How a high-tech car helped Lewis Hamilton’s brother Nicolas overcome his disability to become a racing driver

CNN  — 

Nicolas Hamilton grew up around the racetrack. But unlike his older half-brother Lewis, who is a six-time Formula One world champion, Nicolas never thought he’d get the chance to race competitively.

The younger Hamilton has cerebral palsy – a disorder which affects around one in every 400 children in the UK and is the most common childhood motor disability, globally.

“I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to race,” explains Hamilton, who is now 28, seven years younger than Lewis.

The condition affects Hamilton’s legs and balance, preventing him from being able to flex his ankles and use conventional foot pedals when driving.

Yet, this season, he became the first disabled driver to score points in the British Touring Car Championship – a racing series established in 1958.

Hamilton can compete thanks to a specially modified car.

Adapting the car

Hamilton’s car has a hand clutch on the steering wheel, which allows him to minimize the use of his legs.

LONGFIELD, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: Nic Hamilton of ROKiT Racing with Motorbase Ford prepares to drive during race three of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch on April 07, 2019 in Longfield, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
How Nicolas Hamilton, brother of Lewis, overcame his disability to become a racing driver
03:29 - Source: CNN

Made of carbon fiber, the hand clutch operates like a regular foot pedal, says Hamilton. “When you release the clutch and you feel the bite point … I just have that through my hands.”

To make the accelerator and brake pedals easier to use, they are extra-wide and positioned so that Hamilton does not need to fully extend his legs. He also has a seat that has been specially molded for his body.
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He is currently the only disabled driver in the championship, racing against 30 able-bodied athletes at speeds of up to 130 miles per hour.

This season, Hamilton came 15th in a race, scoring him one point. “I’m the first disabled athlete to have done that,” he says. “Getting closer to the front of the grid, I want to get to the top 10, top five.”

Hamilton says because he faces a lot of challenges, “it’s going to be sweeter when I eventually go on that podium.”

Racing ahead

Hamilton says he had a challenging childhood. When he was a baby his parents were told he would never walk and then there was also the issue of race to contend with.

“I got bullied and got pulled backwards in my wheelchair and laughed at,” he says of his time at school, adding: “I was the only Black person at my school, so I was very singled out.”

Supported by his family, Hamilton had a major operation, and did years of physiotherapy to strengthen his legs, so that by age 17 he could walk unassisted.

Aged seven, his dad gave him the chance to drive a go-kart in a car park, and like his brother Lewis, go-karting sparked a passion for racing.

“Motorsport gave me a purpose,” he says. “It gave me a reason to overcome my condition.”

Last year, Hamilton helped launch the UK’s first race academy for disabled drivers, Team BRIT.

The academy aims to give any disabled driver with a full UK driving license the chance to receive race coaching, mentoring or tuition. It estimates there are two million disabled drivers in the UK.

“I would love to see disabled people be able to access circuits and access the industry,” says Hamilton. “Hopefully, through this academy, we can give people more opportunities, more happiness, more purpose.”