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Hamilton brings F1 to new audience

Son of a former railway employee, and grandson of a Grenadian immigrant, the 22-year-old McLaren rookie could not come from a more unlikely background.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2008 11:46 IST
Alan Baldwin

Lewis Hamilton is driven to win but nobody could say that he was born to be a Formula 1 driver, let alone world champion.

Son of a former railway employee, and grandson of a man who emigrated to Britain from Grenada and found work on the London Underground, the 22-year-old McLaren rookie could not come from a more unlikely background.

In Hollywood terms, his life story sounds like something Walt Disney might offer up -- a family-friendly feel-good fantasy on a par with the Jamaican Olympic Bobsleigh team.

The idea of a youngster, from a family with no motorsport background or great wealth, joining the Formula 1 elite as the first black driver might have been sufficient for most scriptwriters.

For that rookie to then go on and beat his double world champion team mate and stand within one win of a record-breaking title after just 15 races would surely have stretched everyone's credulity too far.

Nobody just waltzes into Formula 1 and wins the title. Even Michael Schumacher, the most successful of them all, had to wait two years for the first of his seven crowns.

Other greats, such as compatriot Stirling Moss, missed out altogether.

Add in the fact that Hamilton is polite, intelligent and photogenic, and it is no surprise that he is already being talked of as a marketing dream and potentially the highest-earning sportsman Britain has ever produced.

Fairytale Story

Moss has called Hamilton a genius, triple champion Jackie Stewart simply the best prepared rookie he has ever seen. Ordinary members of the public are scrambling for tickets for next year's British Grand Prix already.

"It's a 'Boys Own' fairytale story," Britain's last world champion Damon Hill told The Sun newspaper this week.

"He has overcome all the obstacles that may have been put in his way since he came to people's attention at a very young age. He has gone against the grain and will prove a fantastic champion."

"It just shows that, wherever you start off in life, if you work hard and are professional then this is what you can achieve."

The obvious comparison is with Tiger Woods, who opened up golf to a new audience, but the Williams sisters -- whose father helped them to scale the heights in tennis from unlikely surroundings -- also come to mind.

Hamilton's father Anthony held down multiple jobs to fund his son's early karting career but the breakthrough came at an awards ceremony in London when Lewis was not yet a teenager.

The youngster walked up to McLaren boss Ron Dennis in his black tie outfit, looked him straight in the eye and informed him that one day he intended to drive for his championship-winning team.

The fact that Dennis took note and backed Hamilton for a decade says much for his ability to spot a precocious talent and nurture it. Without that support, the story would be very different.

Hamilton has won every championship that he has entered, if not at the first attempt then the second, but even then nobody suspected that he would have such an impact on such a competitive sport.

In Canada in June, he became the youngest Briton to win a grand prix and has since added another three victories to the tally, equalling Canadian Jacques Villeneuve's record for a rookie.

No other driver has finished on the podium in his first nine races, as he did, or scored 100 points from his first 15 appearances.

Close Bond

Excluding the first championship in 1950 when everyone was technically a rookie, nobody has won the title in their first season.
In all of it there has been no arrogance, just immense self-belief.

"He obviously knows that he's pretty good but there's no trace of an ego," Hill told Reuters in June. "You won't find Lewis strut his stuff. There is an overall subtlety to his personality and character which I admire hugely."

Despite his parents being divorced, Hamilton comes from a tight-knit family.

The close bond with Anthony, a constant presence at the races, as well as half-brother Nicholas who has cerebral palsy, has been a driving force.

"It's huge, absolutely huge," Hamilton senior said last weekend when asked about the importance of the family in his son's career.

"It's a family thing isn't it, the whole business," he added. "If you're going to be successful in life, you need to know that there are good people around you."