02 Dec 2020


This month our spotlight feature pretty much picked itself. He’s been the most successful British motorsport driver for some years, but 2 weeks ago he became a seven-time Formula 1 World Champion, matching the legendary Michael Schumacher, and officially becoming the most successful racing driver ever!

Our spotlight feature for this month is Lewis Hamilton MBE.

Born in Stevenage in January 1985, Hamilton’s early life was spent living with his mother Carmen and his two half-sisters Samantha and Nicola following his parent’s separation in 1987. Lewis moved to live with his father Anthony in 1997, along with stepmother Linda, and half-brother Nick.

He attended John Henry Newman School where he was a keen sportsman, playing football, cricket and taking Karate lessons which, he later said was for self-defence, having suffered bullying at school.

While particularly keen on football his real sporting passion had been ignited some years earlier at the age of 5 when Anthony bought him a radio-controlled car which he raced in organised BRCA competitions with great success. This led him to his first ever TV appearance on an edition of Blue Peter where he demonstrated his RC driver skills.

However, by this time Lewis had moved up into karting following his dad buying him a kart two years earlier.

It’s no secret that competitive karting is an expensive business and Anthony worked multiple jobs to fund his sons driving ambitions.

Lewis’ first taste on the track was at Rye House in 1993. He took to karting like a duck to water, using all the car control theory he had learned racing radio-controlled cars. It wasn’t long before he was winning races and within 2 years, he had won the British Cadet Kart Championship aged 10, the youngest ever winner.

At the end of the year a clearly confident and cheeky Lewis made his now fabled approach to Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards. Asking for an autograph he introduced himself and told Ron he wanted to drive his cars one day. Ron signed his book and added a note telling him to call him in 9 years. Whether or not Dennis was serious in his comment, he would soon be taking notice of the young drivers results as Hamilton continued to win races and championships.

Following Hamilton’s successful defence of his British Karting Championship as well as winning the European Championship in 2000 without dropping a point, Ron Dennis recognised his special talent and decided not to wait for Hamilton to call him. Following a series of meetings with Anthony as his manager, Lewis signed with McLaren under their Driver Development Programme in 2001 at age 16. The contract included an option of a future Formula One seat, which made Lewis the youngest driver to secure a contract with an F1 drive attached.

Michael Schumacher, who by that time was a 4-time F1 World Champion and Lewis would go on to emulate, commented on the signing that “He is a quality driver, very strong and only 16. If he keeps this up, I’m sure he will reach F1. It’s something special to see a kid of his age out on the circuit. He’s clearly got the right racing mentality.”

Lewis’ first taste of single seat car racing was in 2001 in the Formula Renault winter series.

He soon got to grips with the car and finished fifth in the series which led to a driver with the Manor Racing Team in the 2002 UK Formula Renault series. It was a solid season learning his craft in single seaters and he finished the season in P3 with 3 wins and 3 pole positions. The following year he was untouchable, taking the 2003 title with 10 wins out of 15 starts.

By this time Lewis was being courted by a number of teams but decided to stick with McLaren and Manor Motorsport, starting the 2004 season in the Formula 3 Euro Series. The year was full of mixed fortunes for Hamilton winning one race and finishing fifth in the championship. He countered this with a debut win in the Bahrain Superprix and ended the year with his first Formula 1 test drive.

By 2005 Anthony Hamilton was pushing McLaren to promote Lewis to a GP2 seat. Then CEO Martin Whitmarsh refused to bow to Hamilton Snr’s argument and threatened to terminate Lewis’ contract. Following 2 weeks of stalled negotiations, both sides agreed that Lewis would stay in F3 for a further season. Hamilton went on to win the 2005 F3 Euro Series, winning 15 of the 20 races.

2006 proved to be a landmark season for Hamilton as he moved up to F2 and a chance for him to be seen on the same stage as the F1 circus. He joined the ART Grand Prix team following in the footsteps of his friend from karting days, Nico Rosberg, who had won the GP2 title with ART the previous season and had stepped up to Formula 1 as a Williams driver.

Hamilton again proved he could step into a car and be immediately quick. In a series of memorable drives at the Nürburgring, Silverstone, and Istanbul Park, he showed he could lead from the front, be fearless and ruthless in overtaking, and also drive through a field from back to front. He went on to win the 2006 GP2 title at his first attempt beating Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Timo Glock.

Following his success in GP2 and the departure of Kimi Räikkönen to Ferrari, Hamilton was confirmed as the team’s second driver alongside Fernando Alonso for 2007.

