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Hamilton is F1's first black driver
November 24, 2006 17:50 IST
Last Updated: November 24, 2006 17:51 IST
Briton Lewis Hamilton will race for McLaren next year alongside double world champion Fernando Alonso as Formula One's first black driver.
"It's a dream come true," said the 21-year-old, whose paternal grandparents came from the West Indies, in a McLaren statement on Friday.
"To be racing in Formula One with McLaren has been the ultimate goal for me since I was very young and this opportunity is a fantastic way to end what has been the best year for me."
Backed by McLaren for a decade, Hamilton showed dazzling speed and maturity beyond his years in winning at the first attempt this year's GP2 championship that acts as a feeder series to Formula One.
Spaniard Alonso has joined from champions Renault in an all-new line-up for Mercedes-powered McLaren following the departure of Finland's Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari.
"I have grown up with McLaren and Mercedes and wouldn't be where I am today without their continued support and guidance," continued Hamilton.
"However, I'm aware that this will be a challenge and I know that there will be a lot of attention on me. However, the team has told me just to relax, do the best I can and enjoy the opportunity. I will work hard to get good results."
Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, who stood in as a race driver after Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya left for NASCAR in July, will revert to his former test and reserve driver role along with Briton Gary Paffett.
"Since 1998 Lewis has formed an important part of our long-term strategy and we are pleased that we are able to help him take another step and achieve his dream of becoming a Formula One racing driver," said team boss Ron Dennis.
"Pedro has done an outstanding job for us this season but we felt it was the right time to provide Lewis with this opportunity.
"It's obviously going to be the biggest challenge of Lewis's career so far but it's one that we are sure he will be able to meet," added Dennis.
"He is coming into the paddock for the first time as a Formula One racing driver and will have to familiarise himself with the pressures of a Grand Prix weekend. However, the confidence we have in Lewis's abilities and talent is clear from our decision to give him the chance."
Hamilton will be the fourth British driver, and third Englishman, on the Grand Prix starting grid when the season starts in Melbourne in March.
Jenson Button is at Honda and David Coulthard with Red Bull while Anthony Davidson has just joined Super Aguri.
Britain has not had a world champion since Damon Hill in 1996, however, and the arrival of Hamilton is sure to be a major boost for the sport's popularity in a country that is home to a majority of the teams.
Already hailed as Formula One's answer to Tiger Woods, Hamilton has left it to others to comment about his skin colour.
"The way I see it, my colour is an advantage in that it's something people talk about," he said earlier this year. "But the bottom line is that it's clearly not why I'm in this position."
Dennis agrees with that: "His blackness isn't important," he said last year. "I have consistently said to him: 'The moment that you exploit your blackness, you are going to have a problem with me.' Basically, you've got to develop your career on your ability to drive a racing car."
Hamilton will be the first rookie driver to start a season at McLaren since unsuccessful American Michael Andretti in 1993.
With Renault signing Finland's Heikki Kovalainen, two of Formula One's top three teams will start next season with a debutant driver.
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