Few drivers have entered Formula One racing with as big a bang as Lewis Hamilton and a seemingly charmed racing career nurtured in no small part by Ron Dennis, principle at McLaren at the time. Hamilton’s sensational maiden season in 2007 – in which he lost out on the world championship by a single point – remains one of the most remarkable rookie campaigns in history. Going from McLaren to Mercedes when the team was just hiding his stride made it seem all too easy. But without his innate talent it would have all come to naught as F1 is strewn with the remains of other young phenoms.
Lewis Carl David Hamilton was born on 7 January 1985 in Stevenage, Hertfordshire to Carmen Larbalestier and Anthony Hamilton. His grandparents had emigrated from Grenada to the UK in the 1950s. His parents separated when he was two and he went to live with his mother and half-sisters. When Lewis was six his father bought his young son a radio-controlled car, then a go-kart. He told his that as long as he did well at school he’d support his son’s passion for racing. Hamilton attributes much of his success to his humble upbringing in Stevenage. Winning came naturally to the young driver and soon he was entered in national events. By the age of 10 – with a little less than two years’ experience – he was crowned the youngest-ever winner of the British Cadet Kart championship.
In 1998 the McLaren boss signed him to the team’s young driver programme. Dennis’s belief in Hamilton’s talents was such that the contract even included an option on the 13 year-old should he ever make it into Formula One racing. At this stage, however, it was McLaren’s financial support that proved the bigger blessing for Hamilton, who up to that point had been supported by his dutiful father – and future manager – Anthony, who worked several jobs to keep his son racing. Multiple-World Champion Michael Schumacher said of him, “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.”
Eventually in 2002 he opted for the highly-competitive British Formula Renault series. Fears he wouldn’t cope with such an upswing in horsepower proved short-lived. Attacking single-seater racing with the same resolute determination that had bore fruit throughout his karting days, Hamilton finished third in his debut season, before taking the championship a year later after a record-breaking 10 wins, nine fastest laps and 11 pole positions.
Although his subsequent move to the F3 Euroseries was less straightforward, Hamilton eventually found his feet, improving on fifth in the standings in his first year to win the title in his second. Hamilton was almost signed to Williams but BMW refused to fund him. Instead, he returned to McLaren and continued to win races in Formula Three. Hamilton ended the 2005 season having won 15 of the 20 rounds driving for the dominant ASM team. Autosport ranked him number 24 in its list of Top 200 Drivers. His foray into GP2 in 2006 proved equally thrilling. At his very best, Hamilton stunned onlookers with a string of spectacular performances. Outshining his more experienced team mate Alexandre Premat and a resurgent Nelson Piquet Jr with his bold driving style, he won the title ART Grand Prix
In 2007 Ron Dennis literally threw his young driver into the fire having Hamilton partner the twice World Champion Fernando Alonso. Hamilton won four Grands Prix in his debut season and led the championship for much of the year, developing an intense rivalry with Alonso both on and off the circuit. Only a mixture of bad luck and inexperience in the final two rounds deprived him of the title. It was an opportunity missed, but one which he put right the following season. With Alonso having returned to Renault, Hamilton again led the table for the bulk of the season, ultimately beating Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to the crown by a single point after a tense title showdown at the finale in Brazil, in which he famously took the fifth place he needed on the final corner of the final lap.
Hamilton started 2009 with a car woefully short on downforce and pace, and suffered the ignominy of disqualification in Australia after being judged to have deliberately misled race stewards regarding an incident with third place finisher Jarno Trulli. Whether Hamilton was coached into giving false testimony by his team has never been fully disclosed. Hamilton gradually turned his season around. July’s Hungarian Grand Prix saw him back on the top step of the podium. That was followed by another win in Singapore and a further three podiums – enough to propel him to fifth in the final standings. Jenson Button and Brawn GP secured the Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championship titles respectively.
Although Hamilton had some storming drives stymied by dubious strategy calls in the 2010 season’s early races, successive wins in Turkey and Canada saw him stake a serious claim for a second drivers’ crown. However, with McLaren’s MP4-25 increasingly outpaced by its Red Bull and Ferrari rivals, he lost his championship lead at round 14 in Italy and never regained it. He went into the Abu Dhabi finale with an outside shot at the title, but ultimately finished fourth in the table, albeit comfortably clear of new team mate Jenson Button. German Sebastian Vettel driving for Red Bull would win his first of four consecutive titles.
