What I see in the mirror: Nigel Mansell on Lewis Hamilton

One of the first things I noticed when we were reunited at the French race was his appalling the British accent. I was used to it by now after a while, having grown up in Spain, and was well used to his swearing, but he had a reputation for being rather tactless, so I was doubtful. I doubt he even understood me at first, and I found the situation a little awkward.

Even though we come from very different backgrounds it is something I could never do, as I was brought up on Christian Broadcasting. Lewis, on the other hand, was brought up in a very Catholic family and was shown the importance of the church at an early age. There was no embarrassment about whether I was Catholic or not, just about where I stood on the matter, and so he had an amazing advantage over me, although I do know he never, ever once asked my permission to race – it was all very top secret.

For the first years it was just a personal love of racing, and then it gradually became a job that he had to do. He probably had a vague idea of what it meant to be famous in Formula One but even then it was hard for him to understand how my place as a driver was different to his. It was OK that he could go to countries and show them around, but I spent more than three years in Colombia, and it was usually tough, but he said they loved to have foreigners there. There was a real closeness to the people, a curiosity about what they were like, whereas I could just draw a line under it, put it on the scrap-heap and forget about it. Lewis would never do that.

The strange thing about him being Lewis was that he never had a desire to be famous or anything like that. I just think he was a genuine people person, and that is what we loved about him. There is a celebrity in him, as a lot of people are in some way or another, but he has the best of both worlds – as a personality he can slip in and out of the limelight. He has worked hard at presenting himself that way.

It has been amazing that the last two years he has become a Formula One champion – and now, he is in a sport where he can really make an impact, in the Champions league of motorsport. But really, I just think of him as a normal, decent human being. That is a very appealing quality, and I had the chance to see it first hand last year. Lewis was driving on the podium with his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, I was there supporting him from the background, but it was great to get to know him better.

I am sure he will miss racing next year and am very sad about his injury, but I don’t think he will sit back and wallow. He will be back and working hard to return to the top, even though I doubt he will ever get his road racing back. He has a lot to look forward to in the career. He will have kids, to look after, and maybe live in America and produce the best racing cars in the world, while still being there in time to enjoy the races with Nicole. That will really take the pressure off him, and he will still be there to enjoy them – I think he can add a real wow factor to that side of his life.

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