Hamilton's vote of confidence

Lewis pushed aside the question of ‘race’ as he returned to a rapturous welcome at McLaren’s Woking base, but it’s one that just won’t go away

Just hours after Barack Obama crossed his own finish line to be confirmed as the first black president of the United States, Formula 1’s first black World Champion returned to his team and a deserved hero’s welcome.

Hamilton is always uncomfortable when the ‘race’ question is raised because he simply thinks of himself as a racing driver – nothing more, nothing less. But the significance of his position as a black role model will be foisted upon him whether he likes it or not, and journalists were quick to tackle him on the subject on his homecoming to McLaren’s Woking base.

The champ swerved round the questions with skill and his usual charm, but was much more forthright when questioned about his future at McLaren. “I’m with the team I’ve always dreamt of driving for, and I’ve got the car I always wanted – so why change?” he said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be in Formula 1 – but I want to see my career out with this team, and that’s my plan.”

Hamilton is tied to McLaren as Jim Clark was to Lotus. The whole staff at the space-age McLaren Technology Centre hold him in very obvious and genuine affection. Lewis arrived home at the wheel of an MP4-23, driving round the MTC lake and parking up outside the main entrance. The staff, who had been given special permission to down tools to celebrate the moment, gave him a huge cheer as he stepped from the cockpit, stood on a sidepod and waved his thanks. Hamilton’s subsequent speech returned their affection as he paid tribute to the team’s efforts to make him the youngest F1 World Champion in history.

A letter of congratulations from the Queen capped a very special morning for Hamilton, who had every right to enjoy his moment. As the staff returned to work, the champion and his pop star girlfriend headed for the airport and a Mercedes function in Germany, where he would drive a McLaren through the streets alongside another great champion, Mika Häkkinen.

The whirlwind life of a World Champion had begun. DS