If I hadn’t been there, I’d have viewed McLaren’s latest press release about the “emotional homecoming” of Lewis Hamilton to the team’s Woking headquarters as a pretty routine piece of press release flotsam.
But having met Hamilton and his dad when we invited Lewis to an Autocar Handling Day back in 2000 because he was a fast-rising 15-year-old kart champion — and discovered that he was a really engaging, normal young bloke — I was deeply curious to see what he was like now.
The remarkable thing, it seemed to me, was that he hadn’t changed a lot. More mature, of course. And much more articulate. Ridiculously good-looking with the most guileless smile in history. But the genuineness was still there, and the simple pleasure (as he puts it) at being in the fortunate position to make other people happy.
If I heard right, Hamilton committed himself to McLaren until the end of his career. He also reacted remarkably sensibly to suggestions that he could become sport’s first billionaire: “What can you do with a billion pounds?” he said, implying that his present reputed £15 million a year was probably enough to get by on.
As someone who (probably unreasonably) expects sporting heroes to be nice people as well, I was thoroughly impressed and charmed by the 2008 Hamilton, and was filled with new confidence that the 2009/10/11 editions will be just the same.
Hamilton himself reckons he’ll be better and fitter in 2009. Asked for his plan, he said the priorities were simple: “make fewer mistakes and attract fewer penalties”. I don’t think Schuey would ever have been as honest as that, especially at the very moment people were trying to help him celebrate his first championship.