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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 16:25 GMT
Changing the face of Formula One
By Simon Austin

As team principal of one of the biggest outfits in Formula One, Ron Dennis is used to getting his own way.

But the McLaren-Mercedes boss seems to be making a forlorn plea in asking the media not to "hype up" Lewis Hamilton ahead of his Grand Prix debut next year.

HAMILTON FACTFILE
Lewis Hamilton
Born: 7 Jan 1985, Stevenage
Lives: Tewin Wood, Herts
Big break: Met Ron Dennis in 1995; later signed up to McLaren development programme
Titles: British Formula Renault (2003), Formula 3 Euroseries (2005), GP2 (2006)

The 21-year-old was confirmed as McLaren's second driver, alongside double world champion Fernando Alonso, on Friday.

He will be the first black driver in Formula One and comparisons with Tiger Woods have unsurprisingly already been made.

Like Woods, 21-year-old Hamilton is a marketing-man's dream. He's young, articulate and good-looking, and could attract a new demographic to the white, middle-class world of F1.

The story of his rise could be straight from a Hollywood script. Even the normally unsentimental Dennis says it has the "attraction of being a bit of a My Fair Lady story".

The duo first met at an awards ceremony in London in 1995 when 10-year-old Hamilton made an immediate impact on the McLaren supremo.

"When I first met Lewis he was asking for my autograph," Dennis told BBC Sport.

"Unlike so many people, he looked me square in the face and informed me where he was going in his life.

"Without breaking eye contact, he told me how he was going to go about his career. It impressed the hell out of me."

Dennis remembered the meeting and signed Hamilton up to the McLaren development programme a couple of years later.

Ron Dennis
We don't hide from the fact he's from a mixed-race background, but it just doesn't matter

Ron Dennis

His rise since then has been inexorable. He won the British Formula Renault series in 2003, the Formula 3 Euroseries in 2005 and the GP2 title this year.

Dennis says he has been a model pupil.

"Confidence is often coupled with arrogance, but there isn't an ounce of arrogance in Lewis," he said.

"He listened, which so frequently young people don't, and progressively built his career. He's deserved this opportunity."

Stories about Hamilton have often focused on the driver's ethnicity - his grandfather came to Britain from Grenada in the 1950s - but Dennis insists this has never been a consideration for him.

"To be honest, it just doesn't register and never has," he said. "We're very aware of the ability of Lewis' colour to be used as a headline.

"But for us, it's just immaterial. We don't hide from the fact he's from a mixed-race background, but it just doesn't matter.

"The Tiger Woods label makes you smile and you could argue it's a compliment, but it's just not relevant to our objectives.

"He's in the team because he's earned it and not because of his colour."

Hamilton must also tire of being asked questions about his race, but he embraces the fact he could become a role-model for ethnic groups wanting to enter F1.

"Hopefully it can encourage other ethnic groups to get involved in the sport," he told BBC Sport.

"It doesn't have to be just for one group of people, it can be for everyone. Hopefully when I'm there people that can relate to (me) will see that it's possible and also try to get into the sport."

Fernando Alonso
Hamilton says he is not daunted by the prospect of partnering Alonso

Not only will Hamilton have to contend with the label of the "Tiger Woods of F1" but also the prospect of being compared in equal equipment to the best driver in the sport.

F1 is an unforgiving world at the best of times, let alone when you're the team-mate of the youngest double champion in history.

Yet the 21-year-old from Stevenage says he is relishing working with Alonso.

"I view it as a positive," he said. "I think I can benefit from having such a strong team-mate and I'm looking forward to working with him.

"I'm going to try and do the best job I can and learn from him as quickly as possible and eventually compete against him."

Dennis says that having such a strong driver already in the team will actually give Hamilton space to develop, yet he still thinks the youngster can win a race next season.

"Having an expectation of Lewis winning next season is not unrealistic, as long as we have a strong car, but certainly not in the early parts of the season," he said.

And then onto Dennis' other hope: "If he's not too hyped he can blossom as a Grand Prix driver."

It's likely to be one wish that isn't granted.



SEE ALSO
Hamilton ready for Alonso trial
25 Nov 06 |  Formula One
Hamilton gets 2007 McLaren drive
24 Nov 06 |  Formula One
Coulthard urges Hamilton caution
18 Oct 06 |  Formula One
Hamilton made to wait by McLaren
13 Oct 06 |  Formula One
Hamilton hopes McLaren take risk
14 Sep 06 |  Formula One


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