Jack is backed by ex-F1 chief

ALEX Hawkridge - the man who handed the legendary Aryton Senna his Formula One debut - knows a good racing driver when he sees one.

Stuart Watson

ALEX Hawkridge - the man who handed the legendary Aryton Senna his Formula One debut - knows a good racing driver when he sees one.

So it comes as a huge seal of approval for 11-year-old karter Jack Partridge that the former F1 supremo wants to continue managing the Ipswich-based Evening Star sponsored youngster for 2009.

The 63-year-old - who was chief executive of F1 team Toleman between 1978 and 1992 - first became Partridge's manager and coach last September. Since then he has travelled from his home near Silverstone to meet the youngster and his father Danny all over the country for every round of the prestigious British Super One Championships.

“Jack's definitely got terrific potential,” said Hawkridge. “I gave Aryton Senna his debut in Formula One racing and have worked with some of the best drivers in the world.

“Now I'm not comparing Jack to Senna because that would be completely unfair, but I wouldn't be working with him if I wasn't convinced he had great potential.”

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With Hawkridge on board, Partridge rocketed up the standings in the second half of last season thanks to a new training regime which includes a focus on strength, fitness, nutrition and psychology.

Eventually the Bedfield Primary School pupil finished eighth in the final drivers' table and he will start new season next month as the top ranked driver due to the fact that last season's top seven have all moved on to other series.

Hawkridge, 63, officially retired three years ago but returned to the track in 2007 to help manage his nephew Freddie Lee - son of four times world hot rod champion Barry Lee - in the Red Lodge Championships based at Newmarket.

It was during that time that Partridge, who happened to be racing in the same championships, caught Hawkridge's eye. “I always thought Jack was a very smooth little driver,” said Hawkridge. “I knew his dad was a fireman and had no motorsport experience and so I started giving them a bit of advice.”

So when Lee was snapped up by a factory outfit last September, the former F1 supremo jumped at the chance to switch his allegiances to the Ipswich driver.

Hawkridge said: “In his last couple of races he has set a fastest lap under difficult conditions. He has got the speed, now he has just got to get the consistency over the course of a season.

“I'm not exaggerating when I say this but people are spending 10 times what we are in these championships over the course of the season. My hope though is that we can get Jack out-thinking the other drivers, even we can't out-spend them.”

FORMER F1 supremo Alex Hawkridge says he can see similarities in Jack Partridge with that of a young Lewis Hamilton.

At the age of 10, Hamilton famously told McClaren team principal Ron Dennis that one day he would race for him. Twelve years later he was to become the youngest ever winner of the F1 Championships at the age of 22.

“Lewis Hamilton was a cheeky little chappy when he was younger and was not afraid to go up and speak to the top people in motorsport and tell them how good he was,” said Hawkridge.

“I can see the same qualities in Jack. We were trying to attract some new sponsorship in the Ipswich shopping centre recently and both Jack's dad and I were amazed at how easily he could engage people.

“He's just an absolute wonder to work with - he's such a nice young man, has got a great personality and is very, very determined.”

Hawkridge now hopes that the success of Hamilton will pave the way for more big factory firms like McClaren signing up the hottest young karters at a young age.

“What the Lewis Hamilton phenomenon has done is show companies that they can pick up talented young karters and develop them into front line Formula One drivers.

“I still know some guys in very high positions in Formula One, but Jack's only 11 and getting people that are going to be around for the next 12 years to listen to us is a different story.

“I do know how to go about presenting young drivers to companies though and, when the time is right, I will not hesitate to do that for Jack.

“The learning curve is almost vertical at his age. They make such big strides from week-to-week it astonishes me so it is impossible to say where Jack will be in 10 years time and it would be wrong to discus that.

“The most important thing he is that he is clearly having fun doing what he is doing. He always has a smile on his face every time he gets out the kart.”