An astonishing rookie season
After McLaren had signed Hamilton at the age of 13 in 1998 to their Driver Development Support Programme, Ron Dennis gave the then 22-year-old his shot in Formula 1 by giving him a seat at McLaren for the 2007 season. He was paired with Fernando Alonso, the 2005 and 2006 World Champion. What happened that year was something special.
Hamilton immediately made a huge impression on his debut at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix. He qualified P4, overtook Kubica and Alonso into T1 and was ahead of his Spanish stablemate in the first two stints. While Alonso ultimately got him for P2, Hamilton had put down a big marker on debut.
In only his third race in Formula 1, he became a co-leader in the Drivers’ Championship at Bahrain following a 2nd place finish. He thoroughly outperformed Alonso that weekend for the first time.
Next time out in Spain, a third consecutive P2 meant he remarkably led the standings outright; he was only four races into his career.
The victories from his first year
Hamilton took pole for the first time at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on only his sixth weekend in F1. He took P1 by over 0.4s from teammate Alonso.
The young Brit put on an absolute masterclass in the race to take his first win. With errors, spins and crashes leading to four Safety Cars, Hamilton remained composed out front as Alonso wilted under the pressure that his teammate was starting to put him under.
Alonso tried a desperate lunge into T1 at the start saw the Spanish driver go onto the grass and lose positions; Hamilton never panicked and serenely drove away out front.
It was a well-deserved maiden victory and a 4.3s margin over Nick Heidfeld doesn’t reflect the dominance he showed that day.
His second win a week later at Indianapolis was probably even sweeter as he really faced huge pressure from Alonso throughout the Grand Prix.
On lap 38, Alonso got a great run on Hamilton through the banked final corner and looked set to take the lead. However, Hamilton resisted and defended the inside line perfectly.
The Brit went on to take a great victory and put one over his teammate and the defending World Champion for the second straight race.
The Alonso-Hamilton relationship hit its lowest point at the Hungarian Grand Prix. After Hamilton failed to let Alonso through (asked to by his team) at the start of Q3 during the ‘fuel burn phase,’ Alonso stayed in his box until it was too late for the Brit to set a final lap. The Spaniard stole pole at the death but was hit with a 5-place grid penalty for his actions in the pits.
Despite the craziness of Saturday, Hamilton took the win from pole position after holding off Kimi Raikkonen during an intense fight for the win between the two.
The best of Hamilton’s wins during his rookie season? Quite possibly.
Qualifying and the race saw some of the worst conditions F1 drivers have experienced during any weekend in the 21st century, and it was Hamilton who came out on top.
He pipped Alonso to pole position on Saturday to deliver another hammer blow in the championship. Despite a spin at one point thanks to getting hit by Robert Kubica after his first stop, Hamilton remained composed to take a superb victory and it looked set to give him the World Championship.
His worst season driving wise
Hamilton has been consistently outstanding throughout his career, whether that be in the junior ranks or in F1. However, he did have one season to forget back in 2011; it probably benefitted him in the long-term, ultimately.
- Contact with Alonso in Sepang
- Contact with Massa in Monaco, Britain, Singapore, Japan and India
- Contact with Maldonado in Monaco
- Crashing with teammate Button in Canada – DNF
- Crashing with Kobayashi at Spa – DNF
- Struggles with the Pirelli tyres
Despite taking three wins, including two brilliant ones in Shanghai and at the Nurburgring, it was a very difficult year for him.
Mentally, he didn’t seem to be in a great place across that year, and the vast majority of incidents mentioned above were his fault. For someone who was so clean before 2011 and after it, that year was really out of character for Hamilton.
However, you learn more about yourself in the tough moments in life and the Brit certainly did that. He’s never looked like having a repeat of it.
The seven World Championships
1) 2008 – Wins first title in the craziest possible way
Hamilton’s first Drivers’ Championship win came in the most dramatic circumstances possible. He combined sheer brilliance (superb wet-weather wins at Monaco and Silverstone) with errors (crashing into Raikkonen in the pits in Canada) that felt like 2008 was his rookie season at times. Nonetheless, he took a seven-point lead over Massa to the last round in Brazil.
Running in P4 for most of the race, it looked like he would fairly comfortably take it, but the Brazilian weather gods decided to throw a spanner in the works. Hamilton pitted for inters as the rain started to fall and lost a place to Glock who’d stayed out on dries.
