The story of Lewis Hamilton’s induction into the McLaren pantheon has long been the stuff of legend: as a 10-year-old karter, Lewis approached Ron Dennis at the 1995 Autosport Awards and duly told him that he would one day drive for the McLaren supremo.
It says as much for Lewis’s conviction as it does for his talent that his promise came good.
After tearing through the junior categories under McLaren’s tutelage, including a barn-storming, take-no-prisoners 2006 season in GP2 under the increasingly watchful eye of the grand prix circus, he was perfectly primed to join Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for ’07.
Few would have fancied his chances against reigning world champion Fernando Alonso, but the Briton’s pace increased in step with his rapidly growing self-assurance. He bagged consecutive podiums from his first five races before scoring a memorable maiden grand prix victory in Montreal. He followed it up with a second win one week later at the United States at Indianapolis, beating Alonso in a straight fight. Hugely impressive stuff for a rookie.
While his challenge would falter almost within sight of the season’s finishing line (he finished second in the championship behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen), his debut season remains the most impressive and outstanding of any rookie in Formula 1.
For 2008, he went one better, attacking the season with vigour from the very start, racking up some of the most emphatic wins of his career in Monaco and at Silverstone – both in torrential conditions – and took the title, again following a downpour, on the very final corner of the final lap of the final race.
It was pure Lewis: drama played out to the highest stakes with all the skill and flair of an absolute showma
Throughout 2009, ’10 and ’11, the template remained the same, even if the machinery wasn’t quite as consistently fleet as those mesmerising opening two seasons: given a worthy car, Lewis would take it and deliver – time and time again.
After leaving McLaren, commanding world championships would follow for Mercedes – but it has always been his gloriously opportunistic and fought-for victories that truly stirred the blood, reminding you that this is a driver with a supremely rare panache and an utterly singular commitment.