Hamilton started his 2007 debut Formula 1 season with a bang, making the podium in each of his first five races. He took his first Formula One win in round 6 of the season at the Canadian Grand Prix. Further wins in USA, Hungary, and Japan, plus another four podiums meant he ended his debut season as runner up to Kimi Raikkonen who took the driver’s world championship by a single point.

The result was much to the displeasure of his teammate Fernando Alonso who as number one driver had been thoroughly outshone by Hamilton. During the season, the pair were involved in a number of incidents which resulted in tensions between both drivers and the team, culminating in Alonso and McLaren terminating their contract by mutual consent in November.

Hamilton’s performance which also set the record for most consecutive podium finishes from a rookie, joint most wins in a debut season, and the most points in a debut season led to McLaren signing him up to an improved multi-million-dollar contract keeping him with the team until 2012.

Many questioned whether Hamilton was a flash in the pan. Could he repeat the success of 2007?

For 2008 Lewis raised the bar again. The season proved to be a straight shoot-out between Hamilton and Filipe Massa in the Ferrari. Coming to the final race in Brazil, Hamilton led the standings and only needed to finish fifth or better to take the title.

In a wet race where Hamilton’s strategy had been far from perfect, he found himself in P6 on the final lap. With Massa already across the line and celebrating the win and Massa’s family in the garage celebrating the title win, Hamilton passed a slow Timo Glock in the Toyota on the last corner to cross the line in P5, securing the drivers world championship in only his second season in F1.

The following season saw the emergence of Red Bull as a major force in Formula 1. Adrian Newey had joined the team from McLaren in 2006 and by now the Red Bull car was showing the benefit of his design expertise piloted by Sebastian Vettel. It also coincided with a set a significant regulation changes which reset many teams including the old Honda team that had been bought out by Ross Brawn. Brawn showed his engineering leadership making the best of the rule changes and managing to almost seamlessly transplant a Mercedes engine and new KERS System into a car originally designed for a Honda engine.

The combination proved a revelation with the Brawn team turning up to pre-season testing with a car that and hardly turned a wheel but immediately topped the timing charts by a significant margin.

Brawn-Mercedes would go on to win the Constructors World Title in their debut season, the first team ever to do so, and reward Jenson Button for his loyalty with a deserved Drivers World Championship. The team was sold at the end of the 2009 season to Mercedes-Benz, entering Formula 1 for the first time as a manufacturer and setting in motion a process that would prove history making.

McLaren struggled to keep up with Red Bull for 2010 and saw the Red Bull consolidate their good form at the end of 2009 with a first drivers world title for Sebastian Vettel, and their first constructor’s title.

Hamilton’s form also dipped. While still winning races, he was inconsistent and failed to compete for the title to the extent that in 2011 he found himself playing second fiddle to Jensen Button in a season that saw him score less points than his teammate for the first time in his career. He also drew criticism from some quarters that his celebrity lifestyle was distracting him from his racing.

Before the start of the 2012 season Hamilton regrouped, made changes in his personal life, and gave a commitment that he would do better. Keeping to his word, Hamilton achieved four race-wins in the 2012 season as he finished fourth in the driver’s championship.

If you look back at the drivers that have faced setbacks there is usually a milestone in their careers which signifies the point when they had the courage, conviction, and self-belief to take a risk that became game changing for them. The obvious parallels are made between Michael Schumacher’s decision to move to Ferrari in 2000 and Lewis’ decision at the end of 2012 to join Mercedes for 2013 replacing the very same retiring Michael Schumacher.

The decision proved to be the turning point for Lewis. Although the team had only won once since the Brawn buyout, Lewis had made the move with the long term in mind. He’d been persuaded by Niki Lauda that the team would bring him world titles and time would prove him to be right.

In his debut season for Mercedes, he secured fourth place in the driver’s world championship with his first win for the Silver Arrows at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix and four further podiums. It also marked Sebastian Vettel’s fourth consecutive world title.

For 2014 Mercedes and Hamilton were ready. While Nico Rosberg took the opening race win at Melbourne after Hamilton’s retirement, Hamilton clinically established himself as the team’s number one driver, even though the team insisted both their drivers were treated equally. Apart from three retirements, he was never off the podium and won eleven of the nineteen races taking the title ahead of his teammate who was also on the podium in every race but four. Mercedes had established themselves as the dominant force in Formula 1 and Hamilton had re-established himself as a world champion.

Hamilton dominated the 2015 season, winning ten races and finishing on the podium a record seventeen times as he matched his hero Ayrton Senna’s three World Championship titles. With Mercedes utterly dominant, the battle for the title became a two-horse race with Hamilton fighting off his teammate robustly at the US Grand Prix. Following his third Drivers World Title, Hamilton extended his contract with Mercedes for three additional years in a deal reportedly worth more than £100 million.