The 2011 season was to be the toughest of Hamilton’s Formula One career. Frustrated by a car that initially lacked race-winning potential, a series of uncharacteristic errors – seemingly always involving Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – led to several stewards visits and an increasingly difficult relationship with the media, one not helped by their growing interest in his well publicized personal life. To add to his woes, Button had found his feet at McLaren and although Hamilton matched his compatriot’s three season wins with victories in China, Germany and Abu Dhabi, at the end of the year he found himself only fifth overall, three places behind his colleague.
It was the first time Hamilton had been beaten by a team mate over the course of an F1 campaign. 2012 would prove to be another unsatisfying year for Hamilton with unreliability ruining his championship bid. On the plus side, he delivered a much more composed season behind the wheel, his devastating speed helping him to seven pole positions and four impressive victories in Canada, Hungary, Italy and the United States. Such form indicated why Mercedes were so happy to sign Hamilton for the 2013 season onwards. Hamilton did not disappoint his new employers, as he enjoyed a relatively seamless transition to only his second F1 team. Victory in Hungary, plus a further four podiums and five pole positions carried him to fourth in the 2013 drivers’ championship, two places above new team mate Nico Rosberg. In 2014 things got even better for Hamilton who, armed with the hugely dominant Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid, saw off the challenge of team mate Rosberg and several moments of adversity to win 11 races and clinch his second world drivers’ crown. He carried that momentum into 2015, winning 10 times to become a three-time world champion and the first Briton to secure back-to-back titles.
Like many drivers given the right car Hamilton can be magical but any comparison with Fernando Alonso will find the Spaniard having the better of Hamilton when the car is lacking competitiveness. Currently with Mercedes that does not seem a likely issue. While Alonso struggles at McLaren, Hamilton continues to win races.
Is Lewis Hamilton the best Formula 1 Driver Ever?
If you’re a fan of Formula One racing, you know Lewis Hamilton. Even if you’re not a fan, you probably know him. If you’ve shown any loose interests in sports in general, chances are you’ve heard or read his name, somewhere, at some point. He has been that dominant, lording over the Formula One field for more than a decade.
To that end, debating where he stands relative to his current competitors has officially become pointless. It has been for a while. Everyone just assumes he’s going to win the championship each and every year, not by the skin of his teeth, but in a landslide.
Presently 35, Hamilton’s reign isn’t expected to end anytime soon. Even sportsbooks are hedging against his dominance. He was the odds-on favorite to win the 2020 F1 Championship by one of the widest margins in history.
This cannot be taken lightly. Charles Leclerc, a driver for Ferrari, is widely considered the closest thing Hamilton has to a peer right now—and even he isn’t considered to have a practical shot at the F1 title so long as Hamilton remains at or near his peak.
But while Hamilton’s place among his fellow F1 drivers is an open-and-shut case, his historical profile is less of a sure thing. That’s not an insult, by the way. Rather, it speaks to the profound, complex questions that are being asked about his still-ongoing legacy: Is he the best Formula One driver of all time?
Hamilton’s feats as a member of the Mercedes team speak for themselves. He debuted in 2007. Since then, he’s amassed 84 wins and 151 podium finishes. That’s absolutely mind-melting. Think of it this way: Hamilton has 250 career stars under his belt. He effectively wins races in which he participates 34 percent of the time. And he secures a top-three finish or better more than 60 percent of the time. He has also recorded 47 fastest laps during his time on the circuit—a ridiculously high number, for those who may not know.
And then there’s Hamilton’s coup de grace: His F1 World Championship victories. He has six to his name, including each of the past three and five of the past six: 2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Those anticipating a seventh—and fourth consecutive—championship aren’t alone. They’re in the majority. They’ll also have to wait and see when Hamilton gets back on the track. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted live sports action pretty much anywhere, and no one quite knows when motorsports, including F1, are going to return.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t much matter to Hamilton’s legacy. He could never drive another race, and he would still be in the greatest-of-all-time discourse. Granted, it would still help if he could break the record for career F1 victories. His 84 wins leave him seven shy of Michael Schumacher’s watermark of 91 (and seven world titles)—a touchstone Hamilton, who already owns the F1 all-time record for podium finishes, is almost destined to beat if he continues racing for the foreseeable future.
Again, though, Hamilton’s greatest-of-all-time stock is no longer tightly tethered to his outcomes on the track. The one-man dynasty he’s built says all it can. Any other statistical bumps are merely cherries atop the ice cream sundae that is his highly decorated career.
What really separates Hamilton in the best-ever discussion is the extent to which he has transcended the sport he dominates. He is a cultural icon in one of the most difficult periods for professional athletes.
