Hamilton, Lewis 1985–
Lewis Hamilton 1985–
Race car driver
In just a few short months in 2007, Lewis Hamilton went from being an unknown rookie driver to an international superstar. He was not only the first black driver in the sixty-one-year history of Formula One (F1) professional auto racing, but he was also easily the most successful rookie in the history of the sport, which has a worldwide audience of 300 million. He won four Grand Prix races in his debut year as a driver for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. In successive weeks in June he won the Canadian and U.S. Grand Prix races, taking curves at speeds approaching 180 miles per hour. He was dubbed the “Tiger Woods of F1.” Hamilton finished the year in second place overall, tied with his teammate Fernando Alonso and just one point behind Kimi Raikkonen of the Ferrari team. In a sport that requires intense concentration, with drivers constantly making split-second decisions throughout each grueling two-hour race, Hamilton was known for his ruthless driving style and aggressive passing of competitors.
Lewis Hamilton was born on January 7, 1985, in Stevenage, England, and grew up in Tewin Wood in Hertfordshire. His father, Anthony Hamilton, had emigrated from Grenada in the Caribbean as a child. Lewis's mother, Carmen, was white. Lewis Hamilton was named after Carl Lewis, the black American sprinter who won nine gold medals over the course four Olympiads. The Hamiltons separated when Lewis was two, leaving Anthony Hamilton to raise Lewis and his half-brother Nicholas, who was six years younger and suffered from cerebral palsy. Lewis would later call Nicholas his inspiration. Lewis made his television debut at the age of six on a BBC children's program, racing remote-controlled cars that his father had assembled for him. That same year Lewis saw his first go-kart while on a family vacation in Spain. His father, a motor sports fan, bought him one. Over the years Anthony Hamilton, who worked for British Rail, sometimes held down two additional jobs to pay for his son's racing and buy him the best karts.
At the age of ten Lewis Hamilton became the youngest-ever British Cadet Class Karting Champion. That year, at an awards ceremony after he won the McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future Series, Hamilton met Ron Dennis, chief executive officer and chairman of McLaren Formula One. Hamilton told Dennis that some day he would race Formula One cars for McLaren. Dennis was quoted on the BBC Caribbean Web site: “[He] looked me square in the face and informed me where he was going in his life. Without breaking eye contact, he told me how he was going to go about his career. It impressed the hell out of me.” The Sports Illustrated Web site quoted Dennis: “Confidence, devoid of all arrogance is the best way to describe Lewis's approach to me that night.” Dennis told Hamilton to call him in nine years.
Hamilton won four additional British karting championships in 1996 and 1997. The following year, when he was only thirteen years old, Dennis signed him to a long-term contract with the McLaren Driver Development Support program. The contract guaranteed Hamilton financial and technical support and a future option if he made it to Formula One racing, making him the youngest driver ever to secure an F1 contract and enabling his father to stop moonlighting. McLaren's financial support allowed Hamilton to race throughout Europe. He won numerous European and world karting titles and in 2000, at age fifteen, he became the youngest-ever Formula A Karting World Champion.
In 2001 Hamilton began his auto racing career in the British Formula Renault Winter Series, finishing fifth overall. The following year he finished third. In 2003 he won the championship with ten wins. In 2004 Hamilton graduated to the highly competitive Formula Three Euroseries, racing for Manor Motorsport, a rookie European team, and finishing fifth overall. The following year he won fifteen races driving for the dominant ASM team and became the circuit champion. In 2006 Hamilton joined the ART Grand Prix team in the GP2 Series, the training ground for Formula One. He won the championship, earning himself a Formula One test and a spot on the 2007 McLaren team with Alonso.
Became a Racing Sensation
At his 2007 Grand Prix debut in Australia, Hamilton finished third. He finished second in the next four races in Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain, and Monaco. In Barcelona, Spain, he became the youngest driver in F1 history in line for the championship, breaking the record set by his team's founder, Bruce McLaren, in 1960. Quoted on the Canada.com Web site, Hamilton observed just before the Monaco Grand Prix: “It has just been a roller-coaster, the whole journey. One, getting to Formula One, and then, having four podiums in my first four races…. I don't think it has kicked in really.” However, Hamilton claimed that at Monaco he was ordered by his team to slow down to allow Alonso to win, an allegation that outraged fans and sparked an investigation. At the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on June 10, 2007, Hamilton led throughout the race, skillfully avoiding nearby crashes. It was the first time in history that a black driver had won a major auto race. The following week Hamilton won the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis and took the lead in the F1 standings. With additional victories in Japan and Hungary and despite tire problems at the China Grand Prix, Hamilton was in the lead for the World Drivers' Championship up until the last race of the season. In that final race, however, in October in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Hamilton came in seventh due to a gear shifting problem in the eighth lap.
