Driver: Lewis Hamilton
F1 Debut: Australia 2007
Pole Positions: 38
Championships: 1 (2008)
2014 Record: 10 wins, 334 points (1st)
ABU DHABI – Widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of his generation – if not one of the all-time greats in F1 – Lewis Hamilton immediately caught the attention of the sport when he made his debut in 2007 for McLaren, having been nurtured by the team from his karting days. Alongside defending champion Fernando Alonso, many predicted a baptism of fire for the new starlet.
Arguably though, Hamilton should have won the title in his debut season. He only lost out by one point after bad luck in the last two races of the season, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing as the eventual champion. It was a defeat that did not take the sheen off an incredible debut season, though.
Hamilton bounced back in 2008 as McLaren team leader when Alonso left for Renault, and clinched his maiden world title in Brazil in dramatic fashion, taking the position he needed to be champion at the last corner on the last lap of the last race of the year. At 23, he appeared to have the world at his feet.
2009 was a less fruitful year, though, as the seismic change in the regulations left the old guard of McLaren and Ferrari trailing in the wake of Brawn and Red Bull. Nevertheless, Hamilton rallied to win two races and finish fifth in the championship behind the drivers at the leading teams.
Red Bull was the team to beat in 2010, but Hamilton still got in the thick of the championship fight along with Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso. However, four retirements meant that he could not sustain the challenge, falling 16 points short at the end of the year. 2011 was much the same as Vettel and Red Bull crushed the season, leaving Lewis a distant sixth.
After a strong start to the 2012 season, Hamilton’s title challenge faded in the second half of the year, but his on-track activities were not the main focus. Instead, it was the question about his future that needed to be answered: would he stay at McLaren or accept a big money move to Mercedes? He ultimately decided that a change was needed, and signed a deal with Mercedes for 2013 as Michael Schumacher’s replacement.
Hamilton quickly settled in with the Silver Arrows, finishing on the podium in just his second race for the team. Although the season yielded just one win – the Hungarian GP, which Hamilton called a “miracle” – it laid the foundations for the team’s title bid in 2014.
And boy, has Mercedes delivered on its promise this year.
With 10 wins, Hamilton has been the dominant driver in Formula 1 this season, and is arguably the driver that deserves this championship the most. On all but two of those occasions, he has led home teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg, with both drivers enjoying the benefits of the car that is by far the quickest in F1 this year. Mercedes has been untouchable.
What has let Hamilton down this year is his luck. Retirements in Australia, Canada and Belgium saw three great chances to win pass him by, while technical problems in qualifying for the German and Hungarian Grands Prix left him at the back of the grid – yet he rallied to P3 in both races.
The bitter fight with Rosberg boiled over at Spa. The German driver was angry after Hamilton had ignored team orders to let him past at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and refused to pull out of a move heading around the outside of Les Combes on the second lap of the race. Contact was made, causing damage that ultimately caused Hamilton to retire. Rosberg was disciplined internally for his part in the incident, but by finishing second, the damage to Hamilton’s title hopes was done.
And yet Lewis still fought back. Five straight wins from Italy to Austin gave him a 24-point lead over Rosberg, which was reduced to 17 when Nico won in Brazil.
In Abu Dhabi, a top two finish would be enough for Hamilton to win his second world title. However, the hunger that he possesses will drive him beyond that – he will be gunning to beat Nico Rosberg on Sunday and win for an 11th time this year.
Although there is a great deal of pressure on Hamilton, the destiny of the 2014 championship is in his hands. If he finishes second, he is champion – Rosberg’s win, double points applied, still won’t be enough. It’s a safety net that the Briton will undoubtedly feel comfortable to have.
He has constantly said that this feels like he is going for his first title, and in many ways, it is understandable. With Mercedes, he has changed a lot as a person, appearing to be more at ease than he was towards the end of his time with McLaren.
One thing remains constant though: his desire to be the best. And if Hamilton does win the title on Sunday, he will surely have established himself as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula 1.