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Nicolas Hamilton On Brothers, Dads And Dreams

October 18, 2011

FOR Formula One ace Lewis Hamilton, driving a racing car is second nature – but for his brother Nicolas it can be an agonising experience.

 

Nicolas, 19, was born with cerebral palsy, a condition which leads to problems with movement, posture and co-ordination.

 

But the brave youngster has defied the odds — and the doctors — by completing his first season in the Air Asia Renault Clio Cup saloon-car racing championship.

 

Watching him hunched over the wheel of his Total Control Racing team car at a Brands Hatch race earlier this month, symptoms of the chronic illness were plain to see but his top ten finish in the contest also confirmed an undoubted talent.

 

That result in the final race of the season contributed to a 14th-place championship finish overall, delighting not only Nicolas but also his father Anthony, who masterminded Lewis’s racing career.

 

Nicolas — who has relied on walking sticks and wheelchairs for much of his life — said: “I don’t think I’m too bad for someone who only started racing six months ago.

 

“I never thought I’d be able to walk, let alone drive a racing car.

 

“My legs are weak and I have very little muscle tone. I have to do a lot of work on my Power Plate (a vibrating piece of gym equipment that causes muscle contractions) just to be able to walk around.

 

“Doctors reckoned I wouldn’t be able to do it but I’ve proved them wrong. I’ve shocked a lot of people including Lewis and my dad — not just by getting in a car but by progressing so quickly. I really am following my dream.” Nicolas’s car has been modified so he can compete alongside able-bodied racers.

 

It has a moveable seat, wider pedals that are raised off the floor and a hand-held clutch that allows him to get up to speeds of 130mph.

 

Surrounded by motorsport from an early age, Nicolas has been encouraged by Anthony and by seeing Lewis, 26, graduate from karting, Formula Three and GP 2 before eventually arriving in F1 and becoming world champion in 2008.

 

Nicolas said: “Lewis has always tried to encourage me.

 

“He has seen me on simulators and thought I was good and said I should try racing but I wasn’t sure I’d be capable. I don’t know if Dad was initially convinced because I was a disabled kid.

 

“The turning point was last year when Lewis bought me my own personalised helmet for my 18th birthday and Dad was like, ‘Now we just need the car’.

 

“I started testing last September and in February I got my racing licence after proving to officials that I could release my seat belts and escape a crashed car in just seven seconds. Two months later, I made my debut at Brands Hatch at the opening race of the season.”

 

Nicolas has been attending F1 races since Lewis made his debut in 2007 and McLaren star Lewis is often among the spectators watching his brother. But Nicolas is wary of any comparisons between the two.

 

He said: “Lewis will always try to make a race and just to know he’s supporting me is a massive boost.

 

“But any advice he offers doesn’t really work with front-wheel drive cars! Lewis encourages me if I’ve gone wrong in the race and tells me what I could have done differently but in terms of driving the car, the advice comes from my team.

 

“Lewis is very much his own person and I have never lived in his shadow. Obviously we are both competitive but I am never trying to compete with him. I am just trying to be the best that I can be.”

 

Nicolas and Lewis were brought up in a council house in Stevenage, Herts, by Anthony and Nicolas’s mum Linda. Lewis’s mum Carmen — Anthony’s ex-wife — lives 20 miles away in London.

 

Anthony gave up his job with British Rail in 1995 to dedicate himself to Lewis’ career and he is now right behind his younger son.

 

Nicolas said: “My dad has always pushed me. He is a hard taskmaster.

 

“He sees that I’ve got a lot of potential and he wants the best for me. Even though I am in my first year, he can see that I am better than people in their third year and they have been racing since they were eight years old.”

 

Anthony said: “I’m extremely proud of Nicolas and it’s great that he’s been winning races but that’s not the significant thing here.

 

“When Nic was 18 months old and not walking, we were getting worried. The hospital said he would be all right and he would grow.

 

“The next thing they told us was Nic had cerebral palsy and not only was he not going to walk properly but he would need a wheelchair and bifocals by the age of two.

 

“Nic has used his wheelchair when it’s been necessary and he has fallen out numerous times and hit his head on the floor but I have never said that he can’t drive because of his disability.

 

“He has dislocated his rib occasionally and it’s happened this season. It’s because of his posture and the way that he sits in the car but he just gets on with it.

 

“I have never once heard him say, ‘I am not well, I can’t do this or I can’t do that’. Nic never complains about anything.

 

“There will be a lot of pressure on Nic, but that’s life.

 

“His is an inspirational story. Not just for disabled people but for anyone with a dream.

 

“Nic might not make it past the next stage but equally he could be good enough to test in F1.

 

 “I think it’s going to be very exciting. He is Lewis all over.”

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