The Ben Evans Column: The next Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Barcelona, 2007, 2Assessing the environmental impact of the 2007 F1 Championship, it is vital to consider all the trees that were cut down for the reprints of the Lewis Hamilton cash-in books which have subsequently appeared on the shelves.

Clearly those chapters lauding his d??but title success have had to be reprinted…

Even by the standards of celebrity biographies, Hamilton?s life-story is just a tad premature. Yes it is a good tale, but one that has been repeated a million times by James Allen alone – never mind the tabloid press.

And McLaren have locked down Hamilton?s public image so tightly that any interview based (auto)biographies would be likely to include dialogue such as:

“When I was at school I had some maths tests, and with practice I made a big step forward”
“And what was that step?”
“I can?t really say, but it was probably worth two decimal places”

or

“Is it true you didn?t get along with some of your classmates?”
“No the Hertfordshire under-3?s play group is a cohesive team and though we are competitive we remain good friends away from the ball pool”

So far, so dull, but to my mind the biggest story is that he is the latest in a succession of British drivers who have had to go abroad to chase success ?ǣ Dario Franchitti, Dan Whelon, Oliver Jarvis, Alex Lloyd etc…

Even as recently as 2000, Britain was where you came if you wanted to make it motorsport. The Formula Ford Championship was massively oversubscribed, whilst British Formula Three was filled with F1 junior teams.

In 2007 the UK racing scene remains strong, but at the same time it is hard to see any of the British F3 graduates of the past 3 or so years going all the way. More than ever budget is the sole arbiter of career progression, and with ??200k required to go Formula BMW racing, many never leave the starting blocks.

However the tide is beginning to turn with a series of new initiatives to give up and coming drivers a leg up. The first of these is the excellent Formula Palmer Audi Shootout, which gives the winner a place in the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year final.

The Shootout has two enormous strengths. It is held over a single weekend in identical FPA cars with a price tag of around ??5k for the weekend. Big money, yes, but in motorsport terms small change.

And success is decided on track, and having been at Snetterton last weekend, I would say that the event had the strongest grid of any UK race meeting in 2007. In qualifying the top 10 were covered by 0.4s. OK, the races were not the greatest FPA events of all time, but they were exciting and tense, with a very definite prize for the winner. I hope that the Shootout becomes an annual end-of-year institution, certainly the inaugural event suggested this should be the case.

There’s also several driver scholarship schemes being developed by the Motor Sports Association and by private backers. Already these have placed Oliver Turvey in an F3 seat with Carlin for 2008 and promise to put at least one further driver in Formula Renault.

These schemes are much needed but they do have a serious flaw, in that they select from a very narrow talent pool ?ǣ Formula BMW, Formula Ford Duratec and Formula Renault. Although this ensures that the drivers picked come with some pedigree, it is also at the exclusion of some of the most talented drivers who are perhaps in greater need of budget support.

An FPA budget is well out of reach for your average Formula Jedi, Formula Vee or Formula Ford 1600 driver, and these are the battlegrounds on which some of the most talented young drivers cut their teeth, often in the knowledge that the money isn?t there to move onwards and upwards. Scholarships to place some of these drivers in FPA or Duratec could prove to be money very well spent.

Lewis Hamilton has been a phenomenal success in his first year of F1, I just hope that it is enough to incite backers to start supporting talented young drivers who may just follow in his footsteps.

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4 comments on The Ben Evans Column: The next Lewis Hamilton

  1. Spot on.

    Though personally, I’ve only now got together the kind of money to even think about going racing in any category at all. And I’m older than most of the current F1 grid.

    And I should probably use that for something more sensible, like a deposit on a flat.

  2. Patrick from what I have seen – it may not be as glamorous as some other classes but those boy’s with their caterham sevens seem to have some fun and close racing – or perhaps classic racing? – good luck anyway if you do go racing – even weekend club events can be great for a laugh.

  3. Well I spend every penny I have going racing – I know I should be saving for a deposit but…

    Patrick – if you’re keen to have a go look at the 750mc Stock Hatch, Locust and FVee Championships where you can owner drive for £8000 a year, or arrive and drive from £250 a race

  4. If I do get the money together and decide to take the plunge, it’ll probably be XR2s up at Knockhill.

    But I do wonder if I might get more enjoyment out of karts. Use my relatively slight build to best effect…

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