It is difficult to describe Lewis Hamilton's rookie season in Formula 1 without overusing superlative. Simply astonishing should suffice. He achieved a podium finish in his first 9 races and eventually took 2nd place in the championship - just one point behind winner Kimi Raikkonen.
Labelled the 'First black driver in Formula One', he is one of the most complete talents in the competition.
Born: 07/01/1985 in Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Educated: The John Henry Newman School
Lives: in Monaco
Net worth: $260 million
Films: Zoolander 2, Cars 2
"I don't aspire to be like other drivers, I aspire to be unique in my own way."
F1 RACING STATS (January 2022):
Car No: 44
Grand Prix Starts: 288
Career Points: 2132
World Championship Wins: 3 (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020)
Pole Positions: 103
Fastest laps: 59
Breaking Records Early On In His Career
A relentless record breaker; he was the first driver in history to have made the podium after starting in 20th place or lower at least 3 times. He is the only driver to have won at least 1 race in each season that he has completed. He has more race victories than any other British driver in F1, he is 3rd on the 'all time wins' list with 49 and the most wins in one calendar month (July 2016) - to name a few.
How It All Began
His first taste of racing has been attributed to his father buying him a radio controlled car when he was 6 years old. He finished 2nd in the national British Radio Car Association championship the following year. For Christmas 1991, his father bought him a go-kart.
He began karting at the age of 8, winning several competitions and aged 10 he became the youngest winner of the British Cadet Kart. That year he approached McLaren team principal Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards ceremony, confidently saying "I won the British Championship and one day I want to be racing your cars." Dennis wrote in his autograph book 'phone me in 9 years, we'll sort something out then.'
After Hamilton won his 2nd British Championship, Dennis did indeed call him and signed Hamilton to the McLaren driver development program in 1998.
Nico And Lewis, The Rivalry Started Young
His rivalry with Nico Rosberg started early; at the age of 12 Hamilton learned to ride a unicycle - because Rosberg could already ride one.
"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." Michael Schumacher 2001.
Providing he worked hard at school, his father said that he would financially support his racing career and remained his manager until 2010.
Hamilton's car racing career began in the 2001 British Formula Renault Winter Series - where he came 5th. In 2005 he achieved 15 wins in the F3 Euro Series with ASM.
He moved to ART Grand Prix in 2006 (they had won 2005 GP2 crown with Nico Rosberg) where he won the GP2 championship at his first attempt - beating Nelson Piquet Jr and Timo Glock.
This success happened to coincide with a vacancy at McLaren (Juan Pablo Montoya to NASCAR and Raikkonen to Ferrari) and he was named as the 2nd driver alongside Fernando Alonso for 2007.
FORMULA 1 CAREER:
2007: His first race for McLaren was at the Australian Grand Prix where he finished 3rd – becoming only the 13 driver to finish on the podium in his rookie F1 career race.
In Bahrain and Barcelona, Hamilton finished 2nd behind Massa; taking the lead in the driver's championship and breaking Bruce McLaren's record of being the youngest driver ever to lead the world championship.
In Monaco he also finished 2nd behind Alonso, prompting him to suggest that he was being prevented from racing his team mate. The FIA later cleared McLaren of any wrong-doing. Though this did highlight that an outstanding rookie season by anyone's standards was still not good enough for Hamilton - he needed the win. This win followed at the Canadian Grand Prix, where he also had his first pole position.
The next race at the US Grand Prix gave him his 2nd win; when he became the 1st Briton since John Watson (1983) to win an Formula 1 race in the US and only the second person (after Jacques Villeneuve) to win more than one race in his first season.
He extended his lead to 14 points by winning at Magny-Cours. Taking 3rd at Silverstone, Hamilton equalled Jim Clark's 1963 record of 9 consecutive podium finishes for a British driver.
Despite being stretchered off during qualifying, he competed in the European GP; where, after sliding off into a gravel trap during heaving rain, he became the first and only driver ever to have his car recovered by a crane and put back on the track during an F1 race. Following complaints of Hamilton receiving preferential treatment – the FIA subsequently banned such mechanical assistance. He came 9th; the first race in which he didn't achieve a podium place or score any points.
