Only three races into his career, Lewis Hamilton already is considered a star in Formula One and established himself as a contender for the world championship.
Now comes the hard part - dealing with his celebrity status.
The 22-year-old Englishman heads into the weekend's Spanish Grand Prix tied for the championship lead with fellow McLaren driver Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikonnen. He's the first rookie driver to finish on the podium in his first three races.
For Hamilton, the first black driver in Formula One, it took the trip home following last month's runner-up finish at Bahrain for the achievements to sink in.
"It's strange coming back as a celebrity. I felt exactly the same as coming back from a GP2 race except when I got home there were people outside my house, or when I went to the supermarket people noticed me," Hamilton said Thursday.
"You almost pinch yourself to realize it's real."
Aside from the photographers camped outside his house, there have been few distractions for Hamilton, as people tend to whisper rather than approach when he passes.
It's come to the point where Hamilton doesn't even notice the "paddock girls" along the pit lane anymore.
"You're so busy at the weekend that you don't even notice them. Which is quite unusual because I've always noticed them before," Hamilton said.
There hasn't been a British Formula One champion since Damon Hill in 1996 - two years before Hamilton signed up to race karts for McLaren. Three-time champion Jackie Stewart thinks Hamilton is likely to end the jinx, though Hamilton said the championship wasn't his main focus.
"I'm not taking much notice of it. I've always said from the beginning: I'm not here to finish second. I'm here to do the best job but I have to be realistic, it's my first season and there's going to be ups and downs all the time," he said.
"I just have to stay consistent and continue to get the points like I have and we'll see what happens."
Hamilton, who is of Anglo-Caribbean descent, worked his way up the ranks, dominating the F3 series before winning the GP2 championship, a feeder series for Formula One, last year.
"Some drivers have certain ways of dealing with (the hype) and this is all in the background at the end of the day when it comes to racing. I knew that this was going to happen at some point and it was a sacrifice I was willing to make," Hamilton said.
"I love doing what I'm doing. I love racing the car. It's really so much better than anything else I've ever experienced and I want to continue doing it."
Hamilton is happy the four-week testing period since Bahrain is over so he can get out on the Circuit de Catalunya.
"I'm extremely excited to get back into the car. Every time I get in the car I learn something," he said. "And I'm fortunate enough to be next to Fernando. Whether he's better than me and passes me in certain areas, it will only help me to improve. Even outside the car."
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