Few drivers have entered Formula One racing with as big a bang as Lewis Hamilton and a seemingly charmed racing career nurtured in no small part by Ron Dennis, principle at McLaren at the time. Hamilton's sensational maiden season in 2007 - in which he lost out on the world championship by a single point - remains one of the most remarkable rookie campaigns in history. Going from McLaren to Mercedes when the team was just hiding his stride made it seem all too easy. But without his innate talent it would have all come to naught as F1 is strewn with the remains of other young phenoms.
Lewis Carl David Hamilton was born on 7 January 1985 in Stevenage, Hertfordshire to Carmen Larbalestier and Anthony Hamilton. His grandparents had emigrated from Grenada to the UK in the 1950s. His parents separated when he was two and he went to live with his mother and half-sisters. When Lewis was six his father bought his young son a radio-controlled car, then a go-kart. He told his that as long as he did well at school he’d support his son’s passion for racing. Hamilton attributes much of his success to his humble upbringing in Stevenage. Winning came naturally to the young driver and soon he was entered in national events. By the age of 10 - with a little less than two years’ experience - he was crowned the youngest-ever winner of the British Cadet Kart championship.
In 1998 the McLaren boss signed him to the team’s young driver programme. Dennis’s belief in Hamilton’s talents was such that the contract even included an option on the 13 year-old should he ever make it into Formula One racing. At this stage, however, it was McLaren’s financial support that proved the bigger blessing for Hamilton, who up to that point had been supported by his dutiful father - and future manager - Anthony, who worked several jobs to keep his son racing. Multiple-World Champion Michael Schumacher said of him, "he's a quality driver, very strong and only 16. If he keeps this up I'm sure he will reach F1. It's something special to see a kid of his age out on the circuit. He's clearly got the right racing mentality."
Eventually in 2002 he opted for the highly-competitive British Formula Renault series. Fears he wouldn’t cope with such an upswing in horsepower proved short-lived. Attacking single-seater racing with the same resolute determination that had bore fruit throughout his karting days, Hamilton finished third in his debut season, before taking the championship a year later after a record-breaking 10 wins, nine fastest laps and 11 pole positions.
Although his subsequent move to the F3 Euroseries was less straightforward, Hamilton eventually found his feet, improving on fifth in the standings in his first year to win the title in his second. Hamilton was almost signed to Williams but BMW refused to fund him. Instead, he returned to McLaren and continued to win races in Formula Three. Hamilton ended the 2005 season having won 15 of the 20 rounds driving for the dominant ASM team. Autosport ranked him number 24 in its list of Top 200 Drivers. His foray into GP2 in 2006 proved equally thrilling. At his very best, Hamilton stunned onlookers with a string of spectacular performances. Outshining his more experienced team mate Alexandre Premat and a resurgent Nelson Piquet Jr with his bold driving style, he won the title ART Grand Prix
In 2007 Ron Dennis literally threw his young driver into the fire having Hamilton partner the twice World Champion Fernando Alonso. Hamilton won four Grands Prix in his debut season and led the championship for much of the year, developing an intense rivalry with Alonso both on and off the circuit. Only a mixture of bad luck and inexperience in the final two rounds deprived him of the title.
It was an opportunity missed, but one which he put right the following season. With Alonso having returned to Renault, Hamilton again led the table for the bulk of the season, ultimately beating Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to the crown by a single point after a tense title showdown at the finale in Brazil, in which he famously took the fifth place he needed on the final corner of the final lap.
Hamilton started 2009 with a car woefully short on downforce and pace, and suffered the ignominy of disqualification in Australia after being judged to have deliberately misled race stewards regarding an incident with third place finisher Jarno Trulli. Whether Hamilton was coached into giving false testimony by his team has never been fully disclosed. Hamilton gradually turned his season around. July's Hungarian Grand Prix saw him back on the top step of the podium. That was followed by another win in Singapore and a further three podiums - enough to propel him to fifth in the final standings. Jenson Button and Brawn GP secured the Drivers' Championship and Constructors' Championship titles respectively.
Although Hamilton had some storming drives stymied by dubious strategy calls in the 2010 season’s early races, successive wins in Turkey and Canada saw him stake a serious claim for a second drivers' crown. However, with McLaren’s MP4-25 increasingly outpaced by its Red Bull and Ferrari rivals, he lost his championship lead at round 14 in Italy and never regained it. He went into the Abu Dhabi finale with an outside shot at the title, but ultimately finished fourth in the table, albeit comfortably clear of new team mate Jenson Button. German Sebastian Vettel driving for Red Bull would win his first of four consecutive titles.
The 2011 season was to be the toughest of Hamilton’s Formula One career. Frustrated by a car that initially lacked race-winning potential, a series of uncharacteristic errors - seemingly always involving Ferrari’s Felipe Massa - led to several stewards visits and an increasingly difficult relationship with the media, one not helped by their growing interest in his well publicized personal life. To add to his woes, Button had found his feet at McLaren and although Hamilton matched his compatriot’s three season wins with victories in China, Germany and Abu Dhabi, at the end of the year he found himself only fifth overall, three places behind his colleague.
It was the first time Hamilton had been beaten by a team mate over the course of an F1 campaign.
2012 would prove to be another unsatisfying year for Hamilton with unreliability ruining his championship bid. On the plus side, he delivered a much more composed season behind the wheel, his devastating speed helping him to seven pole positions and four impressive victories in Canada, Hungary, Italy and the United States. Such form indicated why Mercedes were so happy to sign Hamilton for the 2013 season onwards. Hamilton did not disappoint his new employers, as he enjoyed a relatively seamless transition to only his second F1 team. Victory in Hungary, plus a further four podiums and five pole positions carried him to fourth in the 2013 drivers’ championship, two places above new team mate Nico Rosberg.
In 2014 things got even better for Hamilton who, armed with the hugely dominant Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid, saw off the challenge of team mate Rosberg and several moments of adversity to win 11 races and clinch his second world drivers’ crown. He carried that momentum into 2015, winning 10 times to become a three-time world champion and the first Briton to secure back-to-back titles.
Like many drivers given the right car Hamilton can be magical but any comparison with Fernando Alonso will find the Spaniard having the better of Hamilton when the car is lacking competitivness. Currently with Mercedes that does not seem a likely issue. While Alonso struggles at McLaren, Hamilton continues to win races.