The 2016 season saw the grid expand to twenty-two cars with Carl Hass entering a team powered by Ferrari engines. Renault also entered having completed their acquisition of the Lotus team. There were also additional races added in Germany and Azerbaijan.

The season proved that consistency could win over outright victories. Although Hamilton won more races than any other driver in 2016, he lost the title to his teammate by 5 points in what proved to be a particularly fractious year in terms of the two Mercedes driver’s relationship.

Hamilton’s tactics particularly in the final race in Abu Dhabi, backing up the pack to bring them into play with his teammate, summed up how the former friends relationship had deteriorated. The turning point of the season had in fact played out some races previously when Hamilton suffered an engine failure in Malaysia. Following his driver’s world championship victory, Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport.

With Rosberg gone, Mercedes brought in Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton’s teammate for 2017. Although fast, and with the same equipment as Hamilton, it wasn’t Bottas that pushed the 3-time world champion. That task fell to Sebastian Vettel driving a much-improved Ferrari. The multiple world champions exchanged the title lead throughout 2017, but in the end, it came down to Hamilton’s consistency. Nine race wins, four second places, and scoring points in every race ultimately making the difference. In the end Hamilton secured the title in Mexico with a ninth-place finish, two races before the end of the season.

2018 was billed as a head-to-head between Hamilton and Vettel, both now 4-time world champions. Ferrari again produced a competitive car and made the early running, Vettel winning the first 2 races of the season. However, by the time the teams arrived at Monaco for race 6, Hamilton had recovered the gap with three second place finishes and two wins.

It was nip and tuck between Vettel and Hamilton right the way up to Monza with both drivers recording wins and podiums at most race weekends. However, Monza became the turning point in Hamilton’s favour with him winning in Ferrari’s backyard and Vettel taking P2. After Monza, Hamilton pushed on with five wins from the remaining seven races while Vettel could only manage two podiums. With this, Lewis record a fifth Drivers World Title, only the third driver to do so in the history of the sport. This fifth title also gave Hamilton the leverage to secure a new contract worth $40m per year, making him the highest paid driver ever.

For 2019, Ferrari brought in a new driver in the shape of Charles Leclerc, effectively swapping him for Kimi Raikkonen with Alfa Romeo. This changed the dynamics of the team significantly and as a result the young charging Leclerc seemed to have an unsettling effect on Vettel. This coincided with Bottas finding his feet in the team and also more pace. As a result, Bottas became Hamilton’s closed rival. This of course was nothing new to Lewis. By 2019 he had evolved into what many see as the complete driver; Able to dial the car quickly into the circuit, be quick out of the box, pull out the super quick laps in qualifying, delivering consistently fast laps in race mode and able to manage the car, tyres, and track conditions without any drama. With Bottas the best of the rest, and Max Verstappen evolving into a top competitor along with Leclerc in his rookie season, Lewis appeared unconcerned and cruised to a sixth world title with a performance that belied the competitiveness of the field. He ended the season with 11 wins, matching his best ever, and 17 podiums.

The 2020 season has been like no other and Hamilton’s relentless professionalism in the car has been one of the certainties in a year of global uncertainty. With a delayed start to the season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, racing didn’t get underway until July and to assist with the completion of a credible racing schedule to crown a new world driver’s and constructor’s champion, back-to-back races at certain circuits was adopted as well as a number circuits not on the usual calendar to keep the movement of the Formula 1 Paddock within Europe.

Even in these circumstances Lewis has been relentless, continuing to forge ahead and break records. At the Portuguese Grand Prix, he overtook Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 victories, and just 2 weeks later in Turkey, Hamilton’s victory saw him seal his seventh drivers’ title, equalling Schumacher’s record of seven World Championships.

In another twist of fate, shortly after his win at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Lewis tested positive for COVID-19 and at the time of this feature being published he will take no part in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

While Hamilton has never made records his motivation, he will certainly be frustrated that hitting 100 race wins will be a little further on the horizon than he hoped, while he is undoubtedly pleased to see fellow Brit George Russell given the chance to step into his car, allowing another promising British driver Jack Aitken make his Formula 1 debut in Russell’s Williams.

In his personal life Lewis has lived the jet set lifestyle like every other successful Formula 1 driver past and present.

However, it seems to have drawn more criticism from the public than most other drivers and his all-round popularity divides opinion. It’s fair to say that his F1 career draws many parallels with Michael Schumacher’s who also during the years of his dominance was also less popular than some of the other drivers around him.

