A Guide to Lewis Hamilton

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What you need to know:

  1. Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton was born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in January 1985 and started racing at the age of just six.
  2. He honed his skills through Karting and the McLaren Mercedes Young Driver Support programme.
  3. Before Formula 1 he won titles at Karting, Formula A, Formula Renault, Formula Three, and GP2 level. Lewis made the step up to F1 in 2007, joining the McLaren team.
  4. He finished second in the World Championship in his first season and then won the 2008 World Championship.
  5. In 2012, Hamilton left McLaren to join the Mercedes team. A contract signed at the start of the 2015 season means he will stay with Mercedes until the end of the 2018 campaign
  6. After several years of finishing in fourth or fifth place, Hamilton won his second World Championship on 2014, winning 11 races along the way. The Brit is also the big favourite to retain the title in 2016.
  7. Lewis lives in Monaco, like many of his F1 friends and rivals. After a long relationship with the singer Nicole Scherzinger, he is currently single
  8. He has also established his own charity, the Lewis Hamilton Foundation, which works to improve the lives and opportunities of children and young people living in poverty. For his charity work and his sporting achievements, the Queen made Hamilton an MBE in 2009. 

Early Life

Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton was born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in January 1985 to Carmen Labalestier and Anthony Hamilton. Coming from a mixed-race background, he is often called the first black Formula 1 driver,

His parents separated when he was just two, and he lived with his mother and half-sisters until he was 12, when he when he moved in with his father, step-mother Linda, and half-brother Nicholas, who has cerebral palsy.

In 1991, at the age of just six, his motoring skills began to emerge after he was given a radio-controlled car by his father Anthony. Just a year later he finished second in the BRCA championships, a competition which saw him racing remote against adults.

Spotting his son’s potential, his father agreed to buy him a go-kart and help him progress in the sport, provided he agreed to work hard at school.  His father was true to his word, making considerable personal sacrifices, including quitting his job to become a contractor in order to support Lewis and attend all of his races.

Hamilton went to school at The John Henry Newman School in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Here he excelled at football and cricket, as well as racing, and played alongside Manchester United and England winger Ashley Young. He later attended the Cambridge Arts and Sciences colleges in Cambridge.

Early Career

Lewis Hamilton began his racing career in 1993, at the age of eight, in karting, at the Rye House Kart Circuit. It was after his early successes at Cadet Class Karting, where he won the British Championship that he had his infamous first encounter with the boss of the McLaren Formula 1 team, Ron Dennis.

The story goes that Hamilton approached Dennis at an Autosport Awards ceremony to ask for an autograph and said "Hi. I'm Lewis Hamilton. I won the British Championship and one day I want to be racing your cars." Dennis signed his book, writing: "Phone me in nine years, we'll sort something out then."

Hamilton progressed in karting through cadet class with Martin Hines’ Zip Young Guns Karting team, to Junior Yamaha in 1997. Having won an additional Super One series, and another British Championship, and just five years after their initial encounter, it was Ron Dennis who phoned Hamilton. That call led to Hamilton being signed to the McLaren driver development programme.

He subsequently raced in Intercontinental A Class, Formula A, where he became European Champion in 2000 with maximum points, and Formula Super A. His team mate in this period was his future Formula One partner Nico Rosberg and the pair developed a close friendship and an intense rivalry. Hamilton famously learned to ride a unicycle around this time, simply because it was something that Rosberg could do and he couldn’t.

His success at this level saw considerable praise heaped on his shoulders, with the British Racing Drivers Club notably making him a Rising Star member in 2000.

His step up into proper car racing came in 2001 when he joined the British Formula Renault Winter Series. He finished fifth overall in the series, which was enough to secure him a seat in a Manor Motorsport car for the full 2002 Formula Renault UK series. In his first series he took three pole positions and won three races on the way to finishing third in the Championship. The following season he was champion, with ten wins and an astonishing 419 points.

Winning the title in such dominant style, he missed the last two races of the series to make the next step up in his career, to the British Formula 3 Championship.

In 2004, it was announced that Williams had tried to sign up Hamilton, but had been unsuccessful because BMW, who supplied their engines, had been unwilling to fund his career. So Hamilton returned to McLaren and raced in the Formula 3 Euro Series, again with Manor Motorsport. He also won the Bahrain F3 Superprix and tested for McLaren at Silverstone for the first time.

