The best prepared rookie in Grand Prix history and now a triple World Champion, Lewis Hamilton’s win-at-all-costs mentality and prodigious natural talent make him Formula 1’s most exciting driver. Seen as brash and cocky by some thanks to his often justified self-belief, his emotional temperament made him fallible at times early in his F1 career. However, Hamilton visibly matured as a driver and is one of the fastest men to have graced the sport. Back-to-back titles for Mercedes-Benz mean that he is now the most successful British driver in the sport's history and only Michael Schumacher has won more GPs.
McLaren protégé and early success
The son of a Stevenage railway worker, Hamilton was already national cadet karting champion when he introduced himself to Ron Dennis at the 1995 Autosport Awards. McLaren took an interest in his fledgling career from that moment and the youngster responded with a string of titles. That culminated in winning both the European title (with CRG-Parilla team-mate Nico Rosberg second) and World Cup during an impressive 2000 season in Formula A.
Hamilton made his much hyped switch to cars at the end of 2001 when driving for Manor Motorsport in the Formula Renault 2.0 Winter Series. He remained with John Booth’s team for the next two seasons in the main British series. He won three times during 2002 and finished third overall behind Danny Watts and Jamie Green. Hamilton then recovered from a slow start to 2003 to win 10 times in 11 races and complete a dominant title win.
He also made his Formula 3 debut during 2003 and remained with Manor for the following year’s F3 Euroseries. He won at the Norisring as he finished fifth overall. The end-of-season non-championship races confirmed his outright pace and prodigious overtaking ability. He started the Macau GP from pole position only to lose a chance of victory when distracted by Rosberg’s second lap accident. He then came from 21st on the grid for Bahrain’s qualification race to beat Rosberg in the final.
Having spent his single-seater career so far with Manor, Hamilton moved to reigning champions ART Grand Prix (formerly ASM) for a second season in the F3 Euroseries. The pre-season favourite dominated with his Dallara F305-Mercedes-Benz winning 15 of the 20 rounds (as well as being excluded from another win at Spa-Francorchamps) against a field that included team-mate Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta and a fresh faced Sebastian Vettel.
GP2 confirms a future star
It was his performances in the 2006 GP2 Series that convinced McLaren that here was a special talent that already warranted a top F1 drive. As with any one of his seasons in the junior formulae, much was expected of Hamilton and he delivered with aplomb. He won five times (including coming from eighth on the grid to win Silverstone’s sprint race) and recovered from 16th on the opening lap in Hungary to finish second as he beat Nelson Piquet jr to the title at the first attempt.
Formula 1 – World Champion at the second attempt
Any thoughts Hamilton would make a quiet F1 bow and play a supporting role to new team-mate Fernando Alonso were dismissed at the first Grand Prix of 2007. A record nine successive podium finishes in his first nine F1 races included dominant breakthrough victories at Montréal and Indianapolis that gave the precocious newcomer the championship lead. Helped by hours in McLaren’s simulator as he learned unfamiliar circuits, he won in Hungary and Japan to all-but clinch the World Championship in his rookie year. In the event, that unprecedented achievement slipped from his grasp with tyre failure in China and a gearbox glitch in Brazil. Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen snatched an unlikely title with Hamilton finishing as runner-up. A single point covered the top three with Alonso equalling the Englishman’s score but third on countback.
For all that success, 2007 was overshadowed by revelations that disgruntled Ferrari test team manager Nigel Stepney had passed a dossier on its F2007 to McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan. “Spygate” eventually resulted in the team’s exclusion from the constructors’ championship and a $100million fine. In addition to the scandal, Alonso’s relationship with Hamilton and senior team management deteriorated so badly that he left after a single season.
The fine margins between success and failure were amply illustrated by Hamilton’s first two F1 seasons. Having missed out by a single point 12 months earlier, Hamilton snatched the 2008 World Championship on the final corner of the last lap of the deciding race. Five victories included having punctured a tyre at Monaco and a masterful display in the wet at Silverstone. However, he clashed with Alonso in Bahrain, crashed into Räikkönen in the Montréal pitlane and scattered the front-runners after an overly impetuous move at the start of the Japanese GP. A late rain shower near the end of the final round in Brazil put his title in jeopardy as his McLaren MP4/23-Mercedes-Benz dropped to sixth as he switched to rain tyres. Then, on the last lap, he made up the 13.144sec deficit to Timo Glock’s Toyota (which was still on dry rubber) to snatch the fifth place he required to become champion by a point and cut short the premature Ferrari celebrations.
World Champion at 23 and with a pop star girlfriend, Hamilton was now among Britain’s most marketable sportsmen. However, his title defence began with more unwanted controversy for he was disqualified from the 2009 Australian GP when found to have lied to the stewards. The McLaren MP4/24 lacked balance but Hamilton helped develop it sufficiently to win in Hungary and Singapore as he finished fifth overall.