There followed a win at the Hungarian Grand Prix, 5th place (after a puncture) in Turkey, then Alonso beat Hamilton in the Italian and Belgian Grand Prixs (where Hamilton came 2nd and 4th). 1st place in Japan was his final race triumph of the season. At the Chinese Grand Prix he failed to finish.
In the final race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix; he came 7th after suffering car trouble. Eventually coming 2nd in the championship by 1 point, he became the youngest runner up at 22 years and 288 days (a record taken from Raikkonen and beaten by Vettel in 2009).
BMW Sauber and Williams were later investigated for fuel irregularities. If they had been found guilty Hamilton would have been deemed to have come 5th and would have won the championship. But Hamilton stated that he would not want to win that way. In the event BMW Sauber and Williams were found not guilty.
The rivalry between Hamilton and Alonso, caused the former to be widely unpopular in Spain - where he suffered racist abuse. By mutual consent, Alonso and McLaren terminated their contract on 2nd Nov 2007.
2008: Hamilton won his first World Championship; becoming the youngest F1 World Champion in history (before Vettel broke the record 2 years later), the first black driver and first British driver since Damon Hill in 1996 to win it.
2009: Team mate Heikki Kovalainen. Hamilton finished 5th. He struggled to match the form in his first two seasons in a car short on downforce and pace.
2010: Team mate Jenson Button. Hamilton came 4th.
2011: At the Singapore Grand Prix, an accident with Felipe Massa prompted the Brazilian to suggest that Hamilton was "incapable of using his brain." This was probably his toughest season; a season with many uncharacteristic errors and car trouble. It was also the first time that he was beaten by a team mate in F1 - with Jenson Button coming 2nd to his 5th.
2012: A more composed season, with some spectacular moments. Hamilton finished 4th.
2013: He joined Mercedes, alongside team mate and old rival Nico Rosberg and finished 4th.
2014: Became World Champion for the second time, winning 11 races. "This is the greatest day of my life." He also won BBC Sports Personality of the Year the following month. A new rule allowed drivers to pick their car number to use for the rest of their career, Hamilton picked 44 – the number from his karting days. Nostalgic and perhaps superstitious, he also kept his yellow helmet from his karting days until 2013 - yellow so that his father could tell which kart he was driving.
2015: Became World Champion for the third time, winning 10 races. He now added to his record breaking; the first British driver to win consecutive titles, the second Brit to win 3 titles after Jackie Stewart (and the first English driver). 2015 began a period of Mercedes dominance - the new WO6 Hybrid completed more laps in pre-season testing than any other car and using only one power unit.
2016: He is currently embroiled in yet another championship battle with team mate Nico Rosberg. At this point the result could go either way.
IS THERE MORE TO LEWIS THAN JUST FORMULA ONE
Outside Formula One Hamilton is known for his 'playboy' lifestyle and counts among his ex-girlfriends performer, television personality and former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. He has also appeared in film and television.
2016: “Bad Luck”
Team: Mercedes. Nico Rosberg
A run of ‘bad luck’ – namely reliability failures – almost certainly cost 3-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton the title this year.
ERS failures in Qualifying in China (started in 22nd and finished 7th) and Russia (started 10th and finished 2nd). An engine mode issue at the European Grand Prix (started 10th and finished 5th) and an engine blow out in Malaysia (forced to retire) meant that despite an excellent performance – he fell short of the necessary points to win the title.
After the incident in Malaysia, Hamilton said: “in terms of feeling helpless, this is the most helpless I can be at this point.”
A closely fought season ended with Hamilton losing the World Championship title to teammate Nico Rosberg by just 5 points. This was - despite Hamilton achieving more pole positions and race wins than any other driver this season.
Rosberg then promptly retired.
2017: “Reliability Improves”
Team: Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas
With Rosberg now retired, Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton’s new teammate. Hamilton’s closest racing rival was now Sebastian Vettel.
