Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was in pole position for the Olympic torch relay on Monday morning.

The Formula One star was the first to pick up the flame on its leg from Luton to Oxford on the 52nd day of its journey to the London Games.

Hamilton joked that he would have liked to have swapped his disappointing finish in the British Grand Prix on Sunday for carrying the Olympic flame in his home town. The McLaren Mercedes driver and 2008 Formula 1 champion had been due to carry the torch as it passed through Stevenage, the Hertfordshire town where he grew up, but swapped because of the clash with the race at Silverstone.

The 27-year-old McLaren driver qualified in eighth spot for the race, and did not manage to improve on the position for the final standings.

Describing the response from fans in Luton town centre as "phenomenal", he added: "To be nominated to do this is a real honour, I never in a million years thought I would have a chance to do it."

He said he had bought his torch and planned to keep it above his mantelpiece.

Hundreds of people, many of them schoolchildren, turned out to see Lewis start Day 52 of the relay in pole position, gathering for the start in St George's Square and along his 300m leg just after 6.30am.

It took him slightly longer than the three seconds it would take in his F1 car before he handed over to local student Hollie Baxter, 17, who has Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome and has been in a wheelchair since she was 11.

The racer was nominated to carry the torch because of his qualities as a role model.

He is just one race away from a century of F1 races, and he is currently fourth in this season's world championship.

F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, from Stevenage, carried the Olympic Torch through Luton Credit: Russell Hookey / ITV Anglia