Tuesday 18 December 2018

Clan Hamilton gather in hope of a coronation

Lewis Hamilton in Austin before this weekend’s US Grand Prix. Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton in Austin before this weekend’s US Grand Prix. Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Oliver Brown

For the first time this season, Lewis Hamilton's mother, the publicity-shy Carmen, has turned up to watch him race. So, too, has his brother Nicolas, famously a picture of emotion at his maiden world title celebrations in 2008.

On a rainy day in Texas, a sense grew that they were gathering for a coronation.

With victory here in the Lone Star State tomorrow, Hamilton can elevate himself to company that seemed impossibly remote as a child, when his family crammed into a camper van at 5.0am to schlep to a far-flung karting track.

There are as many quadruple world champions in Formula One as presidential faces on Mount Rushmore. Only Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel have unlocked entry to the club.

Hamilton, at 32, is on the cusp of an achievement that would endure for posterity.

The numbers this weekend are not stacked in his favour. Hamilton needs to win and to hope that Vettel finishes no better than sixth if he is to garner the glory. That is hardly inconceivable, given how deftly Ferrari have contrived to throw this championship away. Vettel was 25 points clear of Hamilton after Monaco but has fallen to 59 adrift, thanks largely to a first-corner smash in Singapore and a sparkplug failure in Japan.

Realistically, the German needs to win here and in Mexico next Sunday merely to extend the duel to the penultimate race in Brazil.

Hamilton, though, has arrived in Austin in no mood to be usurped, and he resented the notion that Ferrari had served up his latest silverware on a platter, insisting: "If I was to win this championship, I would say that I had earned it."

Any anxiety is assuaged by Hamilton's luminous record in this race. Since the US Grand Prix switched from Indianapolis to the Circuit of the Americas, he has been knocked off the winner's perch just once, amassing more honorary stetsons than John Wayne.

It is here, too, that he became champion for a third time in 2015, at the expense of a visibly piqued Nico Rosberg. Tomorrow, with Rosberg safely in retirement, there is at least no danger of a team-mate throwing a cap at him in the podium green room.

The US would be a fitting stage on which to complete another triumph, given the breakneck transatlantic lifestyle Hamilton leads.

So far in 2017, Hamilton has interspersed 16 grands prix with visits to the Met Gala in Manhattan, his ranch in Colorado - where he hopes one day to raise his children - various nightspots in Los Angeles, not to mention Nasa headquarters in Houston.

Such are the wonders of private aviation, as Hamilton girdles the globe on his private jet, in the company of pet bulldogs Roscoe and CoCo. He is a man so instinctive that he recently diverted a plane, mid-flight, from New York to Brazil.

He also remains a sometimes bewildering bundle of contradictions. Hamilton has grown increasingly political of late, expressing support for NFL players' "take a knee" protests against racial injustice, and yet he has never so much as voted in an election. Try telling that to his role model, Barack Obama.

"Never groped a woman, someone I can personally look up to," he once said of the man who became America's first black president two days after he became Formula One's first black world champion.

At a stump speech for the would-be governor of Virginia this week, Obama declared of the disaffected young: "It's great that you all hashtag and meme, but I need you to vote."

Hamilton is a classic millennial in this sense, hyperactive on social media but disinclined to make his voice heard when it matters most.

The presence of his mother and his brother in Texas, though, is a reminder of how far he has travelled from a council house in Stevenage, opposite a now-derelict women's hostel.

Even since his first title nine years ago, Hamilton has softened some of his rougher edges. The moment when he tweeted Jenson Button's car data, as his former McLaren team-mate has described in his autobiography, would be unthinkable today.

Four years of almost unbroken success at Mercedes have brought both maturity and a serenity to his outlook. Will he continue much beyond the end of contract in 2018? He is a soul so restless, his future is uncertain. Fans would be well-advised to enjoy his feats while they last. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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