LONDON, Nov. 10, 2008 -- While the world is abuzz with the news that America has elected it's first black president, Barack Obama, the sporting world has been chattering about a first of a different kind. Lewis Hamilton has been crowned the first black Formula One champion.
So who is Lewis Hamilton? At 23 he is the youngest Formula One racing world champion ever, and boyfriend to Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger; he has set himself up for what may be record-breaking earnings by way of championships and endorsements, potentially to exceed $1 billion.
Not bad for someone who wasn't even eligible for a driver's license until a few years ago. Even the champ describes his accomplishments as a "fairy-tale story."
In nail-biting fashion, he seized the world championship title in the final moments of the final lap of Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
Speaking about the magical final lap, Hamilton said on his official Web site, "My heart was about to explode. I don't know how I kept my cool and I was very fortunate especially on the last lap and you know, this has been my dream."
Needing only a fifth-place finish to claim the Formula One title in Sunday's race, Hamilton was riding comfortably in that position through much of the race. However, an unexpected move into fourth place by German driver Timo Glock forced Hamilton, who was then bumped to sixth, to maneuver a dramatic dash in the final lap of the race.
With only a few hundred yards remaining, Hamilton, a member of the McLaren racing team, got himself into fifth and stayed there through the finish line to claim his spot in the record books. The electrifying ending allowed Hamilton to take a 98-97 point lead and go on to become the youngest and first black Formula One world champion. All this coming just a year after Hamilton came up one point short of the title.
Lewis Hamilton grew up in Hertfordshire, England. Hamilton's father, who is black, and his mother, who is white, divorced when he was 2 years old. He began racing remote-controlled cars as a 6 year old, and when he had had mastered that art, he moved on to go-kart racing and became Britain's youngest karting champion at the age of 10 in 1995.
Later that year, Hamilton's father, who worked for the British railway system, took the boy to meet the head of the McLaren racing team, Ron Dennis, at the Autosport Awards, an annual ceremony hosted by the U.K.'s Autosport magazine. Young Hamilton introduced himself to the Dennis and confidently proclaimed, "I'm going to race for you one day!"
At 13, Hamilton signed on with McLaren, and the organization sponsored his karting and racing until he became a full time Formula One racer in 2007. Hamilton was certainly prophetic in his declaration by not only landing a spot on the McLaren team but by bringing a championship to the organization.
But even he was unsure if he had indeed clinched the championship on the final lap and attained his childhood dream. "I didn't know. I was shouting 'Do I have it? Do I have it' As I came into turn one they told me. I was ecstatic, just ecstatic," said Hamilton on his Web site.
Coming from humble beginnings as the son of poor immigrants from Grenada, Lewis Hamilton began his career working in IT for British Rail. Hamilton even took extra jobs to pay for his son's participation in karting. Later, he opened his own consultancy company, eventually becoming his son's personal manager.
"I was confident that if he took my advice and listened to what I was telling him, a few years down the road it would all work out for him the way he wanted," Anthony Hamilton told the Times.
Some predict that Hamilton may one day eclipse the status and bank account of megastars, even that of one very famous U.K. soccer star.
"He is going to be bigger than David Beckham, because he is only 23 and motor racing is even more lucrative than football," Max Clifford, a well-known U.K. publicist told the U.K. Independent. "Lewis Hamilton is young. He is obviously talented and he is a good-looking fellow, so you have a perfect recipe for sponsorship."
Matt Dickinson, chief sports correspondent for the Times, told ABCnews.com that Hamilton was "already hugely well paid," adding, "if he isn't the highest paid yet ... he will be the highest paid."
Dickinson said that Hamilton's earning potential could depend on a number of factors, including his focus on racing and the amount of exposure his family will allow.
"They should be prudent and sign on with one or two endorsement deals as opposed to six or seven," Dickinson told ABCnews.com.
His prospects for superstar status are enhanced by his pop star girlfriend, Nicole Scherzinger, lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls.
She even posted a tribute video to him on the Pussycat Dolls official YouTube page.
"I'm so excited. ... I feel like I'm on top of the world right now,"
"Congratulations baby," she declared exuberantly. "I love you, I love you, I love you."
The lead Pussycat Doll also encouraged people to start following F1 racing.
"Anybody who's not a Formula One fan out there, go be a formula one fan," she said, adding, "all you Formula One fans out there go be a PCD [pussy cat doll] fan."
Hamilton says he also draws inspiration from his half-brother, Nicholas, who has cerebral palsy. "He's always positive. He never complains about what he has. He just keeps his chin up," Hamilton told the Independent. "That is a strong message."
So what is the status of Formula One today, and what are the prospects for it entering the Global mainstream?
Dickinson said that the sport "is doing pretty well," adding that F1 is "trying to make inroads in the Middle East," referring to the addition of a race in Abu Dhabi, making it the second Middle Eastern F1 Grand Prix after Bahrain. While the sport's popularity in Europe "really depends on whether the country has a strong driver or not," Dickinson said.
Hamilton's rise to the top has not come without its difficulties. He and his family have been mocked and faced racial insults and taunts especially from some Spanish racing enthusiasts.
During the racing preseason, a group of Spanish fans, who darkened their faces, wore wigs and T-shirts with the words "Hamilton's Family." This in addition to booing Hamilton and hurling a racial slur his way, the Guardian reported.
Dickinson attributed at least some of the ill-will to what he described as "McLaren's [perceived] favoring of Hamilton over Spanish racer Fernando Alonzo." Alonzo was a McLaren teammate of Hamilton's in 2007 but left the team on reportedly on bad terms following that season.
Hamilton's father, Anthony, has done what he can to shield his son from the insults so he could concentrate on racing but said he is frustrated and dumbfounded by the racially fueled comments.
Anthony Hamilton told the Guardian that "My family has taken a lot of stick this past week, not just this week, but the past few months. ... I did think that maybe this isn't the place for my family because, as a paren,t you make sure you do right for your family and kids."
"We are decent people and remain decent people," Anthony Hamilton said. "I just don't understand why our message gets missed."
"Some people just have a problem with a black face in sport," Dickinson told ABCnews.com, adding that the sentiment was "fading, but not completely gone."
While it remains to be seen whether Hamilton will one day become a world sensation in the mold of David Beckham or Tiger Woods, the budding star is certainly on top of the Formula One racing world today, and his future looks bright.
In a McLaren statement obtained by ABCnews.com, Hamilton sums up his achievement this way: "It is the dream," he said. "This is the dream."