Hamilton was joined at McLaren Mercedes in 2010 by the man who succeeded him as World Champion – Jenson Button – and the Englishmen’s contrasting styles complemented each other. Inevitably, Hamilton’s aggressive driving style led to occasions when he over stepped the mark – clashing with Felipe Massa on the opening lap in Italy and puncturing a tyre against Mark Webber’s Red Bull next time out in Singapore. But there were more days when he flattered the MP4/25. Hamilton took advantage when the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ran into each other in Turkey. Further victories in the next race in Canada (from pole position) and at Spa-Francorchamps helped maintain Hamilton’s interest in the championship until the final round. One of four drivers with a mathematical chance of the title in Abu Dhabi, he finished second behind new champion Vettel but was fourth in the final standings.
So far never beaten by a team-mate over a full season during his career in cars, 2011 was a difficult year for Hamilton in his private life and on the track. The tabloid newspapers were happy to detail the break-up with former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and, whether true or not, that turmoil seemed to effect his judgment and performances in the car. He had a soon reported meeting with Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner about his future and repeated contact with Massa in Singapore and Japan drew the Brazilian’s ire. There were wins (China, Germany and Abu Dhabi) as Hamilton was classified fifth overall while team-mate Button finished as championship runner-up.
Hamilton was back to his best in 2012 in what was his final year with McLaren – his team since boyhood. He won the Canadian, Hungarian, Italian and United States GPs but further victories in Singapore and Abu Dhabi were lost when his MP4/27 failed him while in the lead. That scuppered another title challenge and Hamilton was classified fourth in the 2012 World Championship.
A move to Mercedes-Benz delivers back-to-back titles
At first it had seemed inconceivable that Hamilton would ever leave McLaren but he moved to Mercedes-Benz in 2013 – perhaps to make his own mark but mainly with one eye on the new turbocharged rules for the following season. With childhood friend Rosberg as his team-mate once more and closer to his pace than ever, Hamilton lost victory at home to a puncture but won the Hungarian GP from pole position. Hamilton and Rosberg were fourth and fifth respectively in the World Championship in what was a holding year for the team.
Mercedes were overwhelming favourites for the 2014 title and it was a campaign fought out by its two drivers – thankfully left free to race by senior management. Rosberg won the qualifying battle but it was Hamilton, now sporting the number 44 he had preferred during his karting career, who used his superior race craft to secure the World Championship. They came close in Bahrain and touched at Spa-Francorchamps as the team-mates raced wheel-to-wheel. That contact in Belgium lost Mercedes the race and earned Rosberg criticism from his team as the title pendulum shifted. Hamilton retired that day but won the next five races before clinching his second world title with victory in the Abu Dhabi finale.
Pole position, victory and fastest lap in the Australian GP set the tone at the start of the 2015 F1 season. Hamilton was utterly dominant in qualifying from race one and further victories asserted his authority within the Mercedes team. While Rosberg had challenged him until the final race of 2014, Hamilton initially out-drove his team-mate and eased to the title with three races to spare. That included his 42nd Grand Prix victory in Russia to pass the total of his great hero Ayrton Senna. He then won the wet United States GP to clinch the title and match the Brazilian's three championship wins.
Mercedes remained the team to beat in 2016 and Hamilton continued to set the pace. He won more races than Rosberg (10) and qualified on pole position for 12 of the 21 races but outright pace alone was not enough to deliver a third successive title. Poor starts and reliability issues initially hampered his cause before a run of six victories in seven mid-season races wrestled the points lead from his team-mate. However, engine failure when on course for victory in Malaysia proved crucial and Rosberg just needed a podium finish in Abu Dhabi to clinch a first world title. Hamilton cut his pace in a vain attempt to back his team-mate into the pursuing pack, despite repeated instructions from the pitwall to increase his pace. He won his fourth race in a row but ended the year as a frustrated runner-up in the championship.
|2016||F1 World Championship||21||12||21||17||10|
48% win rate
|2015||F1 World Championship||19||11||19||17||10|
53% win rate
|2014||F1 World Championship||19||7||19||16||11|
58% win rate
|2013||F1 World Championship||19||5||19||5||1|
6% win rate
|2012||F1 World Championship||20||7||20||7||4|
20% win rate
|2011||F1 World Championship||19||1||19||6||3|
16% win rate
|2010||F1 World Championship||19||1||19||9||3|
16% win rate
|2009||F1 World Championship||17||4||17||5||2|
12% win rate
|2008||F1 World Championship||18||7||18||10||5|
28% win rate
|2007||F1 World Championship||17||6||17||12||4|
24% win rate
24% win rate
75% win rate
5% win rate