An unprecedented start
Now 37 years old, the Stevenage-based driver has been raking in success from the very first moment Hamilton stepped into a racing car. His victories in European Formula 3 and direct title with ART in his first GP2 season saw him immediately qualify for a spot in F1 with McLaren.
In his debut F1 season, Hamilton came one point short of snatching the title from the nose of Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari.
A year later, he succeeded and from then on the Briton was the youngest world champion ever. A record that would last only a few years until Sebastian Vettel began his successful run with Red Bull Racing.
One point short of the title in 2007, but still winning it in 2008: Hamilton had a taste for it, but what followed was a frustrating year in the premier class of motor sport. McLaren were unable to build on the strong development of the MP4-23 and failed to produce decent results. Hamilton never got any further than P5 in 2009, but change was on the way.
With a change of teammate, the now experienced Jenson Button came to drive alongside Hamilton in 2010. The other British hero had won the title the year before with Brawn GP, which was bought by Mercedes in 2010. That development saw the return of Michael Schumacher to the premier class, but also the departure of Button to McLaren.
McLaren found the speed again, but for the next four years Formula 1 was dominated by Red Bull Racing. Hamilton couldn't change that and took a huge risk: the Briton would switch to the works team of Mercedes after 2012. A team that, at the time, was performing far from well. Unlike his former rival (and teammate) Fernando Alonso, Hamilton would prove to have made the right choice.
On the road to dominance
In the Mercedes factory team, the development of the car is as fast as the car itself. In his first season with the German team, Hamilton even managed to take several podiums and a victory. The Hungarian Grand Prix was credited to him and this would be the start of a long, dominant period with Mercedes.
In 2014 and 2015, Hamilton trumped his teammate Nico Rosberg to win titles number two and three, putting Lewis on a par with the legendary Ayrton Senna. Clearly, the relationship within the team didn’t improve and reached boiling point in 2016. That same year, Nico Rosberg finally won the championship and didn't waste any time: the German immediately announced his departure from Formula 1.
An unexpected decision, also for Mercedes, which meant a hasty search for a replacement. They found Williams driver Valtteri Bottas. From 2017, the Finn sat alongside Hamilton, albeit as an obvious second fiddle.
In the first four years that Bottas drove the second Mercedes, Hamilton won the title fairly convincingly and also became the most successful Grand Prix driver ever statistically. Only in 2017 and 2018 is there competition from Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, but on two occasions Hamilton mercilessly reversed an initial deficit in the second half of the season.
In his record chase, 2020 was an important year for Hamilton. He beat Michael Schumacher's record number of victories and matched the German for the number of world titles won. However, he still needs to win one more championship to be crowned the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time.
Defeat to Verstappen in 2021
2021 seemed like an excellent opportunity for this. The regulations remain almost the same, making Mercedes again the big favourite to start the season. Apart from his teammate, only Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing seem to be able to pose a serious threat.
The first race weekend of the season proves this. Red Bull Racing were not idle during the winter and provided Verstappen with a seriously competitive car for the first time. The Bahrain Grand Prix is won by Hamilton, but the Red Bull driver is hot on his heels.
The strong form of Verstappen and Red Bull continued in the following races. Hamilton makes a number of costly mistakes under pressure, which leaves him well behind midway through the season. Mercedes improved significantly after the summer break, however, and combined with a number of DNFs from Verstappen, the Briton was able to equalise the score before the final race weekend in Abu Dhabi.
At that point, it looked like the Mercedes driver would win his record-breaking eighth world title after all, as Verstappen and Red Bull Racing were unable to keep up with the pace that weekend. The German team was strategically outclassed by Red Bull's rivals, however, a late safety car gave Verstappen a single lap to take the title. He seized the opportunity immediately, and Hamilton saw his eighth championship go up in smoke.
Lewis Hamilton in 2023
The 2022 Formula 1 season ended in a major disappointment for Hamilton. Mercedes initially caused a stir with their 'zero sidepod' design, but turned out to have missed the mark. The year was all about troubleshooting and will go down in the books as an important learning year for Mercedes.
For Hamilton, it was his first season without a win in F1, although he came close a few times in the final stages of the season. Meanwhile, his new teammate George Russell did manage a win and also finished ahead of Hamilton in the championship. Presumably, however, the seven-time champion will not settle for that in 2023.