Hamilton: I'm no Tiger Woods

He may soon be Formula 1's first black driver. But Lewis Hamilton has no time for comparisons with other sporting pioneers
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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton has no time for comparisons with Tiger Woods or Theo Walcott. But now he has been crowned the 2006 GP2 champion, if he gets the call he is hoping for from the McLaren team he will have to cope with a rash of headlines hailing Formula 1's first black driver.

Hamilton is only 21, but faces the future with the same calm and focus that have made him the most talked-about young driver in motorsport.

In the furore surrounding Michael Schumacher's victory and retirement announcement at the Italian Grand Prix last weekend, Hamilton's GP2 success went almost unnoticed. Yet it will probably be the key to the door of his ultimate ambition.

"On Saturday evening I was still with the team in the paddock preparing to race again on Sunday, when we were told that Giorgio Pantano had lost his fastest lap [for that day's race], and that I was therefore champion. The following day I beat Nelson Piquet [Jnr] and proved that I deserved the title."

Sir Stirling Moss describes Hamilton, an articulate and charismatic young man, as "the most impressive upcoming driver I've seen in a long while". He first got behind the wheel of a kart in 1993, aged eight. Two years later he had won his first British karting title. When he was 13, Ron Dennis - the McLaren team principal - began to support him and he remains the youngest driver ever to be signed by an F1 team.

European and world kart titles followed, and having made the switch to cars with Formula Renault in 2002, Hamilton dominated the following year to take the title with 10 wins, took the European Formula Three series in 2005, and then the GP2 title at the first attempt.

He remains remarkably grounded. Born in Stevenage in January 1985, he was never allowed to let his racing career go to his head by his father Anthony and stepmother Linda. Significantly, he spends much of his time caring for younger brother Nicholas who has cerebral palsy.

"I have a fantastic family that's been behind me all the way," he says. "Nicholas and I get on really well and he's a great kid. He's an inspiration not only to me, but to a lot of other people. He's always got a smile on his face, he's always positive, he never complains about what he has. I think that's a strong message. Whenever I think I have problems I just think how many problems in life he has."

Now Dennis holds his protégé's future in his hands. Hamilton's performances have marked him as a possible partner for Fernando Alonso in 2007. "I saw Ron on Sunday and he was very happy with the work I've done this year," Hamilton says. "Right now I'm training as usual, and waiting for him to call."

Heroes: Blazing the trail for black athletes

Tiger Woods

AGE: 30


ACHIEVEMENT: In 1997, first African-American to win the US Masters; has 11 Major victories since.

James Blake

AGE: 26

SPORT: Tennis

ACHIEVEMENT: No 8 in the world; six ATP Tour singles titles to his name, three this year.

Debra Thomas

AGE: 39

SPORT: Figure skating

ACHIEVEMENT: In 1988, first African-American to win at Winter Olympics.

Oliver Skeete

AGE: 50

SPORT: Show-jumping

ACHIEVEMENT: Britain's first black showjumper.

Guy Walding