We’ve all heard the story about a young boy who confidently approached McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis at the 1995 Autosport Awards, telling him that he would one day drive for McLaren. That young boy was Lewis Hamilton, of course. Just three years later Hamilton was signed up by McLaren as part of their Young Driver Programme and so began a 14 year partnership.
Hamilton, like many others, started racing in karts. Aged ten he won the British Karting Championship and STP Karting Championship. In 1996 he won the Champions of the Future series and also became Sky TV Kartmasters Champion and Five Nations Champion. He continued to impress, winning most things he entered. It was in karting that he encountered current team-mate Nico Rosberg for the first time, as they partnered each other back then as well. In 1998, after he was signed up by McLaren, he won both the European and World Karting championships.
He moved to single seaters in 2001, first racing the British Formula Renault Winter Series, before progressing to a full Formula Renault UK season in 2002 driving for Manor Motorsport. He won three races and finished on the podium seven times and by the end of the year he was third in the championship. The following year he won it with ten wins and 13 podiums. Formula 3 beckoned after that and he went on to win the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2005. Hamilton joined GP2 for 2006 with ART Grand Prix. Hamilton fought hard through the year, including an impressive fight back in Turkey when he spun and dropped to the back of the field, and beat Timo Glock to the championship. On November 24 2006 it was announced that Hamilton would be joining Fernando Alonso at McLaren in Formula One.
Hamilton’s debut season in Formula One is certainly one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Qualifying fourth for the first race of the year, Hamilton wasted no time in passing his team-mate. Alonso got back past him but a third place was an impressive debut for the Brit. Four second places in a row followed and at the sixth race of the season Hamilton took his maiden Formula One win. He backed up the Canadian Grand Prix victory with another win a week later at Indianapolis. Two further third places on the trot, in France and his home race at Silverstone, meant that Hamilton had nine podiums from nine starts – highly impressive for a debut. A wet European Grand Prix was his first finish outside the points (and off the podium), but he soon got back to familiar ground with a win in Hungary and points in Turkey. Second place in Italy, fourth in Belgium, and a first in Japan added to Hamilton’s points tally and secured his position at the front of the championship. The Chinese Grand Prix was a turning point when he stayed out on his tyres just too long, and retired when his car got beached in the gravel on the entrance to the pits. He ended the year tied on points with Alonso and missing out on the championship by just a solitary point.
After Alonso’s departure, Hamilton was joined by Heikki Kovalainen for two seasons. Hamilton fought with Felipe Massa for the title in 2008 and an overtake on Glock, with whom he had been battling for the GP2 championship, at the last corner on the last lap was enough to secure it by one point. Five wins and five further podiums was enough for Hamilton to become McLaren’s next world champion. In 2009 McLaren struggled with the car at the start of the year, but in the second half they came to the fore and Hamilton picked up two race wins and three further podiums. He finished ‘best of the rest’ behind the Brawn GP and Red Bull drivers. In 2010 and 2011 he won three races and in 2012 he won four. His final race win for McLaren came at the inaugural Austin Grand Prix. He was leading the Brazilian Grand Prix until an accident with Nico Hulkenberg forced him to retire.
Hamilton announced his contract with Mercedes towards the end of September, bringing an end to his time with McLaren. He likened the move to leaving home for the first time, and seeing what else is out there. He left McLaren with 21 victories, 28 further podiums and a 74% finishing in the points record. He holds the record for most consecutive podiums from debut and most wins in a rookie season. From the moment he approached Ron Dennis and said that one day he wanted to drive for his team, Hamilton has displayed his ambition and dedication. During his six seasons with McLaren he enjoyed considerable success, and one world championship, who knows what the future will hold!
In terms of his time as a McLaren driver he was the seventh driver to win a world championship for them. He was the seventeeth driver to win a race for them and he lies third in their all time winners list, behind only Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.