Professional race car driver
B orn January 7, 1985 in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England; son of Anthony and Brenda Hamilton.
Addresses: Home—Switzerland. Office—McLaren Technology Centre, Chertsey Rd., Woking, Surrey, GU21 4YH England.
D river for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, 2007—. Signed by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz to Young Driver Support Programme, 1998. Placed in various amateur races, including Cadet Class: Super One British Champion, 1995; Cadet Class: winner of McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future Series, 1996 and 1997; Sky TV Kart Masters Champion, 1996; Five Nations Champion, 1996; Junior Yamaha: Super One British Champion, 1997; Junior Intercontinental A (JICA): second place in McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future series, 1998; fourth place, Italian Open Championship, 1998; Intercontinental A (ICA): Italian “Industrials” Champion, 1999; JICA: Vice European Champion, 1999; winner, Trophy de Pomposa, 1999; fourth place, Italian Open Championship, 1999; Formula A: European Champion, winner of all four rounds, 2000; World Cup Champion, 2000; Karting World Number 1, 2000; winner, Masters at Bercy, 2000; British Formula Renault winter series, fifth overall, 2001, third, 2002, champion, 2003; fifth place, Formula Renault Euro-Cup Championship, 2002; F3 Euroseries, fifth place, 2004, champion, 2005; winner, Bahrain F3 Super-prix, 2004; winner, F3 Masters at Zandvoort, 2005; winner, Pau F3 Grand Prix, France, 2005; winner, Monaco F3 Grand Prix, 2005; GP2 Series: Champion with ART Grand Prix, 2006; double win, Nürbur-gring, 2006; winner, Monaco GP2 race, 2006; double win, Silverstone, 2006; third place, Australian Grand Prix, 2007; second place, Bahrain Grand Prix, 2007; second place, Spanish Grand Prix, 2007; second place, Monaco Grad Prix, 2007; winner, Canadian Grand Prix, 2007; winner, U.S. Grand Prix, 2007; third place, French Grand Prix, 2007; winner, Hungarian Grand Prix, 2007; second place, Turkey Grand Prix, 2007; second place, Italian Grand Prix, 2007; fourth place, Belgian Grand Prix, 2007; winner, Japanese Grand Prix, 2007; winner, Australian Grad Prix, 2008; third place, Spanish Grand Prix, 2008; second place, Turkish Grand Prix, 2008; winner, Monaco Grand Prix, 2008.
Awards: Hawthorn Memorial Trophy, Motor Sports Association; Driver of the Year, Motorsport Aktuell; Sports Person of the Year, Squar Mil Sport Awards; Sportsman of the Year and Best International Newcomer Award, Sports Journalist Association; Racing Driver of the Year, Italian Confartigianato Motori; Most Inspiring Public Figure Award, Pride of Britain; Sportsman of the Year, GQ UK; Man of the Year, GQ Germany; Golden Steering Wheel Award for Outstanding Achievement, Bild Am Sonntag; Mo-torsport Award, Autocar Awards; British Sporting Excellence, Walpole Awards for British Excellence; Driver of the Year, Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Qualifier of the Year, and Personality of the Year, all F1 Racing magazine; Best British Competition Driver, Best International Racing Driver, and Rookie of the Year, Autosport Awards; Gold Star Winner, BRDC Annual Awards; and Sports Personality of the Year, BBC East Sports Awards; all 2007; Sport Award, Britain’s Best Awards, 2008.
I n addition to being the first black driver in Formula One’s 61year history, Lewis Hamilton very nearly became the first rookie driver to win the Formula One World Championship, failing to meet the high score by a single point. Brought onto the McLaren team under champion and veteran Fernando Alonso, Hamilton was expected to have a good first season on the track. He surpassed everyone’s expectations, having one of the best first seasons for a rookie in the history of Formula One.
Born on January 7, 1985, Hamilton did not have an easy early life. Named after U.S. sprinter and Olympian Carl Lewis, Hamilton was raised in the home of his mother following his parents’ divorce two years after he was born. His father, Anthony Hamilton, whose family had immigrated to England from Grenada, remained active in Hamilton’s life and was the first to notice Hamilton’s potential as a driver. After giving Hamilton a remote-controlled car, the elder Hamilton was determined to encourage the young driver’s developing skills. When Hamilton was nine, already a cart champion, he moved in with his father and stepmother.
Hamilton’s father encouraged him to begin go-karting when he was only six years old. In order to support Hamilton’s growing commitment to the hobby, the elder Hamilton worked three jobs, buying his son a go-kart and helping him to enter in races. “I’ve always believed in Lewis,” the elder Hamilton was quoted as saying in USA Today. “I’ve always believed he was a great person and a great driver.”
