Anthony Hamilton tells Alan Henry about his role in the rise of his son to formula one history maker
Saturday April 14, 2007
As Anthony Hamilton reflected yesterday on the remarkable start to the formula one career of his son Lewis he was incapable of suppressing a smile. From an old camper van in the paddock at the Buckmore Park Kart Circuit to the gleaming surrounds of the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, Anthony has been the key influence on his son’s meteoric rise to a McLaren seat and his pride is irrepressible.
This weekend Lewis Hamilton will attempt to become the first driver in the 58-year history of the world championship to claim a podium spot in his first three races. In Bahrain father and son have been joined by Lewis’s younger brother, Nicolas, and their stepmother, Linda. Lewis and Nicolas, who suffers from cerebral palsy, are particularly close and the family’s influence on his career is an important factor.
“It was probably when we met Ron [Dennis, the McLaren team principal] in 1995 that it started to get serious,” said Hamilton senior, reflecting on how his eldest son progressed through the ranks. “Up to then it was just father and son going racing together. From then on all I concentrated on was the ‘Dad job’, just making sure that Lewis didn’t lose out on any potential opportunities for advancing his career.
“From the start I also tried to ensure that Lewis looked after himself and was never in any danger of going off the rails with too much partying and late nights, all the temptations that young kids like to get up to. To be frank, I think that honesty and trust played a big, big role in our relationship as Lewis was climbing up the ladder.
“I think we’ve always tried to bring Lewis up to do things right and to understand that positive consequences flow from taking an honest approach to things, whether we were talking about his kart racing or his school work. I told him that, if he had any doubts, then he shouldn’t do it. But I was also confident that, if he took my advice and listened to what I was telling him, then a few years down the road it would all work out for him the way he wanted.”
Anthony Hamilton admits that during Lewis’s teenage years they reached an agreement whereby his son would work hard at school while Anthony would spare no effort when it came to raising sponsorship and support. Yet he readily admits that failed when it came to the crunch of penalising Lewis for lack of academic effort.
“I suppose you could say it was tempt- ing to apply the carrot-and-stick approach to Lewis for getting behind with his school work by saying ‘right, you’re not going to the next race’, but in truth Lewis was too good to be penalised in such a way.
“He was doing too well, getting the results, so I suppose that, if anything was going to give, it was going to be his schooling to some extent, although Ron always encouraged him to take it seriously and he also had a private tutor to help him keep up.
“In those early days we were also very lucky in finding some very gentlemanly personalities in karting, who really helped us when money was tight early in his career. We had Martin Hines [the owner of the Zipkart company] helping us out with the chassis, John Davies and John Button, Jenson’s father, helping us out with the engine and an old friend Martin Howells supplying us with tyres. If it wasn’t for guys like that I don’t think Lewis would have got off the lowest rung of the karting ladder.”
Even at this early stage of his son’s career Anthony Hamilton is happy to reminisce with a smile about Lewis’s achievements so far. His early karting successes, his brilliant double formula three wins at Monaco in 2005 and his more recent triumph in last year’s GP2 series which brought him to the very threshold of formula one, all bring an approving nod and a broad grin.
“I think Lewis would have been highly competitive whatever sport he decided to tackle,” he said with obvious pride. “He just wants to over-achieve at everything he does. It’s just a pity I couldn’t get him to do it with his school work.”
Now it is time for Anthony Hamilton to take back seat and watch the fruits of his son’s labours. “Lewis has come a long, long way since those early days and I suppose I always felt he would make the big time,” he said. “But it’s really all down to him – his determination, singlemindedness and his talent – that he’s managed to go so far. That and all the support we’ve received from Ron Dennis and everybody at McLaren, of course. Now I’m just the proud Dad.”