BACK IN 2006, WHEN LEWIS HAMILTON WAS given his Formula 1 evaluation test against McLaren’s then race driver Pedro de la Rosa, he was matching the accomplished driver’s timings at the age of 21. De La Rosa immediately knew that he had a massive problem; not just him but the entire grid itself. He has been spot on with his prediction as Lewis has gone on to become the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time, all set to beat Michael Schumacher. But how did he get here in the first place?
At the age of 10, Lewis became the youngest ever winner of the British cadet karting championship. He attended the Autosport awards the same year and walked up to Ron Dennis, the McLaren boss and said, “One day, I want to be racing your cars.” Within three years, Ron had signed him for McLaren’s driver development programme, putting Martin Whitmarsh, CEO, McLaren in charge of Lewis’ career.
Lewis was good at his craft but didn’t look like other drivers on the grid, facing racist comments from other drivers and their parents even. He wasn’t part of a wealthy family either, unlike most others in the paddock. His father Anthony worked several shifts, living in a council house in Stevenage, working in IT and the railways. In the early days, Lewis did get angry with his rivals for calling him ‘black’ but responded on track, by winning the races. Success ensued in F3 and GP2 (then the final category before F1) in 2006 and Lewis had one of the most impressive seasons ever in F2. And soon F1 beckoned.
Fernando Alonso had finally broken Schumacher’s record winning streak and was regarded as the number one driver on the grid in 2007. When he heard that a novice would be his partner, he wasn’t impressed. But it turned out to be a very different story. What followed was one of the most dramatic and tumultuous seasons ever in F1’s history, almost tearing apart the McLaren team. Hamilton grabbed podium positions for the first nine consecutive races and even won the seventh, leading the championship after the fourth race itself. Building tensions soon unravelled at the next race in Hungary.
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