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Disability drives Nicolas Hamilton to follow in footsteps of Lewis

By Don Riddell and Helen Chandler, CNN
  • Lewis Hamilton's half-brother Nicolas will make his racing debut on April 2 in Great Britain
  • 19-year-old has cerebral palsy but is determined not to let his disability stop him from achieving dream
  • Teenager has difficulty walking and has a specially modified car to suit his needs
  • F1 champion Lewis has said Nicolas has always been a big inspiration to him

(CNN) -- The history of motorsport is littered with family dynasties and there are certain surnames which by their very association strike fear into other competitors.

Bruno Senna followed his legendary uncle Ayrton into the sport, Gilles Villeneuve and son Jacques both won drivers' titles in Formula One, and Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jr have both attempted to emulate the feats of their champion fathers.

Hamilton could become the latest name on the list should Nicolas, the younger half-brother of 2008 F1 champion Lewis, succeed in breaking into the world of racing.

But Nicolas faces a greater challenge than most in trying to break into the ultra-competitive world of racing because he has cerebral palsy -- a condition which leads to severe problems with movement, posture and co-ordination.

Nicolas Hamilton an inspiration to others

Nicolas will make his competitive debut this weekend but has a long way to go if he is to emulate the feats of his elder sibling. While Lewis prepares to jet to Malaysia for the second grand prix of the season, the 19-year-old will race at the Renault Clio Cup -- a British-based saloon car series .

"Nic's always been very determined," his mum Linda, step-mother to Lewis said. "We've not wrapped him in cotton wool. He's gone on and done things for himself. He'll just push and push and he'll achieve what he wants to achieve."

Unable to walk long distances, Nicolas has had to rely on a stick or wheelchair for much of his life but this weekend will swap two wheels for four when he takes to the track at the Brands Hatch racing circuit.

His car has had to be modified -- not to improve its speed or performance -- but to make it possible for him to compete alongside his able-bodied counterparts. It has a moveable seat, wider pedals which have been raised off the ground and a novel hand-held clutch -- all allowing him to get up to speeds of 130 mph.

We've not wrapped him in cotton wool. He's gone on and done things for himself
--Linda Hamilton

Overcoming his disability, making the alterations to his car and applying for a racing licence -- which took so long to process he was unable to compete in any pre-season testing -- has made Nicolas' journey into the driving seat a long one. And on the eve of his first race, he told CNN that even his closest family have been surprised that he has made it.

"Lewis is shocked that I'm racing. My parents are because I was a little disabled kid. I always wanted to race go karts but I didn't really have the opportunity until I did it when I was seven and I crashed. So it sort of knocked my confidence and since then I didn't want to be racing.

"I was scared of it and so now to see me here it's a big thing. It's a big for me and it's a big thing for the family. Everyone is shocked."

Everyone that is except Nicolas himself: "I can believe it because I've worked to do it," he said. "My legs don't stop me from doing anything and if they do, I'm going to make sure they don't and I'll push for it."

Lewis is shocked that I'm racing. My parents are because I was a little disabled kid and I was scared of it
--Nicolas Hamilton

Nicolas has been surrounded by motorsport from an early age, encouraged by his and Lewis' father Anthony and seeing Lewis go from success to success in karting, Formula Three, GP 2 and eventually F1.

He has been attending races in the top-tier motorsport championship since Lewis made his debut in 2007 and has said he is grateful for having the McLaren driver on his side. "Just to know that he's supporting me, it is a massive massive boost," he said.

However, Nicolas -- who unlike Lewis has had no previous experience going into his first race and instead has learnt his trade on simulators -- is wary of any comparisons that may be drawn between the two brothers.

"In terms of his success, people reckon it will pass over to me straight away. At the moment, I don't like that because I have no expectation of myself. I can drive. I know the fundamentals, I know what I want to do -- it's just putting it into practice and fast. There's so much to learn for me this year."

Linda, who was also present when Lewis won the drivers' title in 2008 as a 23-year-old, shares the same concerns: "It puts more pressure on him because obviously people expect he must have racing in his blood."

I would love to inspire people and just show people that you can do whatever you want to do if you work hard
--Nicolas Hamilton

The Hamilton brothers grew up on the outskirts of London in a humble home but Lewis' successful and lucrative career has propelled him into the public eye and afforded him many privileges. He credits his disabled brother with helping him keep his life in perspective.

Nevertheless, Nicolas is reluctant to be hailed as an inspiration to Lewis or anyone else, even though his achievements in the face of persistent adversity are sure to make him exactly that.

"I'm just being me. if people find me as an inspiration, great because I would love to inspire people and just show people that you can do whatever you want to do if you work hard for it," he said.

"But that's not my aim. And if Lewis sees me as an inspiration, which he does, it means a lot. It means a lot, but also, I look up to Lewis so much."

Lewis has often been praised for his fighting abilities on the track and while it is too early to tell if Nicolas shares his brother's talent, to make it this far already he had certainly proved he has equal amounts of spirit.

And as he prepares to embark on the beginning of his racing career, he is adamant that cerebral palsy will not be what prevents him achieving his goals in the sport.

"I don't know what I'm capable of, it's all unknown. I would like to be obviously number one. I would like to be up there and fighting.

"The disability won't hold me back because I'm going to stay on top of it .I've had to live my life getting over obstacles. I'm going to keep pushing, trying hard and making sure nothing gets in my way."

But whatever happens in the future for mum Linda, seeing her son behind the wheel of a racing car will be an emotional moment. "I'm extremely proud - - for him to achieve this -- is just quite incredible. And I hope it sends out a good message to other people like Nic."