Lewis Hamilton: The making of a four-time world champion
RealSport takes a look back at the key moments from the career of Britain’s first four-time world champion.
At the 2017 Mexican Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton joined an elite group of five individuals who have won four or more F1 titles, and in doing so became Britain’s most successful racing driver. It’s been a long road for the man from Stevenage, one filled with ups and down, thrills and spills, but most of all, a consistently hefty helping of drama.
To see how the fresh-faced rookie became the man standing at the very top of his sport 11 years later, RealSport takes a look at the key moments that shaped the career and character of a four-time champion.
2007: Heartbreak in China
Hamilton’s rookie season was nothing short of incredible. Finishing on the podium for his first nine races, including taking his first two race wins, the youngster was looking like a genuine title contender alongside his double world champion teammate Fernando Alonso.
Mind games in Hungary, as well as the backdrop of the ‘Spygate’ scandal that eventually saw McLaren disqualified from the 2007 World Constructors’ Championship, did little to distract F1’s latest sensation, and with two races left he was leading the world championship by 12 points. This was in the days of ten points for a win, so a podium finish in China would effectively seal the title.
At the start of the Shanghai race everything looked rosy for Lewis, and he was leading the race comfortably in tricky conditions until his wet tyres began to fade. With more rain forecast he and the team were trying to make his tyres last as long as possible, but after losing chunks of time on the badly worn rubber, he finally bailed into the pits, and disaster.
Caught out by the damper track leading to the pits, Hamilton misjudged the entry corner and slid slowly into the gravel trap, beaching his McLaren. As the team looked on in vain, Lewis was unable to get his car going again and was forced to retire. This opened the door for Kimi Raikkonen to take the win in China and pile on the pressure for the final race in Brazil.
In Brazil a rush of blood on the first lap and a subsequent gearbox issue would put the final nail in Hamilton’s title challenge, but when he looked back at the season, no doubt China would stand out as the turning point in the championship, a massively high-profile team mistake that cost him dearly.
No doubt this experience of losing the world title at the first attempt was invaluable for Hamilton. It taught him all about how you go about building a title challenging campaign, handling the pressure at the highest level in the sport, and perhaps more importantly, instilled a fierce desire to come back a year later and go one better.
2008: Second time’s the charm
Coming back in 2008 Hamilton now enjoyed the position of clear number one in the team, with Fernando Alonso having left his McLaren contract early amid the fallout from the ‘Spygate’ scandal, to be replaced with Heikki Kovalainen.
The course of the season saw a thrilling three-way battle between Lewis and the two Ferrari drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, but once F1 arrived in China it was down to Hamilton and Massa, with the Brit holding the advantage. If this scenario seemed similar to 2007 it was, although this time Lewis held a much smaller advantage so a repeat of the previous year’s mishaps would be a much bigger blow to his title aspirations.
Coming into the weekend under massive pressure, Hamilton showed the kind of composure that had perhaps eluded him the previous year and dominated the race, taking pole and the win to banish the spectres of 2007 in emphatic fashion.
It was on to Brazil again, and we all know what happened there, in what is to this date still one of the most dramatic conclusions to a Formula 1 season ever.