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Hamilton sweeps Autosport Awards
Lewis Hamilton may have narrowly missed out on this year’s Formula One world title, but the reception he received at the Autosport Awards this evening was regal. The 22 year-old arrived at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane behind the wheel of a £300,000 McLaren Mercedes SLR roadster to collect prizes for Best British Competition Driver, Best International Racing Driver and Rookie of the Year. The awards were voted for by readers of Autosport magazine. The ceremony will be broadcast on ITV1 on Tuesday 4th December at 11:20pm Hamilton was left speechless after a moving presentation by Viviane Senna, sister of Lewis’ hero Ayrton, who flew to the Awards from Sao Paulo especially to congratulate Britain’s racing star.

“He reminds me of Ayrton, as a pilot. And he has the same kindness in his eyes”, she said. This wasn’t the first time Lewis was honored at the glamorous Autosport Awards, for back in 1995 ten year-old Lewis was up on stage to collect more silverware. “I’m just as nervous standing up here now as I was then”, said Lewis. “This has been an incredible year for me. To get to my first grand prix and get on the podium was amazing, and it just got better and better.

By the mid-point of the season I realized I had a chance and that I shouldn’t mess around”.

Despite conceding the championship to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, the McLaren driver was philosophical. “You have to lose to learn how to win. We’ll be right there next year.”

Searching for the next big thing was also on the agenda, with the announcement of the 2007 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award for a rising star of British motorsport. Having toughed it out against five other talented pilots in a showdown at Snetterton, 18 year-old Stefan Wilson from Sheffield followed in the footsteps of Jenson Button and David Coulthard to take the spoils: A test drive in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula One car and £50,000 towards his career, as well as membership of the British Racing Drivers Club and a £6,000 one-off Graham Chronograph Swordfish timepiece. The brother of former F1 driver and one-time Award nominee Justin Wilson, Stefan was thrilled by the limelight.

“It’ll separate me a bit from my brother and gives me the chance to tease him”, he said. Stefan finished second in the Formula Palmer Audi championship in only his debut season of single-seater racing.

The International Rally Driver award went to Marcus Grönholm, who narrowly missed out on this year’s championship and has announced his intention to retire. “I drove my last stage just a few hours ago. It will take a long time for that to sink in”, he said.

Jason Plato was voted National Racing Driver of the Year, and he too narrowly missed out on the BTCC title. Commenting on his lucky escape from a burning car while filming a feature for Fifth Gear, Plato joked: “Adrenalin is the most amazing drug. Best one I’ve ever had.”

And Dario Franchitti was honored for winning the IndyCar championship and Indy 500.  Having survived two enormous crashes this year, the Scot shed some light as to why he has chosen to switch to NASCAR in 2008. “When I hit the ground the first thing I thought was ‘I’ve gotta stop doing this’. I don’t know if I was thinking about IndyCar or just crashing the thing!”

Tribute was paid to rally driver Colin McRae who was killed in September, and Lewis Hamilton had his own special memory of the Scotsman. “I met him when I was ten and he offered me a drink. He was such a character.” More drinks were on the cards after the trophies had been dealt, with motorsport’s royalty heading for a special after-party at London’s Pacha superclub.

British Club Driver of the Year: Duncan Tappy
National Rally Driver of the Year: Mark Higgins
National Racing Driver of the Year: Jason Plato
International Rally Driver of the Year: Marcus Grönholm
John Bolster Award for technical achievement in motor racing: Patrick Head
Best International Racing Car: McLaren-Mercedes MP4-22
Pioneering and Innovation Award: HANS
Gregor Grant Awards: Fabrizio Giovanardi & Dario Franchitti
Rookie of the Year: Lewis Hamilton
British Competition Driver of the Year: Lewis Hamilton
International Racing Driver of the Year: Lewis Hamilton
McLaren Autosport BRDC Award: Stefan Wilson

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