Named after American sprint legend Carl Lewis and growing up idolising Ayrton Senna, it's perhaps no surprise that Lewis Hamilton was born for a life of speed, and he has gone on to make the most of it. Hamilton is not only the most successful driver of his generation, but his continued success has elevated into the conversation for all-time legendary status, with his racing talent now matched by a bulging collection of race wins, titles and honours. Already Formula 1's most successful qualifier of all time, having eclipsed Michael Schumacher's record for pole positions in 2017, he enters 2020 with six titles to the great German's seven and only seven short of Schumacher's 91 race wins previously thought impossible to eclipse. Having utterly dominated the V6 Hybrid era, we look back at Hamilton's stellar career to date, starting where it all began…
Having been signed by McLaren as a 13-year-old, great things were expected of Hamilton and he debuted in 2007 with plenty of hype after winning GP2 the previous year ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. Partnered by reigning two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren, who was strong title favourite.
A podium on debut in Australia was followed by eight more consecutive trips to the rostrum – a record-breaking sequence to start an F1 career that is yet to be matched. He also became the youngest driver to lead the drivers' championship early in the season and his title campaign was sustained through the year thanks to victories in Canada, the United States, Hungary and Japan.
His relationship with Alonso soon turned sour as the Spaniard accused the British team of favouring their home driver, but Hamilton put himself in position to win the title in his rookie campaign with two races to go. All he needed in China was to finish ahead of Alonso, but he slithered into the gravel at the pit entry, retiring and taking the fight to the last round in Brazil, where he again struggled, opening the door for Kimi Raikkonen to come from 17 points behind to snatch the title by a solitary point.
The toxic relationship with Alonso was broken up as the Spaniard left, confirming Hamilton as McLaren's team leader. Hamilton went toe-to-toe with another Ferrari driver in the form of Felipe Massa and the culmination of their battle goes down in F1 folklore.
Hamilton only needed to finish fifth at Interlagos, but was under pressure as he qualified fourth with Massa on pole and needing a win to pile the pressure on. However, Hamilton seemed to be handling it well and was comfortably in the top five with less than 20 laps to run.
Rain eight laps from the end caused chaos, with drivers suddenly diving into the pits and Hamilton struggled, losing fifth place to Sebastian Vettel with just three laps running. Massa crossed the line as race winner and champion, but Timo Glock ran wide with a few turns left, letting Hamilton back into fifth and sparking one of the craziest celebrations ever seen in F1. Hamilton also became the youngest champion in F1 history, although this record has since been broken by Vettel.
Drop from contention
The following years were difficult for Hamilton as McLaren began to struggle in terms of car development, first to Brawn and then to Red Bull.
Hamilton finished no higher than fourth in the drivers' championship between 2009 and 2012, but won races each year and was one of four drivers in with a chance of winning the title in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2010.
With Vettel starting to dominate F1, and a change of regulations on the horizon, Hamilton decided that a change of scenery was needed.
Hamilton stunned F1 by ditching McLaren for Mercedes for the 2013 season, replacing Schumacher in the Silver Arrows' line-up and teaming with former junior rival, and childhood friend, Nico Rosberg. Hamilton won only once in 2013, in Hungary, to keep up his run of winning at least one race in every season of his career. However, Niki Lauda and Ross Brawn had convinced him to make the move with an eye on 2014.
The move paid off handsomely. As the V6 Hybrid era dawned, Hamilton suddenly found himself in, by far, the dominant car on the grid, beating Rosberg to the title in 2014, winning a memorable battle in Bahrain against his teammate and in 2015. As with Alonso, things grew strained between the rivals, as they only had each other to concern themselves with. Secrecy within the team plagued Mercedes and led to sniping between the drivers, including accusations of on-track skulduggery and favouritism from the pit-wall.
Hamilton's performances remained impressive in 2016, but a lack of reliability helped Rosberg get closer than in previous years and a crucial engine blowout in Malaysia ensured that Rosberg had the championship in his hands, something he successfully secured before shockingly retiring from the sport immediately after beating his rival.
Partnered by Valtteri Bottas after Rosberg's retirement, Hamilton remained at the peak of his powers, despite the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull finally closing the gap. Vettel emerged as his main rival, finally pitting the dominant forces of the modern era against each other. Ferrari's 2017 car was not quite fast enough and Hamilton eased to a fourth title, matching Vettel to set-up a thrilling race between them for number five in 2018. Ferrari and Vettel appeared to have the upper hand, only to let things slip with errors on the track and pit wall, as Hamilton turned the screw with a stunning run of six wins in seven races to power his way to a fifth world title, matching Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio.
In 2019, Hamilton once again proved to be the class of the field, taking 11 victories on his way to championship number six. He and his Mercedes team were helped along the way by Ferrari's woes, be it mechanically or through driver error. Nevertheless, Hamilton came out on top in some memorable battles with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc on his way to wrapping up the title at the Circuit of the Americas.
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