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Hamilton - Britain's next home race winner? 07 Jun 2006

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) ART Grand Prix. GP2 Series, Rd 4, Race 1, Barcelona, Spain, 13 May 2006. World © Bumstead/Sutton

This weekend's race at Silverstone will serve to concentrate the minds of British fans on the fortunes of the two drivers for who this is the ‘home’ race - David Coulthard and Jenson Button. As one of the oldest drivers in the paddock, Coulthard knows that he is coming to the end of his distinguished Formula One career, while Jenson Button is still battling to make his mark at Honda and prove that he has what it takes to win a race.

But what about the next generation of British talent? Who can we expect to see making the transition to Formula One racing in the near future? Of the current crop of hopefuls, the name that seems to be springing to most lips as Britain's next big thing is that of Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton is no stranger to hype, but he's also proving to be a major talent, and someone who appears ideally set to make the final step up the motorsport ladder to Formula One racing. A brilliant performance in the recent GP2 race at Monaco will have done his chances of moving up to the big league no harm - he turned pole into a dominant victory in his ART, crossing the line no fewer than 8.4 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

Not that stunning onlookers is a anything new for the 21-year old, it's something he's been doing since becoming the youngest ever winner of the British cadet class kart championship, aged just 10. His performance in karts was sufficiently assured to attract the interest of McLaren, who signed him up as a ‘driver of the future’ as long ago as 1998, and have been supporting him ever since.

After graduating from karts, Hamilton made his mark in Formula Renault, finishing the 2002 British season in third place overall and taking three podium finishes from four starts in the EuroCup series the same year. The following season he came top in British Formula Renault - the feeder category that propelled Kimi Raikkonen into the big time. A move to the Formula 3 Euroseries followed, with Hamilton finishing 2005 as champion after pretty much whitewashing the opposition with nine victories from 12 races. He then graduated to GP2 for this season, where he currently lies second in the standings, just two points behind Nelson Piquet Jr.

Hamilton's performances have won him so much attention that people in the paddock are now wondering if he could step straight into a full Formula One drive with McLaren next year. As GP2 graduate Nico Rosberg has already proved, the gap between the two series is by no means insurmountable for a talented young driver. Giving such a chance to a relative unknown would be a huge risk for a team leader as cautious as Ron Dennis to take, but with Raikkonen’s future unclear and Juan Pablo Montoya's contract showing little sign of being renewed, Hamilton could be the ideal 2007 team mate for Fernando Alonso.

"We've mapped out his year, he's going to concentrate on GP2 and we're not going to get distracted from that," Dennis told news agency Reuters, after the Monaco Grand Prix. "As and when I feel it is appropriate, we'll give him the opportunity to test and really settle in to driving a Formula One car. Then, according to how that works out, we'll decide together the next best step."

But don't be surprised if, by next year's British Grand Prix, the crowds have a new local hero to cheer on.