While the majority of his UK fanbase were watching attempt to beat BBC Top Gear's 'The Stig' on television, Lewis Hamilton was otherwise engaged with multiple trips to the stage to collect a swathe of silverware at the annual Autosport Awards.

Having narrowly missed out on this year's Formula One world title, Hamilton - as expected -more than filled the gap on his mantelpiece as he collected the trophies for Best British Competition Driver, Best International Racing Driver and Rookie of the Year, all of which were voted for by readers of the UK magazine. Despite being beaten to the title by Ferrari, and in contentious circumstances, Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes MP4-22 took the Racing Car of the Year accolade.

It wasn't the first time Hamilton had been honoured at the end-of-season ceremony, but he admitted that he had the same sort of feeling as when he had first mounted to dais as a ten-year old in 1995.

"I'm just as nervous standing up here now as I was then," he said, "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 realised I had a chance and that I shouldn't mess around. But you have to lose to learn how to win. We'll be right there next year."

The 22-year old had earlier arrived at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London's Park Lane behind the wheel of a ?300,000 McLaren Mercedes SLR roadster - not the car he told Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson that he drove everyday - and left speechless after Viviane Senna, sister of the Briton's hero Ayrton, flew in from Sao Paulo to congratulate him on his achievements.

"He reminds me of Ayrton as a pilot,. and he has the same kindness in his eyes," she said.

The centrepoint of the evening was a tribute was paid to rally driver Colin McRae, who died in a helicopter accident in September. While the Scot was remembered for his life on and off the stages, Hamilton had his own special memory.

"I met him when I was ten and he offered me a drink," he recalled, "He was such a character."

Among the evening's other award winners, Jason Plato was voted National Racing Driver of the Year, having narrowly missed out on the BTCC title to Fabrizio Giovanardi. The Italian shared the Gregor Grant Awards with Dario Franchitti, who was honoured 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'," he smiled, "I don't know if I was thinking about IndyCar or just crashing the thing!"

Retiring WRC champion Marcus Gronholm scooped the International Rally Driver award just hours after seeing his career come to an end with a podium on Wales Rally GB, while Mark Higgins took the National honours.

Formula Renault UK title-winner Duncan Tappy was voted as British Club Driver of the Year, while Williams F1's director of engineering Patrick Head was handed the John Bolster Award for technical achievement. The life-saving HANS device finally earned the Pioneering and Innovation Award.

The biggest winner of the night, however, was Stefan Wilson who, against many people's expectations, was announced as the latest McLaren Autosport BRDC Award recipient.

The brother of Champ Car star Justin, Wilson finished as runner-up in the Formula Palmer Audi championship, but sufficiently impressed in the two-day shoot-out at Snetterton to see off five rivals to earn the chance to test with McLaren and pocket ?50,000 with which to further his career (see separate story).

 

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