To Formula One’s massive global TV audience, he is one of the most recognisable faces in the paddock. A young man never afraid to display his emotions in support of his brother, a quality that has firmly endeared him to his many fans.
Yet as host Alan Hyde welcomed him onto the Donington Park stage yesterday, it was clear from the volume of camera clicks that this is a young man who must now be known in his own right.
Just a few days short of his 23rd birthday, Nic Hamilton is seven years younger than his world champion brother Lewis. He suffers from a form of Cerebral Palsy, a condition of the brain that affects the nerves and fibres that control his limbs, causing difficulty with motion, and at times, severe pain. At an early age, his parents were told that he might never walk, yet here he is, striding humbly to meet Hyde’s out-stretched hand in front of an audience of admiring media and the BTCC’s cast of 2015.
Competing in 5 of this season’s 10 championship rounds, Nic Hamilton will become the first disabled driver to race in the British Touring Car Championship.
But this isn’t Hamilton’s first step into motorsport. Back in 2011, he joined the TOCA package and the Renault Clio Cup grid, a series well recognised for producing touring car stars of the future (Andrew Jordan, Jack Goff, Árón Smith, Sam Tordoff, Tom Onslow-Cole, Dave Newsham and Phil Glew have all starred in Clio Cup campaigns before moving-up to the headline grid).
And as a novice, without even a karting background, he did incredibly well, bagging three top-ten finishes, and much respect along the way. But even so, he’ll readily admit that mistakes were made. He had no time to test, no preparation for the cut and thrust of tin-top racing, just the drive of his ambition and the support of those who matter most.
Four years on and Nic Hamilton is ready for a new challenge. He returned to the Clio Cup in 2012, and even tried his hand in the European Touring Car Cup during 2013, but the novice-cross is long-gone so how is he approaching the BTCC?
We meet in the AmD garage at the top of the pit lane. My time is limited so I need to get to the point. I ask about his preparation and plans for the year ahead.
“It’s been quite difficult for us, just to get this opportunity,” he tells me “and we know we’re very lucky to be here.”
“From day one, it’s been all about getting the right team behind me, especially my management; people who believe in me, who follow my story and understand what I stand for. This is so important to me, because what I wanted to do when we set-out was to put the focus onto what we’re doing and what we’re about and to take it away from me as a member of the Hamilton family.”
There’s real passion to his delivery. He’s exceptionally bright and lucid; I can almost see the words assembling in his mind as he delivers a vision of a future where he is determined to be known as ‘Nic Hamilton’, end-of. The conversation continues at pace.
“So the next step has been to find (commercial) partners and get them on board, people who are just as much a part of the story and who really share and enjoy what I’m trying to do, which is trying to inspire people, whether they’re able-bodied or disabled. It’s about making a team effort to show that you can achieve seemingly impossible goals if you set your mind to it.”
His energy is infectious, his manner engaging. I’m starting to imagine the reaction of potential sponsors as they meet him for the first time, so we move on to the subject of money and how he’s funding this campaign.
“We’ve had to do it the old-way!” He smiles, but has little time to pause for breath. “We’ve literally been knocking on people’s doors, sharing our story, and showing them the British Touring Car Championship. But it’s not just about the money. We know that we can deliver a good return to partners but we’ve needed to find people who want to join us on this journey and who also believe in inspiring belief.”
Surely this is where he can use his name to good advantage?
“You know it’s ‘swings and roundabouts’ really. It obviously helps to open doors and gain attention but it can also hinder you too.”
“A lot of people think that because I’m Lewis’ brother, I have access to millions of pounds and that I’m just being chucked into the BTCC with a load of money and a load of testing behind me: I’m not! I’m doing this as ‘me’ with the support of my team of people.”
“None of the ‘Hamilton’ funding goes into my motorsport. Don’t get me wrong, my family are incredibly supportive, but I said from the outset that I want to do this on my own and get people on board who want to be part of my dream and what I stand for.”
These are admirable words. But it’s hard cash that puts cars and drivers on the grid. I ask how easy or difficult he and his team found it to raise the budget to go racing.
“To be honest, it’s been really difficult. You know, six months ago, we truly didn’t think that we’d make it. It’s only due to the hard work of my management, the AmD team and my sponsors that we’re standing here now.”
And it’s to everyone’s credit that they are. But I know this is only the start of it.
My mind turns to a conversation with team boss Shaun Hollamby at Brands Hatch just a few days earlier. We’d talked about the car and the preparation, including the modifications needed to adapt for Hamilton’s disability (hand-operated paddle clutch system and modified pedals to accommodate the position of his legs and feet when seated in the car). And I know that the car (an NGTC Audi S3) is not quite ready, and so it’s pretty obvious that the driver won’t be either. I ask how this will affect him.
“We’re confident of doing a good job, but we also know where we’re starting from,” says Hamilton. “I haven’t yet been in the car.. in fact I haven’t been in any (race) car for a year and a half. Plus I’m joining the BTCC, one of the toughest championships in the world, and amongst drivers, some of whom have been around for years, and all of whom, by the time I enter, will be well and truly up to speed. So it’s really important that people don’t try and compare me to Lewis (as they do). Yes we’re brothers, but my journey’s been totally different to his. Anyone can see that he’s absolutely on top of what he does, but for me it’s very different. I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
I can see by the look on Hollamby’s face that his driver and car are already late for the photo session on the grid. We shake hands and I wish him luck. And I really mean it. Some drivers are all too happy to rely on family funding to indulge their passion. Nic Hamilton will not.
He knows that effort can bring great rewards, just look at the hours he spends in the gym each day to give himself the mobility that most of us take for granted. And then there’s the time he spends preparing and engaging with sponsors, the countless meetings, the knock-backs. There are easier ways of going about racing, but that’s not what Nic Hamilton is all about.
“I’d like to inspire people,” he says when we part. But not only that, he’ll be doing it his way. I’m sure I won’t be the only one cheering him on.
Note: Nic Hamilton is due to start testing his new AmD Audi S3 shortly after the first BTCC weekend at Brands Hatch this Easter. He is due to make his debut appearance at Croft circuit on 27-28 June.
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You can follow Nic on social media using the links below, or visit his website.