“I want to race for you one day”. Those were 10-year-old Lewis Hamilton’s words to Ron Dennis, McLaren team principal. By then he was already hitting the pedals, and only 13 years later he would be doing exactly that—racing for McLaren, and securing the first Drivers’ Championship for the team in almost a decade.
Since then, Hamilton has been nothing but a record-breaking machine, mixing his finesse skills behind the wheel with his controversial personality.
The karting statement
Hamilton attributes much of his success to his humble upbringing in Stevenage, the English town in which he began racing as a hobby. Winning came naturally to the young driver and soon he was showcasing his capabilities in national events. By the aforementioned age of 10, with a little less than two years’ racing experience, he was crowned the youngest ever winner of the British Cadet Kart Championship.
His words to Ron Dennis were met with an encouraging answer—“phone me in nine years, we’ll sort something out then”. But it was only three years later when Hamilton was officially signed to McLaren and Mercedes-Benz’s Young Driver Support Programme.
His father finally managed to catch a breath—for a long time he had had to work up to three jobs at a time to keep their family afloat. Anthony Hamilton’s support was also especially important for Lewis: as long as you continue your education, I will always support your racing, he used to say. Eventually, he would go on to become his manager, as Lewis’ career spiraled up.
Breaking into F1
A star through karting, Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP2, Hamilton got promoted to the big leagues when McLaren paired the then-rookie alongside reigning champion Fernando Alonso for the 2007 Formula 1 season. But as soon as Lewis finished on the podium on his Australian debut, there was no question about it—a new major force had arrived.
New World Champion
His volatile persona also arrived, too, constantly colliding with Alonso during the entirety of 2007, a dynamic that led to the Spaniard abandoning the team by that campaign’s end. A campaign that saw Hamilton leading the Drivers’ Championship for most of the year, only a mixture of bad luck and inexperience depriving him of the title in the final rounds. Finnish Kimi Räikkönen secured his first and only championship, edging Hamilton by one sole point.
And that point burned brightly for Hamilton, as next season the then youngest World Drivers’ Championship runner-up would become the youngest World Drivers’ Championship winner. Lewis led the table for most of the season, battling Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and displaying amazing exhibitions, as his historic Silverstone victory a minute over any other driver. And an intense Brazilian climax saw him darting to the fifth place in the final corner, a spot which put him one point over Massa. Thus, the new world champion.
His title defense was a tougher affair. Four more years in McLaren, all finishing fourth or fifth on the overall driver ladder. Cars woefully short on downforce and pace, constantly outpaced by its Red Bull and Ferrari rivals, in addition to several stewards visits and debatable in-race choices led to a stall. His lowest point was the 2011 season in which, even though driving the same car, then-teammate Jenson Button ended second. It was the first time Hamilton had been beaten by a teammate over the course of a F1 campaign.
A disappointing 2012 led to his departure, leaving McLaren behind and joining Mercedes. There was plenty of head-scratching but, given the way the subsequent years turned out, Hamilton’s decision proved to be the right one.
One, to two, to three
Hamilton did not let his new bosses down, as he enjoyed a relatively seamless transition to his second F1 team. Five pole positions, four podiums and victory in Hungary carried him to fourth place in the 2013 Drivers’ Championship, two above new teammate Nico Rosberg (also teammate during his karting years, and sharing the same GP2 team).
Then came 2014, as Mercedes displayed an unprecedented dominance—Hamilton and Rosberg secured a record-breaking 11 one-two finishes. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was Nico’s opportunity to seize the leadership, but mechanical trouble left Lewis alone to secure his second World Championship by 67 points. That momentum was carried into 2015, with 12 one-two finishes and 10 victories for Hamilton, becoming a three-time Drivers’ Champion and the first Briton to secure back-to-back titles.
The Hamilton train was finally halted in 2016. Again in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton took the Grand Prix but was unable to top Nico Rosberg—even though he used his first place to slow him down and enable Sebastian Vettel or Max Verstappen to surpass Rosberg and hand him the Championship, a highly controversial decision that didn’t bear fruits. With 10 victories, Hamilton became runner-up with most wins and points in an F1 year.
Most career points (2,247), most consecutive podium finishes since debut (9), most podium finishes in a season (17), wins at most different circuits (24). Just a sample of Hamilton’s records, constantly expanding and promising to maintain that tempo—he is only 32 years old, after all, and is now again Mercedes’ sole Champion after Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement.
His rough personality and obsessive competitiveness have always clashed with teammates and rivals alike, as Alonso, Rosberg, Massa and officials can all testify. But there is no denying Lewis Hamilton is one of the most complete drivers on the grid: a terrific qualifier, a tenacious racer, and a fierce wheel-to-wheel combatant with a deadly eye for an overtake. Put simply, when it comes to driving a F1 car, there are very few areas in which Hamilton does not excel.
You can learn more about Lewis Hamilton at his Official Website.