Few drivers have entered Formula One racing with as big a bang as Lewis Hamilton, whose sensational maiden season in 2007 - in which he lost out on the world championship by a single point - remains one of the most remarkable rookie campaigns in history.
In the intervening period the supremely gifted British driver has won three world championships and established himself as one of the most complete drivers on the grid: a terrific qualifier, a tenacious racer and a fierce wheel-to-wheel combatant with a deadly eye for an overtake. Put simply, when it comes to driving a Formula One car, there are very few areas in which Hamilton does not excel.
Hamilton attributes much of his success to his humble upbringing in Stevenage, the English town in which he began racing as a hobby. Winning came naturally to the young driver and soon he was cutting his teeth in national events. By the age of 10 - with a little less than two years’ experience - he was crowned the youngest-ever winner of the British Cadet Kart championship.
Equipped with an assured racing style that belied his years, it wasn’t long before Hamilton’s trophy cabinet was groaning under the weight of more karting titles. Hamilton made sure that Ron Dennis was one of the first to notice his swift rise through the ranks and in 1998 the McLaren boss signed him to the team’s young driver programme. Indeed, Dennis’s belief in Hamilton’s talents was such that the contract even included an option on the 13 year-old should he ever make it into Formula One racing.
At this stage, however, it was McLaren’s financial support that proved the bigger blessing for Hamilton, who up to that point had been supported by his dutiful father - and future manager - Anthony, who worked several jobs to keep his son racing. At once able to compete on a much larger stage, Hamilton Jnr won a multitude of European karting titles with ease. And by the age of 15 he was grabbing further headlines, this time for being crowned the sport’s youngest number one - a record he still retains.
But it was Hamilton’s talent, not his youth that really singled him out, and as a result offers to race in other series began to flood in. Eventually in 2002 he opted for the highly-competitive British Formula Renault series. Fears he wouldn’t cope with such an upswing in horsepower proved short-lived. Attacking single-seater racing with the same resolute determination that had bore fruit throughout his karting days, Hamilton finished third in his debut season, before taking the championship a year later after a record-breaking 10 wins, nine fastest laps and 11 pole positions.