Nicolas Hamilton: Fully enabled
MARCH 7, 2012
If you're fortunate enough to have been in a Formula 1 paddock from time to time, you will have noticed Nicolas Hamilton, not necessarily because he is Lewis's younger brother, but more likely because Nicolas is suffering the effects of Cerebral Palsy.
'Suffering' is not a word 19-year-old Nic would use. And neither would any member of his close-knit family. You become aware of that when you see Nicolas battling his way up the steps to the McLaren Brand Centre or attempting to climb the spiral stair case leading to upper floors. He does this unaided. The family - and especially Nic - would have it no other way.
Spiral staircases are a particular problem, given the symptoms of Spastic Diplegia affecting Nic's leg movement. Yet he smiles knowingly when referring to his father, Anthony, having installed a spiral staircase to the Hamilton Management office on the top floor of their home. This is the way it has to be - so deal with it.
The fact that Nicolas has received no favours comes across - starkly, you might say - in a documentary on his attempts to become a racing driver. Lewis says he never allowed sentiment to intrude when they were competing at any level, from running and football as kids, to playing computer games. "He would fall over constantly," says Lewis, "but he would get up again immediately. He would never, ever give up."
That resilience would be necessary as Nicolas recovered from a major operation involving the cutting of tendons at the back of his ankles and knees, and in his groin.
"He must have been in great pain, but not once did he complain," says Lewis. "Both legs were in plaster from toe to groin. As soon as he could, he stood up. He's always wanted to do what able-bodied people do. We've never treated him any differently."
That ethos has been applied to Nic's desire to go racing in the Renault UK Clio Cup. Yes, you can say that Lewis's association with McLaren led to the team helping out with a steering wheel clutch and the necessary driving position adaption to allow Nicolas to push down on the pedals rather than away from him. And it's no coincidence that Vodafone appears on the car, along with support from other sources perhaps drawn by the publicity associated with the Hamilton name. But, when all is said and done, Nicolas has to drive thing and race in a fiercely contested series. And it has been up to him to chase and attract the sponsorship for 2012.
Hamilton had a typically diverse and difficult first season last year: rolling his car during qualifying at Thruxton; suffering but overcoming the resulting crisis of confidence; being beaten hollow elsewhere but coming back to finish a very fine ninth from 20 starters at the final race at Brands Hatch.
Those were the bits that you could see. Away from public view, Hamilton uses his understated profile to visit kids suffering from Cerebral Palsy and encourage them to dismiss indignities such as that suffered by one kid when a bus driver, seeing the wheel chair, couldn't be arsed to stop and help load the boy on board.
"If you want to be treated the same, you have to show them that you are; you need to be confident," said Nic. "You should never give up. Sometimes if you do, you might regret it. I don't, for example, care how stupid I look getting over a fence - just as long as I get over."
Hamilton is fighting more than the car when racing. Even for someone who admits to never having had a day when some part of his body does not hurt, the harsh and unfamiliar g-forces have brought new challenges. "Things happen like my pelvis will pop out," says Hamilton, as if describing merely stubbing a toe. "And it's like someone has their fist inside you constantly. It's not a sharp pain. It's an ache. But that's the way it is."
A few hours after the documentary was screened on UK television, a mother's email was typical of the many received by the BBC. 'I have a 2-year-old daughter the Cerebral Palsy," wrote 'Boosmum'. 'Watching Nic Hamilton has been amazing. He's such an inspiration. It has made me feel SO positive about my daughter's future. Thank you so much.'
Talking about inspiration, last week I read an article about Oscar Pistorious, the double amputee and world class sprinter. When asked what advice he would give school children wishing to pursue a career in sport, Pistorious (who cites Michael Schumacher as an early sporting hero) said: "Follow your dreams. My motto is: 'You're not disabled by the disabilities you have; you are able by the abilities you have'."
Nicolas Hamilton has clearly embraced that principle. And when it comes to such fundamental and admirable self-belief, the identity of your brother totally irrelevant.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.