- Photography by Mr Paolo Zerbini
- Styling by Mr Tony Cook, Junior Fashion Editor, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Chris Elvidge, Senior Copywriter, MR PORTER
It's Friday the 13th. Dark clouds are looming on the horizon, and heavy rain is forecast to fall at any moment. A windswept parking lot rooftop in southwest London sounds like the last place you'd wish to spend the day - but this has done little to dampen the spirits of Mr Max Chilton.
Leaning against a powder blue Jensen CV8, wrapped up against the elements in a softly tailored overcoat from the Korean label Wooyoungmi and with his shock of blond hair styled into a razor-sharp side parting, he cuts a striking figure. "I passed my driving test on Friday the 13th," grins the young Formula One star. "I've always counted it as a lucky day."
It's debatable just how great a part luck might have played, though - even then, as a 17 year old, Mr Chilton would have been more than comfortable behind the wheel, having started kart racing at the age of nine. "That's actually quite late," he admits. "You can start competitively at eight... and a lot of the drivers I know started testing much younger than that, at four or five."
Making up for lost time, he excelled in karts and soon graduated to Formula Three - making his debut a few days before his 16th birthday, having sought special allowance to compete below the age limit.
There isn't anyone in Formula One that doesn't want to be world champion - it's about setting your goals at the right time
"I'd always been young coming through the ranks, and I was by far the youngest once I made the jump to cars," says the now 22 year old, who would be the youngest driver in Formula One but for the Mexican, Mr Esteban Gutiérrez, who claims that title by some 107 days. "I was 21 for my first two Grands Prix, and my third one came on my 22nd birthday.
"Being able to follow in the footsteps of some of my heroes, while still being so young - that's something I'm really proud of." But despite the achievement of having joined Formula One, perhaps the most elite group of drivers in the world - a status currently enjoyed by only 22 men - Mr Chilton remains cautious when it comes to managing his expectations. "My long-term ambition when I was younger was to get to Formula One," he explains. "Now that I've done that, of course I'd like to win a race one day, and then if I do that I'll aim higher. I don't think there's anyone in Formula One that doesn't want to be world champion - but it's about setting your goals at the right time."
His views might sound a little pragmatic, perhaps falling short of the searing ambition expected of a hotshot racing driver, but anyone familiar with the oddball economics of Formula One will sympathise. Mr Chilton drives for Marussia - one of the newest teams in the paddock, and the least well-funded, with an annual budget of around $65m. To put that in context, the budget of the more established team, Red Bull, is in the region of $205m.
Mr Chilton in action at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, 30 June 2013
"It's a technology-based sport, and of course money plays a huge part," he says. "Our yearly budget is maybe a quarter of that of the top teams. We do well with what we've got - but we're still a long way off the pace. In the same car over a single lap, you could expect most, if not all, of the drivers to be within a second of one another."
With Marussia's cars lapping three or four seconds slower than the frontrunners, though, it's clear that even the most talented driver would struggle to keep pace, and it speaks volumes that arguably the team's only meaningful battle this season is with fellow newcomers, Caterham F1 - in what is essentially a competition to not come last. But it's a battle that Mr Chilton has nevertheless taken to with admirable dedication.
"We [he and team-mate Mr Jules Bianchi] started the season with the goal of getting Marussia their first point in Formula One," he says. "I could set my sights on becoming world champion this year, but it just isn't going to happen. So right now, that first point is my target. It's about building a team that can really compete with the more established players in the future."
Being away from the business end of the championship table has afforded Mr Chilton a relatively low profile within the sport, and he remains refreshingly unaffected by, if not unaware of, the glamour surrounding Formula One. He's booked to appear at a Belstaff store opening on the weekend that we meet - he's an ambassador for the brand - but genuinely seems more enthusiastic about the prospect of supporting a couple of old school friends in the Triathlon World Championships in Hyde Park. "Chloe's more excited about the Belstaff event than I am, really," he laughs, referring to his girlfriend of some five years, Ms Chloe Roberts.
"Probably because Beckham's going to be there. She likes fashion events; she studies textiles at Central Saint Martins. Whenever she comes to watch me race you can spot her in the paddock with the other wives and girlfriends - she's the one doing the knitting."
Follow Mr Chilton on Twitter: @MaxChilton