Back to where he belongs

Lewis Hamilton regained the Formula One world title with a commanding performance
Last Updated : 29 November 2014, 16:54 IST
Last Updated : 29 November 2014, 16:54 IST

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Grand Prix greats come from all sorts of backgrounds but few started life with the odds stacked against them quite as heavily as Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton, who celebrated his second Formula One title with Mercedes last Sunday, grew up in social housing with money tight and his father holding down multiple jobs to fuel his son's progress through karting.

The grandson of a Grenadian who had emigrated from the West Indies to find work on the London underground rail system, Hamilton has never forgotten where he comes from even if Mercedes and McLaren spotted his talent early on and bankrolled his progress.
Even now, after so much success in one of the most glamorous and expensive sports on the planet, he still has to stop and pinch himself.

There are no silver spoons in the back story of the 29-year-old who now turns up at races wearing clunky gold chains, flashy diamond ear studs and with pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger on his arm.

"Who would ever have thought it of us Hamiltons turning up at the track in the first year in karting, the only black family there?" Hamilton recalled this month after becoming the most successful British driver ever in terms of race wins.

"It was almost like everyone thought 'what are they doing here?' It was so funny. We had the crappiest little box trailer. I feel very proud."

The boy who once slept on his father's couch and dreamed of toy cars, now has the fastest Mercedes in the world and a private jet.

Britain's first multiple Formula One champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971, Hamilton joins Stewart, Graham Hill and Jim Clark in his country's pantheon of greats.

He did it in style too with his 11th win in 19 races, even if engine concerns meant he never quite lived up to his father's mantra of 'drive it like you stole it'.

It was a long way from 2008 when, as a McLaren driver, Hamilton took his first title in Brazil with a sensational last overtake that turned the 23-year-old into the youngest champion.

It was also about time. Or 'hammer time', as his engineer likes to tell him over the radio.

Older and wiser

"People talk about how long it's been since I won the title, but I honestly feel like I'm fighting for my first world championship all over again," Hamilton had said before the 'Duel in the Desert'.

"I'm older and maybe a little bit wiser than I was back then. I've learnt a lot in the years since 2008. But I'm still the same driver. I still have the same hunger, the same will to win and I've been giving it everything I've got from the word go this season."

Hamilton could have taken the crown in his sensational 2007 rookie season, losing out to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen by a single point after a stormy year at McLaren.

Those who feared he would lose out to Rosberg on engineering know-how, and that his aggressive style would be heavier on the tyres than his smoother rival, have been confounded.

"I am stronger now than I was (in 2008) both mentally and physically," Hamilton said recently and he has never been short of confidence.

Throughout his career, Hamilton has been a winner, which may explain why he is perhaps less loved at home than some other sporting heroes in a country that adores a plucky loser, and ferociously competitive.

As a kid in karting, he used to watch a video compilation of clips of his hero Ayrton Senna. It was called 'Racing is in My Blood', an apt title for him too.

Some of the old demons, which triggered controversy and criticism in his six years at McLaren, have been tamed if not banished entirely.

Once seen as over-controlled by McLaren group boss Ron Dennis, Hamilton is now his own man and the happier for it. No longer in need of a manager, and enjoying his father's company more, the best-known driver of his generation seems more confident about who he is.

"He feels in a better place in his life," said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. "He has sorted out some of his private issues, has a good relationship and feels at home in the team."
Two down, and who knows how many more titles to come?  

Published 29 November 2014, 16:54 IST

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