Lewis Hamilton joined one of sport’s most exclusive clubs in Mexico when he became just the third driver to win a fifth Formula One world title.
His fourth-place finish at the Mexico Grand Prix on Sunday lifted him into the company of the sport’s true greats, joining seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and fellow five-time winner Juan-Manuel Fangio – who he describes as “The Godfather” – in the F1 pantheon
To have won more than men like Australia’s Jack Brabham, fellow-Briton Jackie Stewart, Austrian Niki Lauda and Brazilians Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna as well as modern day rival Sebastian Vettel is a spectacular statement of achievement.
The son of a black father and a white mother, who survived a broken home in his youth, Hamilton (33) grew up on a municipal housing estate in Stevenage where his father Anthony at one time held down three jobs to fund his son’s embryonic racing career in karts.
His journey was unprivileged and without luxury, but it was clear from an early age that he had an outstanding gift for speed and all the gutsy natural instincts of a born racer.
In 1995, aged 10, and wearing a jacket and shoes borrowed from his predecessor as British Formula Cadet karting champion, he went to a glittering awards ceremony in London where he met McLaren’s then-boss Ron Dennis.
He asked for an autograph and told him “one day I want to race for you”. Dennis replied: “Phone me in nine years and I’ll sort you a deal.”
The McLaren chief did not wait that long. After less than three years, he agreed to support Hamilton’s passage through the junior formulae en route to his F1 debut with his team in 2007.
Bold, determined and individual, he almost won the title in his first record-breaking season as he reeled off nine successive podiums from his debut in Melbourne, rocking the establishment along the way with his speed and his style. On and off the track, he was fast, somewhat mercurial and occasionally tempestuous and this combination led to a fierce rivalry with team-mate and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who left McLaren at the end of the year.
That was a signal of how tough it was to be for all his future team mates as Hamilton, who narrowly missed out on the 2007 title, returned to triumph in 2008 with a dramatic last-gasp fifth-place finish in Brazil.
He also showed frustration as McLaren failed to deliver the speed to beat Vettel and Red Bull, who reeled off four straight title triumphs from 2010 to 2013, by when Hamilton had departed for Mercedes. –