Heartache seemed to be on when he made a small mistake with three laps to go and allowed Sebastian Vettel to take P5. It looked like Massa was going to steal the title.
However, Glock lost all pace on the last lap and Hamilton retook P5 at turn 13 in one of the most dramatic sporting finishes in history. Despite an incredibly challenging year for both him and his McLaren team, he got over the line to become World Champion at the age of 23.
2) 2014; 3) 2015 – Gets the better of Rosberg
Mercedes has been the benchmark since the start of the V6 era and it’s allowed Lewis Hamilton to fight for the title in every single season from 2014 to 2020.
2014 went right down to the wire against his teammate Nico Rosberg. The German took eleven poles vs Hamilton’s seven, but the Brit showed superior pace and racecraft on Sunday’s.
The title fight went to the final round, but a victory for Hamilton allowed him to deservedly seal his second Drivers’ Championship, a full six years after his first. It was the start of a remarkable run of success for the Brit and Mercedes.
Hamilton totally controlled the 2015 season and took the title with three races remaining. He won ten of the first sixteen races and claimed his third championship in style by winning a brilliant race at Circuit of the Americas.
Quite frankly, he blew Nico Rosberg away and it was by far the most impressive season by either driver as they fought for the crown all on their own between 2014 and 2016.
4) 2017; 5) 2018 – Fends off Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari
Following Nico Rosberg’s retirement at the end of 2016, a new challenger by the name of Sebastian Vettel attempted to stop the Hamilton and Mercedes juggernaut, but they came up short.
In both 2017 and 2018, Hamilton had slow starts (relatively speaking) compared to the previous three. However, when it came to the crunch period, he stepped up and drove at an incredibly high level; Vettel and Ferrari imploded in 2018 to help his cause.
Six wins from eight races in 2017 (Britain to the United States) and six wins from seven races in 2018 (Germany to Japan) allowed him to take his fourth and fifth championships at the Mexican Grand Prix.
Like any of the true greats, he won races during these two seasons that he didn’t have a right to. Germany and Italy 2018 are two examples of his supreme skill.
6) 2019; 7) 2020 – Too good for Bottas
The last two seasons have seen Mercedes completely dominate the sport once again and it’s been Hamilton vs Bottas for the championship. Unsurprisingly, Hamilton has completely put his Finnish teammate in the shade; the Brit took the title by 87 points in 2019 and is a whopping 110 ahead with three races to go this year.
Hamilton has won 21 of the 35 races across the last two seasons. He’s scored points in all 35 races, too. His pace, consistency and relentlessness has been extraordinary.
For the second time in his career, Hamilton became World Champion at Circuit of the Americas; that was his sixth championship overall.
He won his seventh title in style by taking out a stunning victory in tricky conditions at the weekend in Turkey. It was the drive of a true champion and a fitting way to join Michael Schumacher on seven titles.
As we all know, Hamilton achieved another record in Turkey yesterday, but he could easily be a ten-time World Champion at this point. He’s gone through gutting title losses, too.
It looked certain that Hamilton would do something remarkable in his rookie campaign as he had a 12-point and 17-point over Alonso and Raikkonen respectively.
Unfortunately for him, it all went wrong in China and Brazil.
He was leading in China before his inters completely fell off the cliff. Even after losing the lead to Raikkonen, he was still in a strong position to win the championship. However, an infamous trip into the gravel on pit entry opened the door for Finn to keep his hopes alive.
A gearbox glitch in Brazil saw him lose around half a minute and the World Championship in the process by a single point to Kimi Raikkonen.
Nonetheless, Hamilton should be proud of what he did in this first season in Formula 1 forever. Nine podiums in his first nine races, six poles and four wins was truly amazing. He beat Alonso in the standings, too.
Hamilton may have finished 91 points adrift of World Champion Sebastian Vettel eight years ago, but so many problems cost him a potential second championship with McLaren.
- Slow stops at Bahrain, Monaco and Valencia (as well as the collision with Maldonado) costing him plenty of points
- Fuel infringement loses him pole at the Spanish Grand Prix and is sent to the back of the field
- Taken out by Grosjean at Spa
- The car breaks down whilst leading in Singapore and Abu Dhabi
- Taken out by Hulkenberg as they battled for the win at Interlagos
It’s safe to say Hamilton lost over 100 points and could easily have taken the championship in his final season for McLaren, but circumstances beyond his control robbed him of that opportunity. Did it play a key role in his career-defining move to Mercedes? Yes.
