By Alan Baldwin
DUNSFOLDAERODROME, England (Reuters) – Nicolas Hamilton, half-brother of five-times Formula One world champion Lewis, is back on the racetrack and keen to set the record straight.
The 26-year-old, who has overcome cerebral palsy to establish himself as a disabled racer, is set for a full season in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and feels he deserves some credit.
“I made my announcement and people were saying ‘Oh, he’s only there because of his brother and it’s all money talking,” he told Reuters.
“Lewis hasn’t given me a penny towards my motorsport so I want to start telling that story because people need to know. It’s so hard, people assume so much.
“It’s just not how we are. I’m not a person who uses people. Lewis has achieved what he’s achieved due to his own abilities, with my dad being behind him. The last thing I want to do is knock him up for a couple of million quid and say come and support me racing.”
Speaking at the recent launch of a Team BRIT racing academy for disabled drivers, Hamilton said he would never put Lewis, Britain’s highest-earning sportsman, on the spot.
“I’m here standing today on my own, I’ve done so well to get here in the first place and the last thing I need is help,” he added.
The Briton, who did a few races in the BTCC in 2015, suspected Lewis and father Anthony, who did help earlier in his career with funding, would rather he did something else.
“I think deep down my brother or my dad wouldn’t like me to race but it’s what I love, it’s what I want to do so I’ll always push,” he said.
Hamilton was born two months premature and diagnosed with spastic diplegia. He was told he would not be able to walk and that his right eye would be severely deteriorated. He was in a wheelchair for five years.
“I just wanted to try and overcome my condition, with a lot of people telling me I couldn’t do things and the only thing I could do was sit in my wheelchair and get bullied. Which is what I did,” he said.
“I always wanted to race but I never thought it would be possible. My dad put me in a cadet kart when I was seven years old and I wasn’t strong enough to hit the brake pedal.”
His 34-year-old brother’s success put him more in the spotlight and gaming provided an outlet before his first proper racing experience at the wheel of a BMW M3 at a racetrack driving school.
A season racing Renault Clios followed in 2011, and led to a BBC documentary, but other opportunities have been sporadic.
“It’s been very difficult. But, you know, if it wasn’t for my condition I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “It’s made me who I am and I’m proud of it.”
Hamilton drives with simple modifications to the car, a hand clutch on the steering wheel and two pedals. Racing, he said, was also a journey of discovery.
“As a disabled individual, you never really know your limitations. You look at riding a bike, for example, and think I have no core stability, I can’t pedal, that’s impossible to do,” he said.
“You look at a race car and you’ve got to be super-fit, very precise with your inputs whether its throttle control or steering control or whatever. You look at it and think ‘I’m never going to be able to do that’. That’s exactly what I felt.
“But you really don’t know until you put yourself in that situation and put yourself where you’ve got to really overstep the mark and overcome these obstacles.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)