Lewis Hamilton: I’m still young and making mistakes

Ever since he entered Formula One in 2007, he has been at the centre of controversy in the racing world. Laura Davis discusses safe-driving and the championship with the young star

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The Independent Online

From aggressive driving and racist fans in Spain to his relationship with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, Lewis Hamilton has been no stranger to the press.

Only two weeks ago the racing champion was fined for “behaving like a hoon” after performing burnout and fishtail tricks in front of fans in Melbourne.

Pleading guilty to the charge of improper use of a motor vehicle in March of this year, he was forced to pay 500 dollars, with his lawyer remarking that he had suffered "embarrassment, humiliation and distress" as a result of the incident.

Aware of his implicit duty of being a role model to young fans, he acknowledges the responsibility involved:

“It’s a big responsibility, but it comes with the role of doing what I do...I do always try to give the most positive message out to youngsters. It’s not like saying you kids have to do this. It’s just saying, look man, this is what I’ve done, learn from your mistakes or try to avoid making them.”

Spoken with an air of auntenticity, it seems the racing star is simply just doing the best he can whilst facing the typical dilemma of young stars when growing up and excelling in the public eye, bringing attention to the acts that would have previously been disregarded. But should the racer have learnt his lesson by now?

“I’m still young and still making mistakes, and I’m bound to make mistakes, but I get really punished for my mistakes. But I’m only human.”

A year ago he signed up to promote the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, which has just celebrated its first year with double the UK average of first time passes. From the age of 12, children can join the academy and drive within the safety of restricted tracks, learning theory at the same time.

“Every kid wants to drive before they’re 17 and the only real place you can do that is on the go kart track or something like that” said Hamilton. “I remember my dad took me to a closed car park sometimes but here you can properly do it here and safely.”

“I think 17 and 18 year-olds think “Yeah I can drive, I’m untouchable”. But when they come here they see the risks that they could be faced with and how distractions can really take your eye off the ball. It’s such a cool thing to do; I would’ve loved to have been driving at a younger age.”

It’s no secret that at the age of 10, the plucky young Hamilton approached McLaren team principal Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards ceremony and told him he wanted to race for Mclaren one day, and three years later he was signed to them.

Having started Go-Karting from the age of five, he knew how to drive and passed his test first time, but he’s unreserved about how anxious he felt:

“I was nervous as hell...When you’re in the car on your own it’s knowing your surroundings, knowing the width of your car, knowing people are completely oblivious. People that haven’t had a shunt - how much it hurts or how dangerous it is. If you’re speeding in a certain area, 30mph zone where there are kids. People just need to think, what would happen if you hit a kid? Could you live with it? I’m in my twenties and I’m still learning.”

“When I was growing up I knew a few people that had been in big crashes that were seriously injured. I knew a guy that had a real big crash and I knew some kids that were, of course, driving without licenses. They didn’t have the best upbringing, didn’t have their parents to guide them, didn’t have the opportunity to come to a place like this.”

Hamilton undeniably had support from his own family, as up until earlier this year his father was his manager before he decided it was time they part ways. He’s also always been very open about his close relationship with his brother, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, talking about him as an inspiration and how he couldn’t wait until he was 18 so he could take him out:

“We went out in London a couple of months ago with the boys we grew up with. He met a girl and it was so cool I was like “Get her number, get her number!” and then when he got it I was like “Yes! We’re gonna celebrate!”"

“He’s used to being around me and obviously it’s strange, I just stay quiet and let everyone else enjoy themselves. Some places you can’t really enjoy yourself, a lot of people are generally watching. Tonight for example I’ll be at my mates’ house, it’ll be cool.”

He’s certainly more animated when talking about his brother, whom it seems he is still in genuine awe of:

“Just him being in the garage and seeing him on TV people have just been encouraged by him. He’s an incredible, incredible kid. He just has such enthusiasm, he’s never been fazed by anything - any of the problems he’s had. So he’s an inspiration to me and to so many people – more than I am, I would say.”

A humbling statement from a former Formula 1 World Champion, who seems to have remained surprisingly grounded. He’s certainly got a laddish side to him, but it’s part of what drives him:

“I love competition. I’m probably the most competitive person I know. I can’t help it, I don’t know where the competitiveness comes from.”

Hamilton has undoubtedly retained his youthful lack of nerves in regards to Drivers' Championship, in which he is the current points leader:

“You don’t think about the championship at this point. I need to get as many points as I can to keep me up there but it can just change. There are 150 points available so it can all just change so rapidly so you just gotta keep doing what you’re doing and stay focused. It gets more intense as the year goes on but I’ve been doing it for a while now.”

So is he nervous about the result?

“No. You get nervous in the races, you get nervous before, but that’s all part of it...it’s the adrenaline.”