Just like 2012, unreliability ruined his season and it opened the door for Nico Rosberg to steal the championship.
- China – Unable to take part in qualifying because of technical problems
- Russia – Unable to take part in Q3 because of technical problems
- Malaysia – Engine blows whilst comfortably leading the Grand Prix
Bad luck is part of racing and sport in general, but these three seasons are certainly ‘what could have been’ ones for the British superstar.
Working on his weaknesses
If there was one clear issue that stood out with Hamilton in the first few years of his career, it was tyre management struggles.
During his time at McLaren, he drove with a car that had a very loose rear end/lots of oversteer on numerous occasions. Whilst he was always fast, it did have an impact on tyre wear; China 2007 is an obvious example where it was incredibly costly.
During the first year of Pirelli tyres in 2011, he suffered a lot from tyre wear compared to teammate Button. His biggest lesson was to come in 2013, though.
Mercedes had a very good car in qualifying over the first part of the season, but it absolutely chewed its tyres to pieces on race day, through no fault of his own. Hamilton would have learned a lot that year.
Since the V6 era begun, Hamilton his turned this weakness into a huge strength. He’s a lot smoother these days compared to 2007; his driving style in recent years means he can get great longevity and pace out of the Pirelli tyres now. It helped him against Rosberg from 2014-2016, the Ferraris in 2017 and 2018 and Bottas over the last four seasons.
Turkey was a fine example of the supreme brilliance we see on a regular basis. He did 50 laps on the intermediate tyre and won by over a half a minute; Hamilton only took the lead on lap 37 of 58. In such tricky conditions, he mastered it once again.
As he's gained experience, he's also become much smarter at picking his fights against other drivers; letting Max Verstappen go at Sepang in 2017 was the wise and smart thing to do on a weekend where Mercedes struggled for pace. Patience is something he's added to his game, too.
There are no massive weaknesses in Hamilton’s armoury anymore. He has been the complete package for some time now.
The incredible legacy Hamilton will leave
Hamilton has smashed so many records in his fourteen seasons in the sport, and he looks set to stay around for another few years to come. Here are just some of them below.
- Most Drivers’ Titles
- Most wins; most wins with the same team; most wins at home race
- Most pole positions; most wins from pole position
- Most podiums
- Most consecutive points finishes
- Wins at most different circuits
- Won a race and taken a pole in every single season he’s participated in
People have said he’s had the best car and that’s the only reason he’s broken so many records, but the reality is that Hamilton has shown how special he is from the very start. To be as fast as he was from day one is proof of his extraordinary ability.
The great drivers always end up in the best teams and cars because of their special talent. They also win races when they don't have the fastest package. No matter if it’s dry or wet, Hamilton has been and always is in the mix throughout his career. 2009 is a perfect example.
In 2009 when his car was not so good and lacked pace to the Brawns and Red Bulls especially, he took four pole positions and two wins; the Brit scored the most points of anyone in the second half of that season as the car got better, but it still lacked the ultimate pace of the top teams.
People have also regularly commented that Button outscored him during their three seasons together: While the stats say that is correct, Hamilton’s appalling luck in 2012 means that stat is skewed. Hamilton was the better driver in both ‘10 and ‘12.
Hamilton has won the title in 50% of the seasons he’s taken part in. That’s absolutely mind-blowing. He’s the best driver of his generation and many will consider him to the greatest ever. He’s also a contender to be seen as the greatest British athlete ever, too.
An eighth title looks highly likely next year and he’ll be clear of everyone on the honours list of World Champions if it comes to fruition. 100 wins and pole positions look very likely in the near future, too. The legacy he’ll leave will be enormous when he hangs up his helmet.
As well as his special talent behind the wheel, Hamilton’s fight to end racism (he’s suffered racial abuse many times), spreading the message that Black Lives Matter and his effort to help the cause against climate change shows how much he cares about deep-rooted issues on this planet as well.
Lewis Hamilton is an extraordinary champion on and off the track. From humble beginnings, he’s become the most successful driver ever and is using his platform to try and make the world a better, kinder place. His name will be etched in history forever.
The kid who dreamed the impossible— Formula 1 (@F1) November 16, 2020