The battle was close and fraught. Azerbaijan saw one of the most dramatic races as Vettel and Hamilton collided at the start. At first Vettel blamed Hamilton - but accepted fault after the race. Hamilton called his rival ‘a disgrace.’ A loose headrest caused by the collision is said to have cost Hamilton the victory.
Hamilton achieved the record for most pole positions (beating another record set by Schumacher) in Italy with a total of 69.
His consistency in 2017 was outstanding – and he finished every race with points. In fact, all finishes were in the top 5, save for Monaco (7th) and Mexico (9th).
What became the title decider was somewhat anticlimactic. Vettel collided with Verstappen at the start of the Mexico Grand Prix and Hamilton suffered a puncture, struggled with his engine - and was lapped for the first time since Barcelona in 2013. But Vettel couldn’t get past Verstappen – and this time Hamilton’s future rival helped him achieve the title.
Despite coming 9th in that race - Hamilton won the World Championship in Mexico with two races remaining.
2018: “The ‘Fight for Five”
Team: Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas
This season, with Hamilton and rival Sebastian Vettel on four World Championships each – became known as the ‘Fight for Five.’
Early on, Vettel appeared to be ‘on top’ and was leading the Drivers’ Championship until the halfway point. There followed a number of mechanical issues and driver errors from Vettel and his Ferrari. At the same time, Hamilton was ‘on a roll’ with an impressive 6 out of 7 wins.
Hamilton won the World Championship in Mexico. Again.
This season Hamilton signed a 2-year contract with Mercedes, believed to be worth around £40 million per year – making him the best-paid driver in Formula One history.
He also set a new record for the most points scored in a season – with 408.
2019: “His Strongest Ever Season?”
Team: Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas
This season Hamilton’s main rival emerged as his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. With Bottas achieving the upper hand in the season opener in Australia. They both shared the podium with frequent regularity for the rest of the season.
But a strong start put the World Champion far enough ahead that it was almost impossible for anyone to catch him – contrary to the usual inconsistencies of the first half, followed by a string of decisive wins.
That isn’t to say that he didn’t suffer difficulties: floor damage in the opening race, track difficulties in Austria and locking his brakes in Italy.
His lowest point was at the German Grand Prix in a wet and chaotic race – where he struggled and finished a disappointing 9th.
A tight battle in Hungary with Max Verstappen has been described as a ‘modern classic’ – and a sign of things to come in the seasons that followed.
Hamilton led the championship for the majority of the season and set another new record for the most points scored – with 413. He finished 87 points clear of 2nd place Bottas, winning the title in the USA with 2 races to go.
2020: “Record Breaker”
Retirements: 0 (1 race missed – Sakhir)
Team: Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas
Hamilton won his 7th World Championship (4th in a row) equalling the record set by Michael Schumacher.
This season was supposed to have one of the longest Formula One calendars – with 22 races, but difficulties arising from COVID 19 cut it to just 17. From this perspective, Hamilton’s 11 wins look even more impressive. Especially as he missed the Sakhir Grand Prix after contracting COVID – so only actually started 16.
Hamilton broke several records this year, including Schumacher’s race win record of 91.
He won the title in Turkey, with 3 races remaining and finished 124 points clear of 2nd place Bottas.
Hamilton showed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, by encouraging others to take the knee and wearing BLM t-shirts. Both Mercedes cars also included a black livery in support of the movement.
Team: Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas
After the first few races, it became clear that Hamilton had some serious competition this year – in the form of Max Verstappen.
The battle was close – as the top spot of the Drivers’ Championship regularly changed hands. It was physically close on the track too – producing multiple controversial moments/clashes – none more so than the season finale.
Before the race in Abu Dhabi, both drivers were level on points.
Hamilton led for most of the race – until a safety car period set up a final lap showdown. Verstappen, on fresh tyres, overtook Hamilton on the last lap – snatching the record 8th World Championship from his grasp.
The result is still being disputed.
Hamilton is said to be disillusioned with the sport.