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Exclusive interview: 'I've always known this is what I want to do with my life'

THE red flag called a halt to the race.

Gregor Ramsay, now of the Lotus F1 Junior team, has sacrificed much in the name of speed and is determined to race with the likes of Lewis Hamilton. Picture: Mark Mainz
Gregor Ramsay, now of the Lotus F1 Junior team, has sacrificed much in the name of speed and is determined to race with the likes of Lewis Hamilton. Picture: Mark Mainz

The action, though, was only beginning for Scott Ramsay. "I knew there had been an accident out on the course but the car I was waiting for did not return to the starting line," he says. "I dragooned a scooter and headed out to the scene."

He was going in search of his 16-year-old son. It was a hunt fraught with anxiety. Gregor had been travelling at speeds of up to 140mph on the Spa-Francorchamps, home of the Belgian Grand Prix.

"Just when I got to the La Source hairpin a steward told me that Gregor had walked away from the shunt," he says.

His son had suffered concussion. The young driver's recollection of a dramatic moment was nonchalant and indicative of his priorities.

"Basically another driver tried to come around my outside into the straight but it was never going to come off," says Gregor. "He touched my left-rear wheel and sent me into the barriers. It was a great shame, but I was pleased to be OK and we showed some really encouraging form for next weekend."

This "encouraging form" has now been franked with a life-changing manoeuvre off the track.

Gregor, now 17, has been signed to the Lotus F1 Junior team. The race to the top for the East Kilbride youngster goes on, even accelerates.

The Scot, who completed a successful rookie season in the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS series last year, now has a five-year contract that will see him race next year in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 on tracks such as the MotorLand Aragon in Spain, the Moscow Raceway, the Nurburgring in Germany and the Paul Ricard in France. He will also be returning to Spa-Francorchamps but with a sense of wonder rather than fear.

"It is unbelievable to make such a step up when I think back to racing in karts at nine," says Gregor with the sort of nostalgic air that would lead one to believe that it was a generation ago rather than a mere eight years. "The gap between the carts and the progression to a F1 team has been difficult at times."

His father adds: "The road has not always been smooth. There have been ups and downs."

Gregor, from Hairmyres, has sacrificed much to focus on a life of frantic speed and quiet, devoted dedication. He admits he has little or no interest in matters outside racing. "This all I have ever wanted to do since I sat in a kart," he says.

His progress has been fuelled by this singular devotion but it has been helped too by such as Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers and Colin and Christine Weir, the Ayrshire couple who won £161m in the Eurolottery in 2011.

His progress was also aided by Luca Baldisserri, the Ferrari driver academy manager, who has praised his protege for his reaction times, focus and his psychological stability.

Ramsay was spotted early in karting by Terry Fullerton and the late Martin Hines who were both aficionados of the sport.

But talent was just the beginning. His father has been almost constantly involved in finding funding for his son to compete at ever-higher levels. From karting, he moved into Formula Abarth Series, becoming a race winner in his rookie season of 2012 and taking a further podium place at Imola.

Then it was on to the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps Series with the Euronova Racing team where Gregor showed enough to be courted by Lotus.

The future holds the promise of stepping into a F1 car but it also offers Gregor the certainty of extraordinary hard work and a learning curve so steep he could be forgiven of taking it in first gear.

"I have an idea what faces me," he says quietly, "but this has always been my dream and a huge part of my life."

Gregor left Williamwood High School, Clarkston, at 16 to concentrate on driving and he has already been mentored by Ferrari's Baldisserri. "This is a huge step forward for me," said Gregor.

"But I know that the hard work must continue. I am joining a stable of talented young drivers and I will have to be focused to succeed." The boy racer is quiet, almost to the point of shyness but there is no mistaking his toughness when it comes to succeeding in his sport.

He talks of testing times in team sessions, but with a lingering smile. "There is a jet fighter simulator where you are tested for G force," he says. "That can be punishing."

The young driver has impressed older hands. Baldisserri, once racing engineer for Michael Schumacher, assessed the Scot at 15 and remarked simply: "He is very quick, very fit."

Baldisserri, too, was impressed by Ramsay's ability to take in information and then improve his lap times. "That is what I love about the sport," says Gregor.

"It is that constant challenge to take in information and translate it into faster times."

He also has the ability to stand out in a sport where there are so many hopefuls that they form some sort of traffic jam. But the East Kilbride youngster is not only accustomed to racing and beating his elders but to impressing the experienced eyes off the track.

Ramsay, for example, was spotted by Ferrari when he was karting with a team at the southern tip of Italy. The track was wet and difficult but Ramsay was lapping at more than half-a-second quicker than any other driver. He was the youngest holder of an international kart licence and, with the help of Ferrari, gained his international racing licence at the age of 15.

Two years on, he follows Jim Clark, the legend of Duns, into the black and gold colours of Lotus.

He is a long distance away from taking a racing seat in an F1 car, never mind replicating the world titles gained by Clark in 1963 and 1965 but Gregor is keen to state that he will not be discomfited by the challenges ahead.

His father says: "There have been difficult decisions to take, most particularly the one to quit school when he was 16. That caused a lot of heart-searching in the family. It is then when you are thinking you have made life-changing choices."

Gregor, though, walked away from Williamwood High School with purpose. "I have always known that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

"I was always prepared to give it everything. It is not just the feeling of driving at such speeds - and I cannot really describe them - but the stuff off the track too. I love the detail, the things like the degree of tread of the tyre and how it can affect lap times. It is fascinating and never-ending."

It is certainly a world away from Hairmyres where Gregor tootles about in his Volkswagen Polo 1.2.

"I have already driven at speeds of up to 160mph so the next step is not about handling that kind of feeling but being fit, ready and focused to handle a more sophisticated car."

He also has to do all this as 30 other drivers from all over the world try to take the Lotus academy route to F1. This weekend he is testing in Jerez and he casually describes a day of intense activity that includes talks with engineers, scrutinising figures and hurtling around a heat-baked track.

Is he ready for the next lap, the next surge up the greasy pole of racing? "I don't think you can appreciate how difficult it is to try to make a career out of this," he says.

He cites so many elements outside of pure talent, such as finance, opportunity and sheer luck. His family, too, has made considerable sacrifices, including downsizing a home. Yet a considerable journey has already been completed. "I am proud of him, of course," says his father who sunk a considerable chunk of his life into Project Gregor.

"But we have come a long way and we are in a position that is absolutely fantastic for a youngster of 17. I have no fears about his ability or his dedication to the sport. He has the talent and opportunity now we maybe just need a little bit of luck."

A year on from the shunt at Spa comes the tilt at greatness.

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