Hamania motors in

EARLIER this year, Lewis Hamilton filmed a television commercial for a leading High Street bank in which he was required to stand atop a podium and spray his immediate surroundings with Champagne.

EARLIER this year, Lewis Hamilton filmed a television commercial for a leading High Street bank in which he was required to stand atop a podium and spray his immediate surroundings with Champagne.

At that point, with the rookie racer still to make his first competitive outing in an F1 car, it was reasonable to assume that would be the closest he would come to such an experience in 2007.

Eight Grands Prix and eight podium finishes later, such scepticism has been made to look rather foolish. As it was pointed out in France at the weekend, were the 22-year-old to complete a race in a position lower than third, he would have no idea where to go or what to do.

Having been named after Carl Lewis, the United States sprinting legend, Hamilton has enjoyed a long association with speed. Yet even as his parents endowed him with such a moniker, they couldn’t have predicted just how fast their son would turn out to be.

The McLaren driver has just endured his poorest weekend in top-flight motorsport. That he finished third at Magny-Cours, extending his lead in the World Championship standings to 14 points, underlines what a rare and precious talent this is.

Hamilton might have recorded his lowest classification yet but his powers are far from on the wane. A 1-3 shot to win the drivers’ title at the first attempt, he is almost guaranteed to collect the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award, even with six months of the year remaining.

His chances would improve immeasurably were he to win his third F1 race at this weekend’s British Grand Prix. It might be the culmination of Wimbledon fortnight, but all eyes will be on Silverstone.

Henmania has passed for another year, perhaps for good. Hamania has only just begun. If only Britain’s up-and-coming tennis players had the same drive and determination.

A lot has been written about the need for tennis to be more socially inclusive if Britain’s long search for a home-grown Wimbledon champion is to be realised. Yet no sport is more exclusive than motorsport, a pastime that requires a significant financial footing for doors to open. It also requires great dedication and remarkable talent to succeed in a fiercely-competitive environment.

Hamilton has both in an abundance. Tennis might reward the mediocre (Greg Rusedski, with no Grand Slam titles to show for his 16-year career, is these days employed as an ‘expert’ TV commentator), but in the F1 world, only the best survive, only the great stick around.

Hamilton is that, having married his remarkable driving skills with a burning desire and an unshakeable self-belief that, as a nine-year-old, led him to approach McLaren boss Ron Dennis and predict that the pair would enjoy a bright future together.

It was a prediction made without arrogance. The manner in which his prophesy has come true is nothing short of staggering. Hamilton has smashed several records along the way: the youngest driver to lead the World Championship standings, the most consecutive podium finishes from a debut race, the first driver to achieve back-to-back wins from pole position in a debut season; the level-headed youngster continues to captivate. At this stage, it seems there is nothing he can’t — and won’t — achieve.

Fernando Alonso, his red-faced McLaren team-mate, has been made to look distinctly ordinary by the precocious newcomer. The double world champion’s salary is rumoured to be 20 times greater than Hamilton’s. There is no question who is giving better value for his team’s investment.

If anything, Hamilton’s latest result was perhaps his finest. This was a weekend when not everything went his way, a weekend when his car was not the quickest and a weekend when his team was second best to Ferrari throughout. Despite all that, he clung on and showed the dogged determination that underpins all he does. It is a determination that suggests Hamilton will prevail at Silverstone and again will be showered in Champagne.

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