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Hamilton on the ride of a lifetime

Lewis Hamilton is used to faster lanes, certainly not the one in northwest Delhi that, clogged with traffic jams, comes to a frequent standstill, writes Khurram Habib.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2009 01:39 IST
Khurram Habib

Lewis Hamilton is used to faster lanes, certainly not the one in northwest Delhi that, clogged with traffic jams, comes to a frequent standstill.

It isn't surprising that excitement and shock burst forth simultaneously when he sees a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus running into overhead wires.

Hamilton is unpretentious, sweet and without the airs that accompany a celebrity. Not quite the characteristics you would associate with a 23-year-old Formula One world champion.

Plopped comfortably on the rear seat of his Mercedes Viano, he looks around in amusement. “This traffic doesn't worry me, as long as I am not driving,” he exclaims.

The black trousers and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes T-shirt align well with the cap that covers the closely cropped hair. India is not new to him. He was here last year, in Mumbai though, and was moved by the “warmth of the people”.

“I am looking to race here. Is the Formula One track here underway?” he asks enthusiastically.

When told about the delay, he gives a helpless shrug, “As always,” and follows it up with “it's the same way everywhere”. Earlier, in a press conference, he had mentioned his desire to see the Indian Grand Prix happening in winters. “This heat is a bit too much.”

Along the way, he reduces a popular story about his childhood and success to a myth.

Asked about Martin Hines, a karting company owner, who has openly taken credit for his success, he says assertively, “That is not true.”

“When I was a kid, we had no money,” he says looking out of the window, perhaps trying to relate to the struggle that he is seeing on the Delhi streets, people fighting for space and going about their tasks in the bristling heat.

“My father worked four jobs to bring me up. Along the way, a lot of people helped - some would give us free tyres, sponsor something or the other, some free fuel.

“There are many people I have to thank. As success followed, more people joined in. Hines too came into the picture…”

Glory knocked quite early, making him the youngest Formula One champion, but the path has been strewn with boulders, the biggest being the tendency among young achievers to self-destruct.

But just like the station wagon avoided the chaos at busy intersections, Hamilton has stayed clear.

He's busted the popular image of a Formula One driver - the wild, dashing, often brusque species, who race in the day and party at night. Lewis is anything but that. He sleeps early and follows a strict schedule. “Things have changed. The sport has become harder in a different way. There is more commercial stake, a lot many companies, it has got a lot more physical. I mean you have to stay on and be the best.”

Sacrifice is the word he means and laughs wryly on spotting two big cars denying space to a motorcyclist. Not to be undone, the motorcyclist climbs on to the footpath. “Phew, that is something,” he blurts out.

“There are times when I want to enjoy myself. But you can't do it (the way drivers used to do, he means). You have to do everything in moderation.”

But the sweet-good, disciplined boy image doesn't come at the cost of aggression. When asked about the lack of form, he jumps to his defence, “I just won the Hungarian GP.”

He says he is relieved after winning, but asserts, “I was never out of form. We didn't have a good enough car. Fortunately, we've improved and the results are showing”.

But Hamilton admits he is the underdog for the remaining season. He’s revelled in pressure situations before though, winning the 2008 championship when Fernando Alonso's departure made him a villain.

“We (him and Fernando) had a tough time. We are professionals and respect each other. I mean we talk, we laugh.”