At the age of ten, Hamilton won the British Junior Kart Championship, and many other successes followed. It was while being presented with a trophy for one of his wins in 1994 that he met McLaren head Ron Dennis. “I want to drive for you one day,” Hamilton informed the team leader, according to AutoWeek. That was enough to get Dennis’ attention, and two years later, McLaren began sponsoring Hamilton’s races, providing advice and training to the young driver. Hamilton has credited that meeting with giving him the opportunity to succeed as a Formula One driver. “Who knows if I hadn’t bumped into Ron and made the impression that I did?” he mused in USA Today.
McLaren backed Hamilton through the European go-karting circuit while Hamilton finished high school. When he graduated from karting to single-seat cars, he finished third in the British Formula Renault series. The next year, he won the Formula Renault, capturing ten races. His first year in the Formula Three Euroseries, he finished fifth, winning one race; his second year in that series, he was the champion, the winner of 15 races.
But despite his successes, Hamilton was never in a hurry to jump start his career. “My ambition isn’t to get to F1 early,” he said at 15 years old to Tim Blair of Time International. “It’s just to get there.” But even as a child, he was noticed by the racing community. When he was only 13, he was featured on the cover of AutoWeek, a magazine that proclaimed Lewis as a future star. “Trust me, that kid is good!” said world-class driver Keke Rosberg in AutoWeek during Hamilton’s early career.
After winning the GP2 title in 2006, Hamilton was offered a position as a McLaren driver for the 2007 racing season under teammate and champion Fernando Alonso. This was an ideal set up for Hamilton: it gave him the chance to test his skills without the pressure of having to win. “I hoped to do well,” Hamilton reflected of his season start in the Houston Chronicle. “I hoped maybe I’d get a podium at some point.” Those modest expectations were blown away when Hamilton qualified fourth in the first race of the season, then second in his second, behind teammate Alonso. “It’s sort of hard to believe he’s a rookie, isn’t it?” Dennis commented in AutoWeek after the 1-2 McLaren win. Hamilton placed second in three more consecutive races before winning his first professional race at the Canadian Grand Prix. In only the sixth professional race of his career, Hamilton dominated the track.
The quick move up in the ranks attracted the attention of the media, who, because of his race and skill, began comparing Hamilton to golf’s Tiger Woods. But Dennis told AutoWeek that race never entered into discussions with Hamilton. “Already, people are starting to speak in terms of an F1 Tiger Woods, and while that’s obviously quite a compliment in itself, it’s not relevant to our objective,” Dennis explained. “Lewis is driving for McLaren because we considered him the best driver available to us as Fernando’s teammate.” Hamilton responded similarly. “It’s obviously nice to be compared to someone like Tiger Woods,” he said in an interview with AutoWeek, “but I just have to remember I’m not Tiger Woods, I’m Lewis Hamilton. And it’s Formula One, not golf.” The reaction was typical of Hamilton, who was noted for his modesty. Dennis commented of Hamilton in AutoWeek, “I had more arrogance at every step of my career than he has now. I don’t know where he finds the ability to motivate himself and have self-belief without turning it into arrogance.”
Hamilton’s record would have been an easy thing to get arrogant about. But in typical modest fashion, after his first win, Hamilton told USA Today, “It still hasn’t really sunk in that I have won my first race. It was an amazing weekend for me, and it’s fantastic that we are racing again already.” It was especially fantastic for Hamilton, who won the following race as well, dominating the U.S. Grand Prix and taking the lead in score for the Formula One standings. “What an amazing trip,” he said in USA Today, “to come [to North America] for the first time and then have the two best races of my life.” Downplaying his successes in AutoWeek, he explained that he didn’t listen much to the media buzz. “At the end of the day, I’m still the same driver, the same person, and I’m here to do the same job,” he said.
Hamilton’s wins caused some tension with team-mate Alonso, and McLaren may have encouraged Hamilton to fall back in some of his races. In the press, Hamilton spoke of their friendly competition, and Alonso, too, was quick to downplay their conflict. “Many things are said about our relationship which are not true,” the senior driver said in Financial Times. “We are in competition—we love competition and we enjoy this battle when we are here. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, this is how real competition should be.” But Alonso and team leader Dennis were reported exchanging hard words, and Hamilton, driven by their rivalry, used a maneuver in attempting to pass Alonso that caused him to skid off the track. Hamilton also had some difficulties in the European Grand Prix, in which he hit a wall, but was uninjured, and in Shanghai, driving during the rain, he stayed on his rain tires too long and skidded out. Those mistakes cost him his lead in the standings, and though he recovered well, he ended the season finishing second to Alonso in the Monaco Grand Prix. He was pulled over to refuel during the race, far earlier than he needed to, costing him the race. His comments to the press at his surprise in McLaren’s pit tactics drove the wedge further between the two racers, and Alonso left McLaren after finishing the season and took a position on the Renault team.