Away from the track Lewis occupies his time pursuing other interests such as music and fashion working with a number of well-known artists and designs such as Christina Aguilera and Tommy Hilfiger. He is regularly seen in between winning races at fashions shows and music events. It’s maybe the ease with which he is able to combine the two, and at the same time remain focused both on race weekends and keeping in supreme fitness, that frustrates his detractors.

In recent years Hamilton has been increasingly vocal around the subjects of racial and gender equality not only in motorsport but also on the wider global agenda. Following the death of George Floyd in police custody he criticised Formula 1, and those participating in it, for not speaking out condemning the event. This led to a recognition by the sport that more needed to be done and mobilised drivers and key players in the sport to back his initiative.

He has further used the platform that his success has given him to publicly support justice for ethnic minorities and victims of crime and took to the streets of London to support the Black Lives Matter campaign march earlier this year as well as wearing clothing supporting those causes around the paddock and on the podium. This has drawn some criticism from those who feel politics and sport should be kept apart, but Hamilton is unrepentant determined to use his celebrity to activate change.

He has also embarked in philanthropic projects the most significant of which is The Hamilton Commission with the Royal Academy of Engineering. The partnership was established to find ways in which motorsport can engage more young people from black backgrounds with science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and ultimately, employ them in motorsport or in other engineering sectors.

So, as we come to the close of the 2020 F1 season, Hamilton is negotiating with the Mercedes team on a new contract. It’s highly likely that he will sign for them again and enter 2021 as the favourite to win an 8th driver’s world title. Should he agree another 3 year deal it could possibly see him looking to make it 10 titles following which if he chose to retire from driving at the top, could team ownership be his next project, or a move into music, fashion, philanthropy, or something else. Who knows! What is sure, is that whatever it is, Lewis will give it 100%.

Most World Championships
Record jointly-held since the 2020 season
Most career wins
Record held since the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix
Most wins in a debut season
During the 2007 season
Most wins in a season without winning the World Championship
During the 2016 season
Most wins with the same team
Record held since the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix
Most wins at the same Grand Prix
Hungarian Grand Prix (2007, 2009, 2012–2013, 2016, 2018 – 2020)
Most wins at home Grand Prix
British Grand Prix (2008, 2014–2017, 2019–2020)
Wins at most different circuits
Record held since the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
Most wins from pole position
Record held since the 2017 United States Grand Prix
Wins at most different Grands Prix
Record held since the 2018 French Grand Prix
Most consecutive seasons with a win from debut season
From 2007–2020 (ongoing)
Most wins in one calendar month
July 2016 (2016 Austrian Grand Prix–2016 German Grand Prix)
Pole positions
Most pole positions in a debut season
During the 2007 season
Most pole positions
Record held since the 2017 Italian Grand Prix
Pole positions at most different Grands Prix
Record held since the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Pole positions at most different circuits
Record held since the 2018 French Grand Prix
Most pole positions at the same Grand Prix
Australian Grand Prix (2008, 2012, 2014–2019)
Most consecutive seasons with a pole position
From 2007–2020 (ongoing)
Most points in a debut season
During the 2007 season
Most points in a season
During the 2019 season
Most points in a season without winning the World Championship
During the 2016 season
Most career points
Record held since the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix
Most races finished in the points
Record held since the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix
Most consecutive points finishes
2018 British Grand Prix–2020 Bahrain Grand Prix
Podium finishes
Most podium finishes
Record held since the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix
Most consecutive podium finishes from debut
2007 Australian Grand Prix–2007 British Grand Prix
Most podium finishes in a season
Achieved four times (in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019)
Entries and starts
Most consecutive race starts
Record held since the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix
Most front row starts
Record held since the 2017 United States Grand Prix
Most races with a single engine manufacturer
Record held since the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix
Youngest driver to lead the World Championship
22 years, 126 days
Achieved at the 2007 Spanish Grand Prix
Longest time between first and last World Championship titles
12 years
Between 2008 and 2020
Most races led
Record held since the 2019 Russian Grand Prix
Most races led from start to finish
Record held since the 2020 British Grand Prix
Most consecutive races with at least one lap in the lead
2014 Hungarian Grand Prix–2015 British Grand Prix
Longest distance led (km)
Record held since the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix
Most consecutive race finishes
2018 British Grand Prix–2020 Bahrain Grand Prix
Most consecutive race classifications
2018 British Grand Prix–2020 Bahrain Grand Prix
Most grand slams in a season
Record jointly-held since the 2017 British Grand Prix

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Editor-in-Residence, JDC Promotions Media Centre