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Want to meet Mercedes F1 team drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton? This travel rewards programme gives you a chance to

The Marriott Bonvoy programme offers ultra exclusive experiences for its members.

Want to meet Mercedes F1 team drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton? This travel rewards programme gives you a chance to

From left: Lewis Hamilton, Rowena Hockin of BAR Studio and George Russell. (Photos: Marriott Bonvoy and The Ritz-Carlton)

George Russell walks into the lobby lounge of The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne. The Mercedes F1 driver is all smiles ahead of the Australian Grand Prix that coming April weekend. He makes his way through the crowd, taking the time to shake hands, pose for pictures and pause to chat briefly with each of us. All the while, exuding a ’90s boyband aura about him.

The 25-year-old Brit is a good-looking chap, working the room with the charisma of a lad only casually aware of his celebrity. And handsomeness. And we are about to have dinner with him. But first, we watch Russell gamely attempt to flip roti prata dough.  He fails miserably, despite a quick tutorial from the hotel’s culinary team, and shows off the final product – his roti looks like a pair of ladies undies. We all have a good laugh as our phone cameras lap it up. Maybe stick to racing, George.

George Russell flipping roti prata. (Photo: Marriott Bonvoy and The Ritz-Carlton)

This bit of pre-dinner entertainment was part of a very exclusive experience organised by Marriott Bonvoy, Marriott International’s travel programme, and members can bid for such ‘Marriott Bonvoy Moments’ with points accumulated through stays at hotels and resorts in the Marriott portfolio around the world, as well as through purchases with co-branded credit cards.

Members earn up to 10 points per US$1 (S$1.35) spent on qualifying charges, and there were 1,300 bids and over seven million points redeemed for the Australian race weekend packages in collaboration with the Mercedes team, according to a Marriott spokesperson.

It’s a special relationship, this. Between Marriott and the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One team – one with roots tracing back to 2012, when the Mercedes team first partnered up with the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) programme, long before Marriott International’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016. The programme then morphed into Marriott Bonvoy in 2019, following the subsequent merger of the Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG programmes.


Did you know that the Mercedes F1 team engineers have a long-standing pre-race ritual of enjoying a curry dinner together before each race around the world?

Curry dinner with George Russell. (Photo: Jamie Nonis)

I sure didn’t until I sat down to the beautiful feast created by the hotel’s executive chef Michael Greenlaw and culinary advisor chef Mark Best, instantly recognisable as one of Australia’s top chef personalities. 

Seated to my right was Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director for the Mercedes team, and to my left, Evan Short, Trackside Electronics Leader. Diagonally opposite was Russell himself, positioned as a strategic backdrop to all my food snaps.

The intimate, closed-door affair at the newly-opened The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne (official partner of the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team) was an almost unfathomable privilege made possible by Marriott Bonvoy. Throughout the dinner, Short took me on the inside track, regaling me with behind-the-scenes stories of the team and both drivers Russell and Lewis Hamilton. I relished the opportunity to ask him every question conceivable and then some, and my insatiable curiosity was richly rewarded with all the insider info you could wish for, plus a couple of trade secrets I was sworn to secrecy, including the new modifications the team had made to make the car more competitive for that weekend’s race.

Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe at The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne. (Photo: Marriott Bonvoy and The Ritz-Carlton)

Then, when the qualifying results were released the next day, which saw Russell starting on P2 and Hamilton on P3 at the Albert Park Circuit, I broke into a knowing – and probably annoying – smirk, had anyone else been around to see it.


Ah, race day.

Melbourne is one of three F1 races around the world with the exclusive partnership of a main Marriott Bonvoy Lounge for all VIP guests; the other two being the Singapore and Japanese races.

Special Marriott Bonvoy Moments guests, however, also have VIP access to the Mercedes team’s Paddock Club suite: The Ritz-Carlton Silver Arrows Lounge, named after the two iconic race cars that earned Mercedes-Benz the “Silver Arrows” moniker – the W25 and the W125.

Trackside luxury with The Ritz-Carlton Silver Arrows Lounge. (Photo: Marriott Bonvoy and The Ritz-Carlton)

Here, guests spend the weekend luxuriating in best-in-class hospitality, haute cuisine and a fully-stocked bar while enjoying a fabulous trackside viewing experience in a plush environment that merges the palette of the Mercedes team with leather, black panelling, brass accents, marble finishes and light blue tones.

Lewis Hamilton with commissioned artist, William Crighton at The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne. (Photo: Marriott Bonvoy and The Ritz-Carlton)

It’s all very exquisite as to be expected, and Paddock Club guests are also invited on an exclusive Pit Lane Walk where we had the opportunity to peek inside the team garages.

Short, the Trackside Electronics Leader whom I had met at the curry dinner several nights before, came out to say a special hello, and snuck us a look at Hamilton’s actual steering wheel. And when I was posing for pictures in front of his race car, who decides to make a cameo but none other than Hamilton himself. Certainly no complaints on the GOAT of Formula One with a record seven World Drivers' Championship titles (tied with Michael Schumacher) photobombing my shots. Well-played Marriott Bonvoy, well-played.

Evan Short, Trackside Electronics Leader, showing off Lewis Hamilton's steering wheel. (Photo: Jamie Nonis)
The writer at the ultra-exclusive Pit Wall, usually reserved only for the team bosses and top engineers. (Photo: Jamie Nonis)

All exciting stuff that was part of the official programme for VIP guests but for us, the Marriott Bonvoy folks did one better and surprised us with one pinch-me moment after another, including a private tour of the actual Mercedes team garage where we got to watch the mechanics and engineers working on the race cars up close. We even had the honour of sitting at the Pit Wall, usually reserved only for the team bosses and top engineers, and watch a race from literally trackside. What a truly unforgettable weekend!


Fancy treating yourself to a similar once-in-a-lifetime experience? For 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, the next such package you can bid for is the ‘Ultra-Exclusive, Behind-the-Scenes Experience with the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team’ during the British Grand Prix at the legendary Silverstone Circuit from July 8 to July 10.

The package includes a two-night stay at the JW Grosvenor House in London (excluding flights), with access to the Mercedes team area at the race weekend and all the VIP perks and privileges above. Who knows, you might get to meet George and Lewis, too.

Keep a look out for the special packages up for bids at the Singapore Grand Prix in September on the Marriott Bonvoy Moments website.

Source: CNA/bt