Joining McLaren for the 2008 season was Heikki Kovalainen, who was once a karting rival of Hamilton’s. The two drivers were immediately on good terms, and though McLaren’s “equal treatment for drivers” policy was noted in AutoWeek, the contributor suspected that Hamilton, with his record from the previous year, would become the defacto leader. Some in the circuit worried that Hamilton might suffer from a sophomore slump, and that his rookie season might have been more of a fluke than a preview of things to come. But the first race of 2008 put their minds to rest: Hamilton took first place at the Australian Grand Prix. His teammate Kovalainen took fifth. In the second race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, Kovalainen finished ahead of Hamilton, taking third place while Hamilton took fifth.
Struggling to do well in the third race, Hamilton made a mistake that cost him his lead in points: he crashed into Alonso’s Renault. The move cost both drivers time; Alonso finished 10th while Hamilton finished 13th, a full lap behind the winner. Neither driver earned points. Hamilton spoke with the Times Online about the difference in pressure between his first and second season. “I put a lot on myself in wanting to do well for the team,” he said. But as for everyone else’s expectations, Hamilton pays little attention. “I don’t think it distracts me or makes it harder for me to do my job. I just want to win more than ever.” The mistake in Bahrain only firmed his determination, and he recovered in Spain, where he placed third, coming in behind two Ferrari drivers.
In Turkey, Hamilton finished in second place, helping to close the gap on Ferrari’s lead, and putting himself and the McLaren team back into third place in the standings. Hamilton was especially pleased with his performance, which was his best ever run on the Turkish track. “It’s not about winning,” he said of his performance, quoted on CNN.com, “it’s about feeling you extract 100 percent from yourself and the car and I did that.”
In addition to his success on the race track, Hamilton has also found success in the bookstores. “Not many people have been interested in Formula 1 recently, but Lewis Hamilton’s success is going to change that,” publisher Mark Booth said in the middle of the 2007 season when Hamilton’s autobiography and photographic memoir came up for bid. When his book My Story was released in November of 2007, it sold nearly 15,000 copies in its first week on sale, making it number one in sports books in England that week.
Hamilton has also been sought out for sponsorship offers, and has been featured in a number of advertisements. “Hamilton combines looks, person ality and charisma with the elusive quality of being a genuine winner,” said Dominic Curran, director at Karen Earl Sponsorship, in Marketing Week. His popularity among brands was expected to rival that of tennis pro David Beckham, husband of former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, and golf champion Tiger Woods, to whom Hamilton had been compared so often at the start of his career. “He’s young, good looking, and unusually has the potential to appeal across both genders,” said Havas Sports UK managing partner Keith Impey in Marketing Week. “The more wins, the more publicity, and the more brands across the genders he will appeal to.”
During the off season of 2007, Hamilton moved from England to Switzerland, seeking greater privacy and tax shelter. Hamilton continues to race for the McLaren team.
Auto Week, December 4, 2006, p. 71; March 26, 2007, p. 4; March 26, 2007, p. 44; April 16, 2007, p. 46; June 25, 2007, pp. 60-61; March 3, 2008, p. 20; March 24, 2008, p. 40.
Bookseller, July 13, 2007, p. 13; November 16, 2007, p. 41.
Ebony, September 2007, p. 36.
Financial Times, October 20, 2007, p. 12.
Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), June 18, 2007, p. 3.
Independent (London, England), May 18, 2008.
Marketing Week, October 25, 2007, p. 24.
New York Times, July 22, 2007, p. 6.
Observer (Manchester, England), May 18, 2008, p. 7.
Time International, March 5, 2001, p. 50.
USA Today, June 11, 2007, p. 1C; June 15, 2007, p. 11C; June 18, 2007, p. 10C.
Biography Resource Center Online, Gale Group, 2007. Formula One Online,http://www.formula1.com/ (May 19, 2008).
“Hamilton Determined to Put Bahrain Nightmare Behind Him,” Times,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/formula_1/article3810500.ece (May 19, 2008).
“Hamilton Primed for Success in Monaco,” CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2008/SPORT/05/13/Hamilton.monaco/ (May 13, 2008).
“Hamilton Wins ‘Britain’s Best’ Award,” Home of Sport, hptt://www.homeofsport.com/f1/news/item.aspx?id=22042 (May 19, 2008).
Lewis Hamilton Fan site,http://www.lewishamilton.com (May 18, 2008).
“Lewis Hamilton,” McLaren,http://www.mclaren.com/theteam/lewis-hamilton.php (May 18, 2008).
—Alana Joli Abbott