America about to meet Lewis Hamilton
Like Tiger Woods, the slim, well-spoken, 22-year-old Englishman is mature beyond his years and seems to produce best when under pressure or in the spotlight.india Updated: Jun 15, 2007 14:53 IST
Lewis Hamilton has burst onto Formula One unlike any rookie before him.
In his first six starts, the Mercedes McLaren driver has finished in the top three every time, culminating with a win from the pole in the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal on Sunday. And the victory appeared to be no fluke as Hamilton led all but three of the 70 laps and was never really challenged.
Now the first black man to race in the 61-year history of F1 heads for the United States Grand Prix at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading teammate and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso by eight points at the top of the standings. The comparisons to Tiger Woods are inevitable. Like Tiger, Hamilton has been a winner at every level on the way to the big time. And, like Woods, the slim, well-spoken, 22-year-old Englishman is mature beyond his years and seems to produce best when under pressure or in the spotlight.
Woods is from mixed parentage - African American and Thai. Hamilton's paternal grandparents came to Britain from Grenada in the 1950s, and his mother, who separated from his father when Hamilton was 2, is white.
Like Woods and his father, Hamilton and his dad, Anthony, are practically inseparable.
"We're a close family," said Anthony Hamilton, whose other son, 15-year-old Nicolas, has cerebral palsy. "We have always spent a lot of time together and we still do. Lewis hasn't really changed. He's just doing what he's always wanted to do."
After his big win on Sunday, Hamilton was asked how he would celebrate.
"I'll spend some time this evening with my dad and some friends and we'll enjoy this for a while before we start thinking about Indy," he said.
In his short time in F1, Hamilton has already fielded just about every question one can imagine.
After winning his first pole last Saturday in Canada, he was asked if the feeling was better than sex.
Hamilton grinned, saying, "I think it's completely different. You can't compare it to sex."
Then, he paused a moment to consider and said, "Actually, no, I'll say it is better than sex," which drew a gale of laughter from the assembled media.
With stardom, though, comes scrutiny, and Hamilton is certainly in the spotlight, getting lots of attention from Britain's tabloids and the world's sporting press.
He caused quite a stir last month when he said after finishing second to Alonso at Monaco that the team told him to take it easy and not push his teammate at the end. FIA, Formula One's governing body, investigated and cleared McLaren of any wrongdoing. "We never issue team orders," said McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who signed Hamilton to a development contract at the age of 13. "We had a racing strategy to come first and second at Monte Carlo.
That's what we're there to do, and that's what we did. To achieve that, you have to cover every eventuality, and that's what we did." As for the uproar that followed when Hamilton spoke about being told to slow down, Dennis said he has no problem with the youngster's reaction.
"I think both drivers are highly polished in and out of the car and, obviously, Lewis makes the odd mistake when dealing with the ferocious nature of the media," he explained. "But he's learning quick and he's becoming very professional at dealing with the inevitable efforts of the media to get the sound bite.
"I'm very happy with the way everything is going and we're just so lucky to have two such talented drivers on the team who have mutual respect for each other and who clearly enjoy the challenge they each represent to each other."
Team orders weren't an issue for Hamilton and Alonso in Canada. The Spaniard suffered through a miserable day as he finished seventh and fell out of a tie for the points lead.
Hamilton smiled when he was asked about all the media attention he gets now wherever he goes.
"I'm just trying to take it in my stride, really," he said. "It's all really a new experience for me and already there's been a lot of attention.
"But, at the end of the day, I get to race a Formula One car around the track and it's just an amazing feeling. So, anything else that comes into it doesn't matter."