Motor racing: Formula One to offer supercar rides with top race drivers

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One fans will have the chance to be driven around race circuits in supercars this season by the likes of McLaren's double world champion Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

The 'Pirelli hot laps' program, announced on Wednesday, will start at the Bahrain Grand Prix in early April and feature at nine other rounds of the 21-race championship.

McLaren, who are owned largely by Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, and Red Bull's new title sponsors Aston Martin have signed up already with other manufacturers to be announced soon.

Formula One said in a statement that Aston Martin would use their new V8 Vantage with Red Bull's Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Dutch driver Verstappen among those at the wheel.

McLaren will provide a 720s supercar with drivers to include Spaniard Alonso, Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne, Finland's retired double world champion Mika Hakkinen and British reserve Lando Norris.

A bespoke garage will be provided for the program, which will run special competitions and promotions for fans to win rides as well as catering for celebrities and guests.

Leading drivers have given occasional 'taxi rides' for visiting celebrities in the past, with four-times champion Lewis Hamilton taking Jamaican Olympic sprint great Usain Bolt around the U.S. Grand Prix circuit in a Mercedes last year.

There has been no formal program, however, involving the general public and allowing the sport's manufacturers to show off their supercars.

Formula One, which already has a two-seater race car 'experiences' program for guest VIPs and those who can afford it, did not say which grands prix would feature after Bahrain.

"The once in a lifetime experience of being driven at speed by a racing driver at iconic race circuits in dream cars is truly unique," said Formula One's commercial managing director Sean Bratches in a statement.

"We are seeking to be fan first and this is yet another example of our efforts to that end."

The season starts in Australia on March 25.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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