In 2005, in his second series in the Formula 3 Euro Series, Hamilton once more dominated the Championship, winning fifteen of the twenty races with the ASM team. He was also victorious in the Marlboro Masters of Formula 3 event Zandvoort.

The next step in his career, was to the GP2 series with ASMs sister team ART. They were the reigning champions, with Nico Rosberg having driven their car to victory one year earlier. No doubt spurred on by this, Hamilton won the title in his debut season, finishing twelve points clear of his nearest rival.

As luck would have it, this victory came at the same time as a vacancy had arisen in the McLaren Formula 1 Team, as Juan Pablo Montoya left to continue his career in the American NASCAR series, and Kimi Räikkönen moved to Ferrari. Defending Champion Fernando Alonso was joining the team, and after much deliberation, it was announced that Hamilton would take the second seat. At the age of just 21, and a mere fifteen years after being bought a remote controlled car by his father, Lewis Hamilton had arrived in Formula 1.

Formula 1 Career

The 2007 season:

Hamilton’s career began with a bang in 2007, as a secured a podium finish in his first race, with a third place finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

Subsequent second places in Bahrain and Barcelona saw Hamilton take the lead in the World Championship, and in doing so become the youngest driver ever to achieve this.

After finishing second behind Alonso at Monaco, the first signs of strain in that relationship surfaced, with Hamilton suggesting he wasn’t allowed to race his teammate.

The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal saw Hamilton claim his first pole position and his first victory, and a week later he won again at the US Grand Prix, becoming only the second driver ever, after Jacques Villeneuve, to win more than one race in his debut season.

Third place finishes in the French and British Grand Prix’s saw Hamilton claim another record as he equalled the British record of nine consecutive podium finishes, originally set by Jim Clark in 1963.

After a crash at the European Grand Prix, Hamilton kept his car running in the gravel and was lifted back onto the track by a crane, the first time this had happened in a Formula 1 race. This led to complaints of preferential treatment by other drivers, who didn’t get such help, and the practice was subsequently outlawed.

Hamilton now found himself in a straight race for the Formula One driver’s championship with his teammate, Fernando Alonso. They traded victories with Alonso triumphing in Italy and Belgium, while Hamilton won in Hungary and Japan.

He failed to finish in the Chinese Grand Prix, and this meant he went into the final race in Brazil with a lead of four points over Alonso, with Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen a further seven points back. But Hamilton could only finish seventh, and it was the Ferrari driver Räikkönen who clinched the title. At just 22 years 288 days, Hamilton became the youngest ever runner up in the World Championship, a record which was claimed by Sebastien Vettel in 2009.

The 2008 Season:

In the off-season, following tensions between the two McLaren drivers, it was announced that Alonso would be leaving the team. He was replaced by the Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen, meaning Hamilton had now been officially promoted to the main driver in the team.

He started the season imperiously, with victories in Australia and Monaco, along with podiums in Spain and Turkey. However in Canada, the scene of his first ever victory a year ago, Hamilton made a big mistake crashing into the back of Kimi Räikkönen as he waited at a red light. He was forced to retire and was penalised ten positions in the next race in France.

Hamilton then managed to win his first British Grand Prix in wet conditions at Silverstone, and also the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

Another penalty cost him victory at the Belgian Grand Prix after Hamilton cut a chicane to avoid Kimi Räikkönen, but was deemed to have gained an unfair advantage, and this left him just two points clear of Filipe Massa in the World Championships.

Both drivers dropped points in subsequent races, and with two races to go, there was still just a five point gap between them. Hamilton then won the Chinese Grand Prix from Massa, to leave him needing just a fifth placed finish to secure the World Championship.

And he won it in dramatic fashion on the last corner of the Brazilian Grand Prix, making up an eighteen second gap on Timo Glock who had stayed out on dry tires in the rain, to clinch the fifth place he needed, with Massa winning.

This victory made Lewis Hamilton the youngest ever Formula One World Champion, and also the first black Formula One World Champion.

The 2009-2013 Seasons:

Having secured his first World Championship, Hamilton found his McLaren car becoming less competitive as the period of Red Bull dominance of the sport began.

He finished fifth in 2009 with just 49 points, but was a little more revitalised in 2010 having been joined in the team by his British compatriot and the reigning World Champion Jenson Button. He won the Turkish and Canadian Grand Prix, as well as secure a number of other podium finishes as he ended up fourth in the World Championship.

