Lewis Hamiltons 2008 season - a legend in the making 04 Nov 2008
Last year's Brazilian Grand Prix was an unmitigated disaster for Lewis Hamilton. A poor start, a first-lap error and some untimely gearbox gremlins all combined to shatter his hopes of clinching a historic first title at Interlagos, leaving a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen free to collect the crown.
On Sunday, after a nail-biting finish, the failure and heartache were confined to the history books, as Hamilton accomplished what he so nearly achieved on his first attempt. So established is the new world champion, it is difficult to believe that he becomes the sports youngest ever title holder, aged just 23, bettering previous record holder Fernando Alonso by just over four months.
Hamilton has just 35 race appearances under his belt, but from that modest tally has gleaned nine wins and 13 poles. To put those figures into context, Alonso had made 69 starts before he clocked up that number of victories, while Raikkonen has scored only three more poles over his eight-year career. Of course Alonso and Raikkonen werent gifted with the quickest of cars as their careers began, but even with the might of McLaren behind him, Hamiltons statistics are peerless.
His 2007 rookie campaign quickly became the stuff of legend. Six pole positions, four wins and 109 points made it the most successful debut season in Formula One history - and severely ruffled the feathers of then team mate Alonso. Ultimately he was just two points shy of winning the title.
He left Interlagos last year disappointed but not disheartened, and at the 2008 season opener in Australia, he made it quite clear he wouldnt be an also-ran again. Taking pole and victory, he dominated the Melbourne race, stamping his authority on both new team mate Heikki Kovalainen and his other prospective title rivals with a dazzling display.
It was the best of starts. But the next round in Malaysia was different story, with Hamilton dropping five grid places for blocking in qualifying, and then suffering pit-stop problems en route to fifth place. In Bahrain too, he seemed to have lost the poise that singled him out in 07 and after a fluffed start and a collision with Alonso he crossed the line a miserable 13th, losing his championship lead in the process.
Third place at the subsequent Spanish Grand Prix went some way to boosting his title hopes, but it was far from the bounce-back hed hoped for, as winner Raikkonen extended his championship lead. And while he left the following Turkey race well-satisfied with his improved performance, second place was not enough. He needed a win.
It came in Monaco. Despite Ferrari locking out the front row, Hamilton drove a faultless race to score a memorable first victory at the track around which hero Ayrton Senna had excelled. He described it as a highlight of his career - but it was to be the only highlight for the next few races. His embarrassing pit-lane collision in Canada and a disastrous stewards decision at the French Grand Prix saw him fail to score at either event.
But at Julys British Grand Prix, Hamilton once again showed his rare talent. While his more experienced rivals slipped up in the tricky wet conditions, he handled the pressure with almost nonchalant prowess. He then clocked up a second successive victory at Hockenheim to regain the championship lead.
Fast forward to the penultimate round in Shanghai and you get an even greater sense of Hamiltons worth as a driver. After coping with front-left tyre damage (Hungary), a dominant Massa (Europe), a controversial stewards decision (Belgium), a terrible qualifying session (Italy), unfortunate safety car timing (Singapore) and finally a scrappy start (Japan), Hamilton had made some very costly errors and borne the brunt of his fair share of bad luck.
You could argue that in many ways this season was not been in the same league as his rookie year. There have been several mistakes and he has come in for a lot of criticism from both the stewards room and his fellow drivers. But, crucially, he also continued to maximise his scores - even when the chips were down - and just when everyone thought he was about to crack, he found new reserves - as illustrated by his spectacular win in China, a win that all but assured him of title triumph in Brazil. Admittedly aided by some equally haphazard performances from his rivals, Hamilton has won out in the end.
Many drivers find that their second year in Formula One is tougher than the first, as the pressure increases and the sports taxing intricacies become more apparent. But Hamilton has bounced back with a maturity belying his years. Congratulations Lewis!