Young, handsome, and articulate, Hamilton became known as the driver who waved to the crowd. He told AutoWeek: “I appreciate all their support and them coming to support everyone. It's nothing for me, on the in lap, to give everyone a wave and make them happy. I get a lot of energy from the crowd.” Marketers saw in Hamilton an opportunity to attract new fans to Formula One racing. “Hopefully it can encourage other ethnic groups to get involved in the sport,” Hamilton noted on the BBC Caribbean Web site.
A growing public rivalry between Hamilton and Alonso, as well as the biggest scandal to ever hit the motor racing circuit, just added to the attention. In September of 2007, following a spying scandal involving a mechanic from the Italian Ferrari team and McLaren's chief designer, the FIA World Motor Sport Council slapped Vodafone McLaren Mercedes with a $100-million fine and removal from the team championship competition. However, they allowed Hamilton and Alonso to remain in the individual competition.
At a Glance …
Born January 7, 1985, in Stevenage, England; son of Anthony and Carmen Hamilton.
Career: Professional auto racer: British Formula Renault, 2001-03; Formula Three Euroseries, Manor Motorsport, 2004, ASM Team, 2005; GP2 Series, ART Grand Prix Team, 2006; Formula One, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team, 2007-.
Selected awards: British Cadet Class Karting Champion, 1995; Formula A Karting World Champion, 2000; British Formula Renault Champion, 2003; F3 Euroseries Champion, 2005; GP2 Series Champion, 2006.
Addresses: Office—McLaren Technology Centre, Chertsey Rd., Woking, Surrey GU21 4YH, England.
By the end of 2007, eight biographies of Hamilton had been published. His ghostwritten autobiography was launched in Britain in November with advance sales of 225,000. Fans lined up for seven hours for autographed copies. Hamilton was signing lucrative endorsements, inlcuding one with Hornby, a British toy maker, which had almost doubled its profits by selling Hamilton's racer slot-cars. He was reported to be considering floating “Lewis Hamilton plc” on the London Stock Exchange, as a way to collect an immediate $100 million, based on future earnings projected at $1 billion. He was also in the process of creating a charitable foundation.
Hamilton tried to maintain a semblance of normal life. He continued to race remote-controlled cars with his brother, and they practiced the courses together on a PlayStation. However, the tabloids reported daily on his love life, and he was hounded by fans and the press wherever he went. Toward the end of 2007 Hamilton announced that he was moving to Switzerland to try to regain his privacy.
Lewis Hamilton: My Story, HarperCollins, 2007.
Belton, Brian, Lewis Hamilton: A Dream Comes True, Pennant, 2007.
Jones, Bruce, Lewis Hamilton: The People's Champion, Carlton Books, 2007.
Stafford, Ian, Lewis Hamilton: New Kid on the Grid, Mainstream Publishing, 2007.
Van de Burgt, Andrew, Lewis Hamilton: A Portrait of Britain's New F1 Star, Haynes Publishing, 2008.
Worrall, Frank, Lewis Hamilton: The Biography, John Blake Publishing, 2007.
AutoWeek, June 25, 2007, p. 61.
Ebony, September 2007, p. 36.
Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2007, p. D1.
“‘Better Than Sex,’” SI.com,http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/racing/06/12/hamilton0618/index.html (accessed November 12, 2007).
“Granadian Roots of First Black F1 Driver,” BBC Caribbean,http://www.bbc.co.uk/caribbean/news/story/2006/11/061127_grenadaf1.shtml (accessed November 12, 2007).
“Hamilton in Fast Lane to Success,” Canada.com, http://www.canada.com/topics/sports/autoracing/story.html?id=10a34879-fc5f-4626-84c8-38a41df06500&p=1 (accessed November 12, 2007).
“Lewis Hamilton,” Formula 1,http://www.formula1.com/teams_and_drivers/drivers/828/ (accessed October 19, 2007).
“Lewis Hamiltion,” Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, www.mclaren.com/theteam/lewis_hamilton_biography.php (accessed November 12, 2007).
“Motor Racing: McLaren's Hamilton Wins U.S. Grand Prix,” International Herald Tribune,http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/06/17/sports/PRIX.5-77318.php (accessed October 19, 2007).
Official Lewis Hamilton Web Site, lewishamilton.com/index.htm (accessed November 12, 2007).
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