Can Lewis Hamilton Become One of F1’s Greats?

James MortimerAnalyst IDecember 2, 2008

Racing sensation Lewis Hamilton is the wonder boy of British sport, capitalizing on tremendous racing pedigree to be a legitimate World Champion threat, but will the pretty boy work with his team and concentrate on his racing and less on his image?


In 2006, Lewis Hamilton was selected to be the second driver for McLaren Mercedes, winning the role after conjecture that drivers such as Mika Hakkinen and Pedro de la Rosa would be paired with defending World Champion Fernando Alonso.


Officially, the announcement was made at the end of September, but the official statement was delayed by months, as arguably the greatest modern driver in motorsport, Michael Schumacher, retired.


In 2007, Lewis Hamilton finished the season with an incredible 109 points, narrowly missing the title to Kimi Raikkonen.  Many argued that it was a poor finish to the last two races of the season that ultimately cost Lewis the chance to become the first black world champion.


Nonetheless, Hamilton’s debut season was the most successful rookie season in the celebrated history of the Formula One World Championship.  He claimed an astonishing nine consecutive podiums in his first nine races. 


He won the Canadian, United States, Hungarian and Japanese Grand Prix.  His four race victories allowed him to be the first man since Jacques Villeneuve to win more than one race in his first championship tilt. 


In this time, he also showed Schumacher-like abilities with his solid victory in the rain in the Land of the Rising Sun.


In this season despite brilliant racing prowess, there were considerable controversies and episodes.  Hamilton finished runner up at the famed Monaco track, with a formal FIA investigation to discover if Lewis was prevented by illegal team orders to not compete against Fernando Alonso.


During European qualification, Hamilton crashed and required medical attention, but still qualified and was cleared to race.  Lewis finished this race in ninth position, his first non-podium finish of the season.


His victory in Hungary was marred by Alonso having his qualifying position dropped for allegedly blocking Hamilton to finish his final lap. McLaren were docked constructor points for this incident.  His Japanese victory involved a race steward investigation for an incident where two drivers crashed while following Hamilton during a safety car lap. 


After winning pole position in China, Hamilton suffered his first Formula One retirement, with problems with his tyres during the race.  It was alleged the Bridgestone suggested to McLaren to order Lewis to make a stop,  but the team bosses refused based on race conditions.


This was a continued sticking point throughout the 2007 season, with the McLaren team dynamics never being a constant.  Hamilton has a history of poor relationships with the team's boss, Ron Dennis, and it is stated that Alonso’s McLaren contract termination was due to his poor relationship with his partner driver.


In October, FIA investigated BMW and Williams for fuel irregularities, which would have ultimately seen Hamilton promoted in a race standing which would have seen him taking the World Championship by penalty default.


This did not eventuate, but Lewis was subsequently reported to inform the BBC that it would have been the worst way to win the championship.


The darling of Britain won the Sportsman of the year award in the UK, runner up as BBC sports personality of the year, won the German GQ man of the year, and received five F1 racing awards, as well as numerous off track sponsorships, multi-million biography contracts, and so the list goes on.


He continued where he left off, winning the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, after qualifying on pole.  He was many bookies' favourite for the Championship, although he still shows his inexperience in some races when legitimately challenged. 


His third at the Spanish Grand Prix was impressive, but his appearances in Spain are marred by racial controversies, which have no place in any sport.


His strong second half of the season, with wins in Monaco, his home Grand Prix, Germany and China always had him in contention,– but he was pushed all the way by the outstanding Ferrari driver Felipe Massa.


It was only in the last race of the season in Brazil that Hamilton claimed victory (had he not finished fifth due to his performance on the final laps, he would have lost the championship to race winner Massa) who will win a championship in the next few years.


Hamilton ended up winning the championship by one point, 98 to Massa’s 97.


This was after Hamilton came runner-up in the 2007 championship by just one point, to Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.  It is the first time in Formula One championship history that two races have been decided by such narrow margins.


He is now the World Champion of course, the youngest champion in history, the first black driver to win the title and the first British driver to win the title since Damon Hill in 1996.


Now the challenge begins for Hamilton, who, despite his success and tens of millions worth of sponsorship deals, is seen by some as arrogant, considering there is now nine biographies of him currently on the market.


He has made history, no doubt, but the challenge for him now is to emulate the great drivers of the sport, and win more than just the solitary title.