Lewis Hamilton stepped quietly out of the back door of the McLaren base in Indianapolis, and into the unknown. When Hamilton left the UK a fortnight ago, he was big news in Formula One, but not yet a winner. After successive victories in Canada and the US, he returns home public property No 1, blown across the Atlantic by a hurricane of his own making.
Formula One has seen nothing like it. In the space of seven races Hamilton has transformed this particular sporting playground into a Hollywood set. He is the hottest ticket not only in motorsport, but arguably in any sport. McLaren are in the middle of a gathering storm, the character of which they have yet to properly establish. The looming British Grand Prix fills them with dread and excitement in equal measure. Dealing with Lewismania has become a 24/7 operation.
The man charged with keeping the Hamilton phenomenon on course is McLaren team principal Ron Dennis. After another extraordinary chapter in the life of the 22-year-old Briton, Dennis hardly knew whether to laugh or cry. "It's a new experience for all of us. I'm just trying to use common sense to make sure that we handle everything the right way.
"We've all had a bit of skirmish in the early races. We have seen them both [the drivers] caught up in things. They have to be monstrously careful about how they talk about each other to the press. We want to be thinking what a great achievement this is rather than waiting to put the next fire out.
"It is clearly an unusual set of circumstances. What we have now is even more exciting than anything Michael Schumacher gave us and he gave us a lot," Dennis said.
"The British GP will put us under a lot of pressure. I'm told tickets are selling fast. I hope, though, that what we have done in the last two weekends will make it a brilliant occasion for everybody. "
There are two elements that require managing in the coming weeks; one professional, the other private. Dennis' influence extends only to the former. The latter Hamilton will have to work out for himself. Hamilton's father, Anthony, has been approached by a number of sports management heavyweights. For now the plan is to contain the frenzy without taking the Beckham route.
Dennis said: "His life will change. There is an inevitability about that. The invasion of his privacy will become a big issue. He will have to find somewhere to live to avoid that. I don't know whether he will be able to continue to do things as he did before. We have spoken about it with him. The important thing is to make sure it does not impact negatively on his racing."
Hamilton has remained untouched by the hysteria brewing around his meteoric rise. He is expected at Silverstone this week where the teams conduct three days of testing ahead of the back-to-back grands prix in France and Britain. Dennis has given both drivers licence to push as hard as they dare in pursuit of the world drivers' crown. Indianapolis illustrated the value of that policy, providing the audience with moments of rare drama.
"I was holding my breath," Dennis said. "It [Alonso's challenge against Hamilton down the back straight on lap 38] was a hero to zero moment. Nothing demonstrates more than that just how much our drivers are allowed to race. It is going to be a great season for us. They will have every opportunity to compete. It's stressful but manageable. Alonso is behind but in the fortunate position of being in a car that can win."
It would be absurd to discount Alonso at this point. He was marginally quicker than Hamilton in Canada and Indianapolis, paying a heavy penalty for mistakes in qualifying that twice gave Hamilton pole position. Alonso is also learning to adjust to the new force in the game. The indicators point to a colossal duel in France and Britain, and beyond.
"My job is to provide the right environment for both our drivers to compete," Dennis said. "They are both committed to winning. We are pushing like hell to improve. We will come to France with a very strong racing car."
may the force be with you