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Hamilton comes through his toughest test yet 27 Jul 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007 leads Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 is approached by a spinning Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR2.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 20 July 2007

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has just emerged from arguably the toughest week of his Formula One career - and the worry for his rivals is that he will undoubtedly be a stronger competitor for it!

First a bruising Nurburgring weekend ended his unprecedented run of podium finishes and saw his championship lead reduced from12 points to just two. Then he faced an anxious wait ahead of Thursday’s World Motor Sport Council meeting, which could in theory have seen him stripped of points altogether.

Before the European Grand Prix Hamilton had - to the casual bystander - made Formula One racing look almost easy, clinching pole positions and winning races from world champion team mate Fernando Alonso. In the midst of such success, it has been easy to forget Hamilton is still a rookie and, as such, is still learning.

But then, over that one incident-packed weekend, it seemed anything that could go wrong for the young Briton did go wrong. Not only was he rocked by a massive qualifying shunt, but his lowest grid position of the season, an early puncture and, of course, the rain all made it look as though fate had finally decided call a halt to the Hamilton fairytale. However, in the eyes of many, his response to events only served to underline his true championship potential.

Having started no lower than fourth all season - and from the front row at the previous five events - a tenth-place grid slot could have been something of a hurdle. Hamilton, however, responded with characteristic determination and his getaway was fast enough to capitalize on a BMW Sauber collision ahead, quickly moving up to fourth, before the puncture dropped him back down the order.

When the rain came, he was one of several drivers to aquaplane off - but the only one cool-headed enough to keep the engine running and wait for a crane to lift him out of the gravel. It was a stunt worthy of Michael Schumacher, who was given a similar second chance at the same circuit in 2003 after he was pushed back onto the circuit by marshals.

From there Hamilton kept his composure, following the complex safety-car procedures and passing the Mercedes to unlap himself and rejoin the back of the pack. Then, after the restart, a premature switch to dry tyres put him briefly off track again, but once more he kept his head, finding the pace and passing moves necessary to get himself back on the lead lap and into contention. In the end it wasn’t quite enough and he finished one overtake short of a point in ninth - but the lessons learnt along the way will prove invaluable in the future.

“This was an extraordinary weekend and a new experience for me,” he exclaimed afterwards. But as team mate Alonso bathed in the glory of victory, Hamilton knew yet another new experience was potentially just days away. Some said his Nurburgring drive amounted to a lot of hard work for nothing - more worrying were those predicting his whole season’s work might have been in vain. It all hinged on the FIA’s decision over the McLaren-Ferrari ‘spy-scandal’, an affair that has put the whole team under intense media pressure - pressure that could well have distracted a lesser driver from the task in hand.

When word came that McLaren had escaped sanction, Hamilton’s fans around the world breathed a sigh of relief. “Whilst it’s only my first season in Formula One with the team, I already know and appreciate the commitment and dedication of the people there,” he said of his McLaren colleagues. “As a result I am pleased with today’s decision and can’t wait for the rest of the season.”

And after surviving the trials of the past few days, Hamilton now looks better equipped than ever to make sure his will remain a debut Formula One season to remember.