British world champion Lewis Hamilton is the last of a dying breed of Formula One drivers from less privileged backgrounds and the sport will never see his like again, says his father Anthony Hamilton.
In an exclusive interview with City A.M. Hamilton Sr also reveals his conviction that his son will defy the odds and win a fourth title at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.
After a season disrupted by engine problems to his Mercedes car, Lewis Hamilton needs to finish several places ahead of team-mate and fierce rival Nico Rosberg to avoid losing the drivers’ title to the German. Even if Hamilton wins the race, he will need Rosberg to end the final race of the season fourth or lower.
In a sport dominated by the wealthy, Hamilton, who grew up on a council estate in Stevenage, shot to prominence nearly a decade ago when he earned a seat at McLaren.
Three world titles have followed, but now his father believes the hurdles are too high for children from modest backgrounds to scale the summit of F1.
"There will be talented young people who have put their time in, whose parents have had the money and the wherewithal to do that... but for someone to come from a less well-off, less affluent background, I think Lewis is the last of it," he told City A.M.
He is the last of it, because everyone else that I'm aware of who is in the industry has come from an affluent background, who has money behind them. I think Lewis is going to be the last of it. Sport should be for all [but] when it comes to motor sport, I think it's gone from a point when it used to be for everyone, and now it's just for the elite.
F1 continues to attract a string of young talent, but many new drivers come from privileged backgrounds. British team Williams have recruited Lance Stroll, the 18-year-old son of a Canadian billionaire, to replace Felipe Massa in 2017. He will join fellow teen Max Verstappen on the F1 grid. Verstappen has set pulses racing this season driving for Red Bull, yet himself is the son of a former F1 driver – Jos Verstappen – as is Britain's Jolyon Palmer, son of Jonathan Palmer.
Money has always dominated F1, but many fans believe the new arrivals are a far cry from the days when Britain's Nigel Mansell won the 1992 world championship after funding the early stages of his career by selling his house and even washing windows.