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sunday images from the 2017 World RX of Canada

The Reason To Race: Nicolas Hamilton

Aug 092018

Picture the scene. It’s late evening. Having just finished a heavy session in the gym on top of an all-day office stint, a guy in his mid-twenties sits in the lounge of his apartment in the UK. It’s raining outside, and the TV flickers in the background; illuminating the room. His focus is entirely on his laptop, and the endlessly growing list of emails and invoices awaiting replies and payments. It’s a far cry from the glamour and drama of a motorsport paddock, but it’s the warts-and-all reality for most jobbing racing drivers. This is the reality too for Nicolas Hamilton.

Logging laptop hours instead of lap times on track is an inescapable evil for all drivers chasing that illusive all-expenses-paid drive. The hours spent working with sponsors, chasing suppliers, and squeezing the value from every last penny, pail into insignificance compared to the mere minutes spent hitting apexes on track.

It’s not without reason that the 26 year old’s name might sound familiar. The surname-led shadow of his brother, Lewis, looms large. Having recently inked a three year, £40million-a-season deal with Mercedes, the quadruple F1 champion became Britain's biggest sporting earner, as well as the best-paid driver in Formula One history. For Lewis the streets of Singapore, Monaco and Shanghai are now as familiar as his old hometown of Stevenage. Not so for Nic.

While Lewis’ singular and meteoric rise through to motorsports pinnacle is well documented, Nic’s story is very different, but no less spellbinding. Born with Cerebral Palsy – a movement disorder which affects muscle tone and motor skills – Nic was told from an early age that he would be confined to a wheel chair for life and would never walk.

Against all odds in 2011, aged 19, Nic climbed un-aided into the cockpit of a Renault Clio Cup car to make his debut in the UK-based single make championship. Four years later, in 2015, Nic then became the first ever disabled driver to compete in the British Touring Car Championship, at the wheel of a 350bhp Audi S3.

Yet a further two years down the road, in 2017, it was nearly all over. Now, armed solely with his laptop and an undeniably winning smile, it’s back to the start line. Again.

“Motorsport has been everything to me, but at then end of 2017 I was ready to give up. I had all of my content written up to deliver to everyone to say that I was out; I was done; I’m finished; thank you for all your support,” explained Nic. “I couldn’t bring myself to send it out though – despite the way I felt. I didn’t want to give in. I never have, and I wasn’t about to do it then.

“When you are struggling in a race car, and on top of that you struggle to be there in the first place; not just through lack of funding - but training night and day to get through your condition and stop things like ribs popping out of place - it’s tough.


“I always knew I wanted to race, but never knew if it was even possible. I got a single shot at a driving school back in the day, and I was a second faster than the instructors on the first day. My Dad got me into Clios straight away, and honestly I was just happy to be there.


“Yes, I was lucky. I did the first year off the back of a lot of sponsors – Tag Heuer, Hilton Hotels, Vodafone, Hugo Boss – all the people that were into Lewis in Formula 1 at McLaren. And at the same time I was followed by the BBC. I went from essentially being a regular bloke to this little tiny superstar, with all the pressure of being a Hamilton and my condition. It was amazing and massively daunting at the same time. We did a second season racing again in 2012, but then it all stopped at the end of the year. Since then it’s been a huge learning process, and I think I’ve had too many people around me seeing me as an easy target to get to Lewis – but that’s not what I’m about and have never been about.

“Lewis is one of the most incredibly talented drivers naturally – I have so much respect for him. He has the world at his feet and he deserves every bit of success he’s got. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I don’t for one second think that he takes what he has for granted, but it’s hard when you’re a brother working in the same industry just trying to break out of his shadow.


“Lewis definitely hasn’t given me any support on how to develop as a driver, or how to develop business opportunities to get funding and make things easier. I never wanted to be handed money to race; but an introduction here or there would have gone such a long way. I understand him as a brother, but not so much as a business man. He has always been proud of me, but maybe he saw me as a threat. Not in the sense of challenging his success, but that my story could be just as inspiring to people. I think there’s always that sibling rivalry, but I never saw him as a threat. I just looked up to Lewis and tried to learn from him.


“It’s a double edged sword – I think all racing drivers are a little bit selfish in a lot of ways. I don’t think Lewis has always done stuff that’s in my best interests, so I’ve got to ignore it and move forward and do my own thing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t grasp it in a way. I’ve got to do the best for myself - to race - and to win. I know that the amount of doors me standing on the top step of the podium could open for people is a lot. Maybe someone is just sitting there thinking they are more disabled than they actually are, and if them being inspired and changing that situation comes from me being selfish and in a race car, then it’s not such a bad thing, right?


“After learning the heard way and running out of money totally twice – in 2012 and at the end of 2015 - I do everything off a shoestring, and under my own steam now. I have everything on my Mac, there are no managers or staff – it’s just me. It doesn’t matter if your name is Hamilton or not, you have to bring something that people can value or gain out of. You don’t want to waste a single opportunity thinking you can be entitled – because nobody is.


“It’s strange to say, but this year is only my third full season racing in motorsport. Even though I’ve been around paddocks for years and years, as a driver I’m still super inexperienced. I’ve learnt so much and grown since I started in 2011. A lot of people tried to take advantage of me – be my manager, but not make anything out of it. From now on I want to be completely honest about everything – so people can see what it takes just to get here.


“I would love to be a regular in British Touring cars – it would be massive. I feel like I’ve got the ability to get there, I just don’t quite have the support to put a package together yet that will last. I think that’s where I’d be of the most value – racing in Britain at a top level. On top of that I want to keep raising awareness about Cerebral Palsy – meeting parents and children – and offering help to overcome their own situations and struggles.


“It’s either get over it and go somewhere or sit on your butt and go nowhere.


“So now every night and every morning, I send out emails, emails, emails, and more emails; and if I get one bite; just one bit of money; it goes towards my racing, and inspiring people; and that’s the reason to keep going.”


Follow Nic’s progress at: #nicolashamilton