Social media has lent itself to an always-on culture, which is at once a gift and a curse. Every athlete, including Hamilton, is a brand. This helps the best of the best get seriously paid—Hamilton has made nearly $500 million for his career as of February 2019, according to Forbes—but it also opens them to relentless, constant criticism. And this scrutiny isn’t specific to their profession. It spills into their personal lives. Everything they do is a headline. Every mistake they make is a misstep not only to be learned from, but to be publicized and politicized and used as a catch-all verdict on their value as both an athlete and human being.
Hamilton has navigated this part of his job description masterfully. And while numbers enthusiasts are quick to throw away more subjective arguments, his character has to be part of his resume. He has invited, maybe even created, a whole new subset of Formula One fans, in large part because they can relate to his background, and because he’s been willing to speak out on issues that journey beyond his sport.
That burden he carries, as both a cultural and racing icon, cannot be dismissed or downplayed. It is one so few athletes have had to bear, and it is one even fewer have embraced. Michael Jordan, widely considered one of the five most famous athletes of all time, was definitively apolitical during the prime of his basketball career. He was at once accessible—to fans, to media members—and wore a cloak of armor. He was candid without always revealing anything.
This doesn’t make MJ any less of an icon. Hamilton is just a different sort of icon, at a time when it’s much harder to be a universally revered one.
Between that and the list of on-track accomplishments that so obviously, so loudly, so decidedly speak for themselves, the question of whether Hamilton is Formula One’s greatest of all time isn’t really a question. He is.
Lewis Hamilton’s Best Races
There was never really any doubt that Lewis Hamilton would one day exceed Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 Grand Prix victories. In fact, most fans were pretty sure a few seasons ago that Hamilton would become the driver with the most Grand Prix wins in history: It was always going to be a case of “when”, not “if”.
Clinching that milestone will undoubtedly reignite the debate over Hamilton’s place among the greatest F1 drivers in history. Most will say that the numbers speak for themselves, citing Hamilton’s win percentage compared to, say, Schumacher (34.87% vs 29.55%). Others might point to the advantage Hamilton had with his car over the last several years. Indeed, when it comes to Hamilton, things can get pretty heated as some point to the driver as emblematic of modern F1’s.
There is no right answer to the debate, but we can agree that he has been one of the best drivers of modern times, and that he has delivered some thrilling performances. Below we are going to look at five of those most thrilling victories from the man who now has 91 to choose from:
2018 German Grand Prix
When looking back on this, there was quite a measure of serendipitous good fortune for Hamilton, who won the race from way back on 14th on the grid. What would have happened if Sebastian Vettel hadn’t made a critical mistake and crashed out on Lap 52? What would have happened if it hadn’t started raining? These are moot points though, as Hamilton cut through the field like a racehorse to put the pressure on the drivers at the front. Ignoring a call to pitstop (a miscommunication, we were told), he hung on quite easily and regained momentum in the World Championship.
2011 Chinese Grand Prix
It’s worth reminding Hamilton’s naysayers that the British driver didn’t always enjoy the advantage of the best car on the track. Such was the case in 2011 when he drove for McLaren against superior Red Bull cars. Nevertheless, Hamilton was magnificent in an intriguing battle with old foe Sebastian Vettel, overtaking the German with 12 laps to go after a daring dive on the turn. This felt like an old school race, and Hamilton seemed to love every minute of it.
2014 Bahrain Grand Prix
When it comes to the greatest F1 rivalries, we tend to look back at Lauda vs Hunt, Senna vs Prost, and so on. But we tend to forget how heated things got between Hamilton and his then Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg. The pair, who were childhood friends, threw everything at each other, leading to many fall outs and many physical collisions. The 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix was a masterclass, though, as Hamilton held off an incessant Rosberg lap after lap. One of the best lead-from-the-front drives you’ll ever see in F1.
2008 British Grand Prix
Like the other man on 91 wins, Michael Schumacher, Hamilton is also considered a master of wet-weather driving, and that was on show at Silverstone in the Brit’s 26th Grand Prix start. In fact, the conditions on track were atrocious, but Hamilton, starting in 4th, put on a masterclass of inclement weather handling, lapping almost everyone on the track and finished well over a minute second-placed Nick Heidfeld. This was the first race where the world really began to look at Hamilton and think, “this kid could be an all-time great”.
2018 Italian Grand Prix
Everything seemed set up for a Ferrari ‘home’ victory at Monza, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen starting ahead of Hamilton on the grid. More pertinently, it was clear in qualifying that Ferrari’s cars had better speed and power. Hamilton was having none of it, however, and chipped away at the Ferraris, eventually passing Raikkonen with eight laps remaining. Luck and Ferrari’s in-fighting had an influence on the outcome, of course. But that’s what great drivers do – take advantage of everything the race lays out before them.