Lewis Hamilton famously first attended the Autosport Awards in 1995 as a young karter to collect his first major trophy. That night has been etched into folklore, however, for the manner in which the then youngster approached Ron Dennis and told him that he wanted to race for McLaren in the future.
Hamilton returned to the Awards this year as the same polite, amusing and interesting person – but of course with slightly more interest surrounding him. And after becoming the first man in the history of the Awards to capture three trophies in one night, he spoke on stage to reflect on that night 12 years ago as well as his rookie season in Formula One.
What do you remember about your early years at the Autosport Awards?
Lewis Hamilton: As you know I have had an amazing season, but it is quite strange standing here. In 1995 when I came here to receive my first trophy, I went up to Ron and said I wanted to race his car and be world champion. I have come so far with the support of my family, and standing here after my first full season in F1 is just unreal. I am just as nervous as I was when I was 10 years old…
So what do you remember of that conversation. Did you have to grab him, was there a queue?
LH: There was no queue. My dad said, ‘There is Ron DennisÃ‚Â¦.” And as a young 10-year-old, all I can I remember is the McLarens were red and white and he was the boss. It was a good conversation. He gave me plenty of time and he is still the same guy.
Who were the personalities who impressed you back then?
LH: For this evening and the past couple of months the most difficult thing has been Colin McRae. I remember the first time I came here I was up in the bar and he was one of the first guys I met. I was into rallying and he was the man I wanted to be.
He was such a character. I was 10-years-old and he was trying to get me a drink! I always remember that night because he gave me so much time. I missed Ayrton Senna by a year, but I was fortunate to get around to see some other people.
You have had an extraordinary season. What was it like heading into Melbourne?
LH: Well, the first year, (after) working so hard to get there, I didn’t feel like a rookie. I was given such a great opportunity so I grabbed it with both hands.
My engineer and I at McLaren, we made sure we didn’t leave a stone unturned so we could go to the first race as well prepared as we could. So I got to the first race and, for sure, probably the other guys didn’t anticipate me being so quick – which is a good thing to catch them by surprise!
That was how I probably did so well at the first corner, but I think they caught on after that. I was given a lot of respect, but they quickly realised I wasn’t here to mess around.
For you what was the high-spot – the first win, the first pole?
LH: It is difficult to say if there was one particular high spot. To be honest it was an amazing rollercoaster. To get to the first grand prix and to get the first podium is something you can only dream of.
And then to continue that, and to finally get the first win and first pole – I really remember that. I had nearly put it in the wall but managed to get the lap. It really was just an amazing emotional ride throughout the year.
What would you say was your best overtaking move?
LH: Probably Monza. I really just wanted to do a 1-2 for the team, so I had to make sure I got past Kimi (Raikkonen). I had two laps to do it with brand new tyres and he was on old tyres as he had only done one pit stop. I didn’t actually realise until I saw the replay how far back I was.
It didn’t work out in the last few races of the season. What lessons do you take from that in 2008?
LH: To always keep your head up. I went into those last races and what was important was that I still had support from the team. And with all the problems we had to deal with, the atmosphere within the team to support me remained the same. It really showed that if you work, keep your head down and stay focused you can achieve it.
You can’t win all the time, but you have to lose to learn how to win. We didn’t get the championship, but perhaps it was a good thing. So we will be working twice as hard next year.
By Jonathan Noble - Source