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Hamilton - a great British sporting hero

Hamilton - a great British sporting hero



Hamilton - a great British sporting hero

Hamilton - a great British sporting hero

Reproduced with kind permission of Goodwood Road and Racing where the article by this writer first appeared

Lewis Hamilton. Seven-time Formula 1 champion.

When Hamilton joined Mercedes ahead of the 2013 season from McLaren, if you had put those few words together at that time then it would have sounded preposterous considering the 35-year-old had only one title to his name when the late Niki Lauda came calling.

Following the agonising championship near-miss in his debut campaign with McLaren in 2007, and the drama that unfolded on the last corner of the last lap of the last race of the season in Brazil a year later that secured Hamilton his maiden crown, five barren years unfolded.

When Lauda first approached Hamilton in late 2012, by that stage McLaren was a fading force living on past glories. A succession of fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the drivers' championship, sprinkled with a dozen wins across those five seasons was all Hamilton had to show for his loyalty to a team that had nurtured him through his teenage years and into F1.

Lauda, and later Ross Brawn, sold Hamilton on the vision of what was to come from the German manufacturer that had re-entered the sport in 2010 after its purchase of the 2009 title-winning Brawn GP despite three seasons of relative toil and after luring the legendary Schumacher out of retirement following a three-year hiatus.

One of the biggest changes in F1's history was on the horizon for 2014 with the introduction of 1.6-litre V6 turbo-hybrid power units to replace the old, rumbling V8s. All Hamilton had to do was bide his time through 2013 and build relationships with his new team. Lauda was convinced success was just around the corner, and that signing Hamilton was the final piece in a carefully-constructed jigsaw.

That year Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull coasted to their fourth successive drivers' and constructors' championships, and at that stage, a betting man would have wagered fair money on the German going on to emulate Schumacher rather than Hamilton.

But the advent of new technology sparked a revolution in F1, and with it what has now become the most dominant period in the 70 years of the motorsport series.

Seven consecutive constructors' and drivers' titles have followed and with it the emergence of an icon of his generation.

Mercedes has provided Hamilton with the equipment and he has consistently delivered as man and machine have been in perfect harmony. No-one, save for team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2016, has barely been able to hold a candle to the Briton over the years.

It is all too easy for Hamilton's critics to denigrate his achievement with the uneducated comment that because he has always been in the best machinery that then has allowed him to enjoy so much success.

The bottom line is, you still need to possess the talent to deliver. It was the same for Schumacher during his heyday with Ferrari in the early 'noughties', and the same for Vettel when he reigned supreme from 2010 to 2013, and others before them.

What has stood Hamilton in good stead is that he was reared the old-school way during his formative karting years when it was a case of mend-and-make-do with equipment while father Anthony held down three jobs to pay for his son's motor-racing education.

Driving around in a Vauxhall Cavalier and operating out of a small trailer with a gas heater, while racing at karting tracks such as Rye House, provided the humble foundations for what has become this fairytale success story.

There has been an unpleasant backdrop, one that has played its part in Hamilton adopting a new role this season and furthering his legacy as he has become an advocate for racial equality and diversity, as well as global sustainability.

Hamilton has been abused throughout his career. Only recently he recalled the "horrible words" that were hurled at him when he was younger. Whilst naturally wounded at the time, it forced him to develop a thick skin and drove him on to prove his detractors wrong.

He has done just that, and then some.

Hamilton still has his critics, of course he does. There will always be those that refuse to accept him. In Britain, for whatever reason, there are people who take perverse pleasure in wanting to knock down our sporting heroes after they have been built up.

But this is a time to celebrate Hamilton for who he is and what he has become - a seven-time F1 champion who has now recognised the power of his voice on a global platform can be used as a force for good.

If people listen and act, his messages have worked. If they chose to ignore or bemoan the fact he is meddling in areas they see as being beyond his comfort zone, that matters little to him. Such barbs no longer sting as they once did all those years ago.

It is fair to suggest that after significantly altering his lifestyle of late, he has many more years ahead of him in those fields.

There was a time when Hamilton enjoyed the trappings of his success - the private jet, the fast cars, the parties, the celebrity status.

That was all inevitably understandable as Hamilton's move to Mercedes allowed him to finally free himself from a form of suffocation he endured during his time with McLaren.

As a teenager and throughout his early 20s, Hamilton devoted his time to building his burgeoning motorsport career. He rarely enjoyed any of the usual antics that many of us revelled in throughout those years and, in many respects, he lacked the building blocks that allow us to hopefully become responsible adults.

Once at McLaren, whilst his talent was naturally nurtured, his character was partly stifled given the constraints imposed upon him by the guiding hand of Ron Dennis.

It is one reason why, when Lauda first sounded him out about leaving McLaren and joining Mercedes, there was initial reticence before eventual acceptance that it was the right route for him to take to flourish not only as a racing driver, but as a human being.

Hamilton was allowed to spread his wings on track, as well as off it, and over time we have witnessed him mature in both fields.

As the titles have rolled in so the records have tumbled - most wins, pole positions, podium finishes, points finishes, career points, and now the one few people thought would ever be equalled he has successfully matched with the number of titles.

If - and it remains an if as he has yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes - Hamilton continues in F1 into next season, then it is highly likely he will claim championship number eight and own the record outright.

Whatever you may think of Hamilton, whatever your prejudices, whether you feel he may only have become so successful because of the car he has had beneath him, there is one aspect of his success you cannot deny.

As an outstanding British BAME role model, as well as one of this country’s greatest sporting heroes, Hamilton has been open about the struggles he faced growing up.

As he recently advised pupils on a visit to Alperton Community School in London: “I think we can all be great at something. It’s down to you and to your families to help you find what that is. When you find it, grab onto it, enjoy it and work your backside off.”

They are words to live by as Hamilton has proved over and over again.

Before you go...

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