Saloon Car Racing - Renault Clio Cup
Article Courtesy of David Smith - Evening Standard 30 Mar 2011
"I don't want to be known as Lewis Hamilton's brother", says Nicolas
Nicolas Hamilton is determined to step out of the shadow of his famous half-brother and make his own mark in sport by challenging the disability of cerebral palsy from behind the steering wheel of a racing car.
Just as it takes courage for Lewis Hamilton to weave his McLaren between the barriers of a Grand Prix circuit, so Nicolas will demonstrate daring at Brands Hatch on Sunday when he makes his motor racing debut driving a specially-adapted saloon car capable of reaching 140mph.
Nicolas - at 19 he is seven years younger than Lewis, the 2008 Formula One champion - insisted he had no issues with the epithet "the brother of". But he went on: "I am my own person. I'm doing this for myself, no one else, and to help inspire other disabled people or people with some challenge in their life."
Lewis has hailed his little brother as "my inspiration" and the two lads enjoy a close bond with Nicolas having become a regular visitor to the McLaren pit garage at Formula One races around the world.
Now, as Nicolas prepares to make his debut in the opening round of the AirAsia Renault Clio Cup series - in which all the competitors drive the same car - the tables have been turned in more ways than one.
At Brands Hatch it will be Lewis who becomes a supportive but concerned spectator, having committed to a 28-hour round flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where he has been preparing for the Grand Prix there on Sunday week. And this time it will be Lewis's presence which offers motivation.
Nicolas described how his sibling made the effort to lend support at a test session in February. He said: "Lewis came along and helped me out. It made me realise how good he is because he was so consistent, he can get in any car and be fast. He gave me some pointers and I ended the day only a second off his pace, which I don't think is bad.
"I look up to Lewis a lot and have a massive amount of respect for him and the way he handles things. He deserves every bit of success as he works so hard and puts in all his time and effort.
"I remember when he won the title in Brazil in 2008 - at the end of the race he got out of his car and came over to me and I could tell he was tired. It took every ounce of his body and energy to win that world championship. He's just a massive inspiration to me."
There can, of course, be no brotherly help in the cockpit of the Total Racing Control team Clio at Brands. And Nicolas, who did not receive his National 'B' Racing Licence until he had proved to officials that he could release his seat belts and escape from a crashed car by his own efforts in just seven seconds, has already learnt that he is embarking upon a dangerous endeavour.
During another recent practice session at Rockingham Raceway in Northamptonshire, Nicolas, driving a Clio fitted with specially extended pedals and a hand-operated clutch to help him cope with his disability, fell victim to inexperience and hit the wall.
His mother, Linda, who is Lewis's step-mother, said: "He did push it and it went horribly wrong, so he has learnt that he needs to progress slowly and not rush into it too much. Obviously I'm nervous. Anybody would be, under the circumstances. But I'm happy with it. It's what he wants to do."
Nicolas is by no means the first racing driver with a disability. The late Clay Regazzoni, a Formula One winner with Ferrari and Williams, went on competing after an accident during the United States Grand Prix left the Swiss paralysed from the waist down.
And last year Watford businessman David Butler received an MBE for services to disabled sport, having competed in more than 600 races and rallies despite losing both legs and a hand when, at the age of 11, he found an unexploded bomb at a disused wartime training ground on Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
Nicolas, however, points to Alex Zanardi as his role model. The former Italian Grand Prix driver lost both legs in a near-fatal IndyCar smash yet returned to prove a winner in the World Touring Car Championship.
"I met Alex in September and just to see him and the way he approaches things is a massive inspiration," said Nicolas. "If he can do it, I definitely can do it. In my first race I might be left behind a little bit but I'll be aiming to stay on the back of the rest of the field. And the day of my first race is Mother's Day, so my present to my mother will be to bring the car home safely."
Nicolas Hamilton's Renault Clio Cup races support the rounds of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship