2007 Rookie Preview - Lewis Hamilton 12 Mar 2007
Three drivers will make their Formula One race debuts in Australia next weekend and we will be taking a closer look at all their backgrounds. First up is 22-year-old Lewis Hamilton, the much-talked-about reigning GP2 champion, who fought off stiff competition from Pedro de la Rosa to become Fernando Alonsos new team mate at McLaren.
Although Hamilton initially took up racing as a hobby, it swiftly became his vocation and after cutting his teeth around his home town of Stevenage, the young British driver turned his attentions to local, then national, events. Winning came naturally and by the age of 10 - with a little less than two years experience under his belt - he was crowned the youngest-ever winner of the British Cadet Kart championship.
Equipped with an assured racing style that belied his years, it wasnt long before Hamiltons trophy cabinet was groaning under the weight of more karting titles. McLarens Ron Dennis was one of the first to notice his swift rise through the ranks and in 1998 he signed Hamilton to the teams young driver support programme. Indeed, Denniss belief in Hamiltons 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 McLarens financial support that proved the bigger blessing for Hamilton. At once able to compete on a much larger stage, the young British driver won a multitude of European karting titles with ease. And by the age of 15 he was grabbing further headlines, this time for being crowned the sports youngest number one - a record he still retains.
But it was Hamiltons talent, not his youth that really singled him out, and as a result offers to race in other series began to flood in. Eventually in 2002 he opted for the highly-competitive British Formula Renault series. Fears he wouldnt cope with such an upswing in horsepower proved short-lived. Attacking single-seat racing with the same resolute determination that had bore fruit throughout his karting days, Hamilton finished third in his debut season, before taking the crown a year later after a record-breaking 10 wins and 11 pole positions.
Although his subsequent move to the Formula Three Euroseries was less straightforward, Hamilton eventually found his feet, improving on fifth in the standings in his debut year to win the title in his second. Driving for the dominant ASM team undoubtedly helped, but, with 15 race wins to his name, Hamilton whitewashed the opposition.
His foray into GP2 last year 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 and, perhaps more importantly, the paddocks admiration.
With his race pace and skillful consistency drawing comparisons to a young Fernando Alonso, long-time guardians McLaren - shy of a second driver to pair up with the incoming champion for the 2007 season - decided late in 2006 to see how their protege would cope in a Formula One car. They were not disappointed and rewarded Hamiltons impressive testing times and mature approach with a race seat. An out-of-character move for a traditionally conservative team maybe, but one which few doubt will pay dividends.
Also see: Heikki Kovalainen and Adrian Sutil.