A hero's welcome


New World Champion Lewis Hamilton returned to McLaren headquarters the conquering hero today and received a rapturous welcome home from the whole staff.

Boss Ron Dennis gave permission for his employees to down tools for the morning to greet their champion, who arrived at the company’s space age McLaren Technology Centre in his MP4-22 race car. He drove round the lake that surrounds the MTC and pulled up outside the main entrance to cheers and applause from the staff, who were all dressed in McLaren’s ‘rocket red’ (definitely not orange) victory shirts.

Hamilton would have liked to pull off a ‘doughnut’ or two, but admitted: “I didn’t even leave any black marks on the road. Ron wouldn’t have liked that…”

The 23-year-old addressed the staff to thank them for all their work in helping him to the World Championship, which he claimed in such dramatic fashion on the last lap of Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix. “I don’t know if you noticed but I couldn’t get the steering wheel off – could someone fix that?” he quipped, a reference to his struggles to reattach the wheel after emerging from his car at the end of the Interlagos race.

The staff canteen was the venue for a press conference later on. If that sounds an unlikely place to give the British press a chance to ask some questions, think again. This is McLaren, remember. The staff canteen is no ordinary room – and of course, it’s very clean!

Lewis revealed he had returned to Britain the night before, and after shaking hands with well-wishers at Heathrow he had headed home for a roast dinner cooked by step-mum Linda.

The media, with the McLaren staff massed behind them, quizzed Lewis as they looked for a new angle on the champion’s story. Questions included his thoughts on Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election that very morning and how he feels about his position as a black role model. Hamilton shifted uneasily in his seat and swerved around the ‘race’ question as best he could. He just sees himself as a racing driver, nothing more, nothing less.

His most popular answer was to a question about his future and his loyalty to 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 F1 – but I want to see my career out with this team, and that’s my plan.”
At that, the McLaren staff cheered. And they cheered again when Hamilton said: “You all deserve a holiday – and a pay rise!” In the wings, Ron Dennis responded with a big grin.

It also emerged that Lewis has been asked to turn on the Christmas lights in his home town of Stevenage. “Can you think of a greater honour?” a reporter asked. The champ looked bemused. “Meeting the queen?” he replied with a shrug.

Well, he got close. Her Majesty wasn’t about to appear from behind a curtain in a ‘This Is Your Life’ moment, but she did the next best thing: host Steve Rider read out a letter of congratulations from Elizabeth R, much to Hamilton’s obvious delight.

Then he was whisked away, along with his Pussycat Doll girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, to a flight heading for Berlin and his next function. He returns tonight and heads tomorrow to another appearance for title sponsor Vodafone. Such is the whirlwind life of a World Champion.

Meanwhile, the McLaren staff headed back to work. It’s not often productivity grinds to a total standstill at the MTC, but this was one morning when a little indulgence could be excused. After a tough year on track and what Hamilton put them through on Sunday, they deserved it.

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