he explains he needs to “touch my helmet on the grid every time I get in and out of the car” and it’s no different off the track, “even when I shower I have a certain routine”.
Rather than letting this get in the way of his career, he actually attributes his success to these ticks: “My OCD is cleanliness and organisation and it would help in any sport or profession; the more organised you are the easier your job will be and the better you will be.”
While his life – let alone routine – is unlike most other young people in their twenties, the Nissan driver hasn’t forgotten his roots, and considers himself “lucky” to have a close group of friends back home: “I’ve kept my same group of 10 close friends for years, two or three I’ve known since I was four or five and the rest I went to school with.
“I have friends in racing as well, it’s a close-knit industry, but the ones who left school early are envious I have my school friends because they only have motorsport friends.”
And it was through one of those school friends he “tracked down” his current girlfriend at 17: “We’ve been together six and a half years, so I missed the whole dating scene, which was quite lucky – I’ve never even had Tinder on my phone.”
Max has had a real winning streak – even on the public roads where he’s always “managed to get away with a clean licence” despite being pulled over a few times – but he always knew that there was a chance it might not turn out his way.
“As an athlete you have to be honest with yourself and say – am I going to make it? Would I be happy being a trainer, or mechanic, or engineer if I didn’t? If you’re not happy with the secondary job it’s better to go to uni.”