The 2011 season saw another fifth placed finish in the Drivers Championship, and is also the only season in Hamilton’s Formula One Career to date when he has been outscored by his teammate. He managed victories in China and Germany, and was also involved in a number of controversial incidents and accidents.

The 2011 season also saw much talk of Hamilton leaving McLaren, but he remained alongside Button for the 2012 season, and won again in Canada, Hungary, Italy, and the United States. The season saw more racing incidents involving Hamilton and also increasing unreliability from the McLaren, which increasingly frustrated Hamilton.

At the end of the 2012 season, it was announced that Hamilton would be leaving McLaren for the Mercedes team, where he would be partnering his old friend and rival, Nico Rosberg. This move raised a few eyebrows as the Mercedes team had not been competitive in recent seasons, but Hamilton was adamant in interviews that he needed a fresh start and that Mercedes would offer him the chance to win titles again.

The 2013 season saw him claim a victory in the Mercedes at Hungary, and a couple of pole places, as he once again finished the season in fourth place in the Championship.

The 2014 Season

The 2014 season was a different story for both Hamilton and Mercedes, as with Red Bull on the wane, and new regulations favouring his team, he and teammate Rosberg dominated the season, battling with each other for the title.

Prior to the season, Hamilton had been able to choose his own racing number for the first time and had opted for 44, the number he had during his karting days.

After retiring in the opening race, which Rosberg won comfortably, Hamilton then went on to win the next four races and establish his position at the top of the drivers’ championship.

Rosberg finally managed to finish ahead of him at Monaco, and brake problems restricted him to just third place in Germany. In Hungary, he controversially refused to allow his teammate past him despite having started the race from the pit lane. This incident led to a serious deterioration in the relationship between the two which provided additional drama to the title race throughout the rest of the season.

He retired from the Belgium Grand Prix after being hit by Rosberg, before winning in Italy, Singapore, and Japan. Further wins in Russia and the United States saw him claim five consecutive victories and his tenth win of the season.

His second World Championship was confirmed in the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi, where he once again took the chequered flag to claim his eleventh race win of the season.

When interviewed after the race, Hamilton claimed that his second title was ‘the greatest day of my life’.

The 2015 Season and Beyond

Hamilton and Rosberg are once again partners at Mercedes for the 2015 season, and early testing indicated that they would both once again be strong contenders in the race for the World Championship. Unsurprisingly, the critics' early predictions were correct, with Hamilton the big bookies' favourites to win back-to-back world titles, an achivement that should see him regarded as one of Britain's greatest ever drivers, if not the single greatest of all time. 

Notably, the 2015 season has seen Hamilton break yet more records. Following his thrilling and utterly convincing victory in front of his home crowds at Silverstone, he superseded Jackie Stewart's 45-year-old record for the most laps led in 18 consecutive Grand Prix events, though his incredible run of 16 consecutive podium finishes was brough to an abrupt end when he finally finished outside the top three in Hungary. 

At the start of the 2015 season, Hamilton signed a fresh three-year deal with Mercedes. This will see the Brit tied to the team until the end of the 2018 season and makes him one of the best-paid sports stars in the whole world. There is already speculation that this contract will be the last he will sign, even though a number of stars have gone on racing well into their mid-30s and even beyond. 

Away from the Track

Out of the cockpit, Hamilton lived in Switzerland for a number of years, a choice he claims to have made for privacy reasons, but which he later admitted was also motivated for tax purposes. In 2012 he moved to Monaco, where he remains. 

Hamilton was involved in an on-off relationship with the American singer Nicole Scherzinger since 2007, though they announced a final split at the start of 2015. 

He has also been involved in a couple of driving incidents on the public roads. In 2007 he was banned from driving in France for one month after being caught speeding on the motorway. And in 2010 in Australia, he was fined A$500 and described in court as a ‘hoon’ (boy racer) following an incident in Melbourne.

Hamilton has also established his own charity, the Lewis Hamilton Foundation, which works to improve the lives and opportunities of children and young people living in poverty in both the UK and around the world.

In recognition of his achievements on the track, as well as his charitable work away from F1, Hamilton was made an MBE in the Queen's New Year's Eve List of 2009. You'd get short odds on him becoming 'Sir Lewis' at some point in the next few years, especially if he wins a third, or even fourth, Championship. 

Further Reading:

 

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