Although Lewis 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 national events. Winning came naturally and by the age of 10 - with a little less than two years experience - 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 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-seater 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, nine fastest laps and 11 pole positions.
Although his subsequent move to the F3 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 in 2006 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 Formula One 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 incoming champion Fernando Alonso 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.
It was an out-of-character move for a traditionally conservative squad, but one which quickly paid dividends for team and driver alike. Hamilton won four Grands Prix in his debut season and led the championship for much of the year, developing an intense rivalry with Alonso both on and off the circuit. Only a mixture of bad luck and inexperience in the final two rounds deprived him of the title.
It was an opportunity missed, but one which he put right the following season. With Alonso having returned to Renault, Hamilton again led the table for the bulk of the season, ultimately beating Ferraris Felipe Massa to the crown by a single-point after a tense title showdown at the finale in Brazil, in which he famously took the fifth place he needed on the final corner of the final lap. Aged just 23, he thus usurped Alonso as Formula Ones youngest-ever champion.
His title defence would prove a tougher affair. He started 2009 with a car woefully short on downforce and pace, and suffered the ignominy of disqualification in Australia after being judged to have deliberately misled race stewards. With the will of a true champion, however, he never gave in and gradually turned his season around. July's Hungarian Grand Prix saw him back on the top step of the podium. That was followed by another win in Singapore and a further three podiums - enough to propel him to fifth in the final standings and make him a hot tip for championship contention in 2010.
And so it proved. Although Hamilton had some storming drives stymied by dubious strategy calls in the seasons early races, successive wins in Turkey and Canada saw him stake a serious claim for a second drivers' crown. However, with McLarens MP4-25 increasingly outpaced by its Red Bull and Ferrari rivals, he lost his championship lead at round 14 in Italy and never regained it. He went into the Abu Dhabi finale with an outside shot at the title, but ultimately finished fourth in the table, albeit comfortably clear of new team mate Jenson Button.
The 2011 season proved to be the toughest of Hamiltons Formula One career. Frustrated by a car that initially lacked race-winning potential, a series of uncharacteristic errors - seemingly always involving Ferraris Felipe Massa - led to several stewards visits and an increasingly difficult relationship with the media, one not helped by their growing interest in his admittedly troubled personal life. To add to his woes, Button had found his feet at McLaren and although Hamilton matched his compatriots three season wins with victories in China, Germany and Abu Dhabi, at the end of the year he found himself only fifth overall, three places behind his colleague. It was the first time Hamilton had been beaten by a team mate over the course of an F1 campaign.
2012 would prove to be another frustrating year for Hamilton with unreliability ruining his championship bid. On the plus side, he delivered a much more composed season behind the wheel, his devastating speed helping him to seven pole positions and four impressive victories in Canada, Hungary, Italy and the United States. Such form indicated why Mercedes were so happy to sign the Briton for the 2013 season onwards.