Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Driver File: Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton burst on the scene in 2007 as the first black driver in Formula One history and nearly stole the title from luminaries like his then World Championship teammate Fernando Alonso and eventual 2007 titlist, Kimi Raikkonen as a rookie. From a young age, Lewis knew he wanted to be a Formula One driver and he was already being tipped as one as early as 2000. For those that follow F1, we have heard the stories of Hamilton at age 10, approaching McLaren team principal, Ron Dennis telling him "I want to race for you one day" and eventually getting signed by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz to their Young Driver Support Programme. However not as publicized is that in 2001, Michael Schumacher said of Hamilton, "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."

Hamilton cleaned up in lower formula and in 2006 won the title in the GP2 Championship, Formula One's feeder series. Although there were a few doubters about Hamilton's ability, there were many that claimed he was ready for the challenge of F1 and ready to be Alonso's teammate. 3 times F1 World Champion, Jackie Stewart said, "I think he has an enormous future, he has got clearly great talent and now he has to step up to the next level." Renault's director of engineering, Pat Symonds believed, "we are in the situation of always judging whether a new driver can come straight in, and I believe they can. It is a simple as that." Frank Williams said, "if I were Ron, I would have no hesitation in putting Hamilton in the car. He looked outstanding this year, a super talent." Moreover, Hamilton himself relished the opportunity to challenge Alonso, saying, "... but if I end up alongside Alonso it definitely would not intimidate me. I've never had a teammate who's beaten me over the course of a season. So I would love that challenge." In November of 2006, Hamilton was confirmed as a McLaren-Mercedes F1 racing driver, partnering double World Champion Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton began the 2007 season in spectacular fashion, by scoring 5 straight podium finishes (4 straight 2nd place finishes) before scoring his first F1 pole position and victory in the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. A week later, Hamilton won the United States Grand Prix also from pole position and became only the second person, after Jacques Villeneuve, to win more than one race in his rookie F1 season; his podium streak eventually ended at 9 races. During the course of the season, it became clear that Fernando Alonso was not expecting the challenge posed by Hamilton, and the relationship between the two drivers and eventually between Alonso and McLaren soured. However, through the turmoil, Hamilton seemed poised to continue to a record setting season; then there was the Chinese Grand Prix. Hamilton retired from the race which saw changeable weather conditions. He experienced considerable tire wear, notably his right rear, and he ran wide into the gravel trap in the pitlane, where he got stuck in the gravel trap. This was Hamilton's first retirement of his Formula One career. It was a crushing situation, however, he left China with a 4 point lead in the championship with one race to go. At the final race in Brazil, he suffered a gearbox problem in the first 10 laps after starting on the front row. He did recover to finish 7th, but the championship was lost to Kimi Raikkonen, by a single point. Hamilton said of the result, "I have to put the result into perspective, this is only my first year in Formula 1 and overall it has just been phenomenal. I am still very young and have plenty more years in me to achieve my dream of becoming World Champion.

In 2008, he did not get off to the incredible start he made in 2007, but it was productive nonetheless and Hamilton leads the championship again and is looking to seal the deal this time. He has 4 wins this year and a 6 point lead. With a year's worth of experience under his belt, it is well within his abilities to capture the 2008 F1 Driver's Title. Next Driver File: Felipe Massa

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