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Formula One has seen many great drivers but only a handful have become synonymous with the sport. so it is with Lewis Hamilton. It’s only been two years and the gritty Brit is already on the threshold of becoming Mr Formula One. BY RAHUL RAVINDRAN

56 MARCH 2009

Lewis Hamilton is wearing his TAG Heuer Formula 1 Chronograph.

FORMULA ONE LEWIS HAMILTON

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Lewis Hamilton is wearing his TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Calibre 17 RS

FORMULA ONE LEWIS HAMILTON

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erhaps, it’s not just a coincidence that he was named after the erstwhile world’s fastest man. Perhaps, a chance meeting with Sir Ron Dennis in 1995 drove him to aim for greater glory. Perhaps, the 2008 Drivers Championship was won, but not deserved. Perhaps, his metrosexual looks are what earned him the title, ‘David Beckham of F1’, and subsequently beamed him straight up to the No 1 spot on a gay dating

TIME TO CELEBRATE: It might have come a season late but, Lewis Hamilton had reason to celebrate throughout the 2008 Championship winning season.

website. Except for the last one, we’re pretty certain that it’s more than just destiny that has shot this 24 year-old into the near-blinding F1 limelight. Love him or hate him, the fact of the matter is that Lewis Carl Hamilton is now a World Champion. When asked about the upcoming season and Hamilton’s future, his ex-teammate, and two-time world champion himself, Fernando Alonso, said, “I think there’s less pressure on Lewis this year. When you win

a championship, you are a Formula One World Champion forever, and it means you can enjoy your racing.” They might be bitter rivals but you can almost sense a shade of respect creeping in to the words of probably the most gifted driver in the business. Success and a huge fan following seem to have come easily to Hamilton, but the respect of a closeknit, elitist clan had been hard to come by after the debacle of 2007. He had to come back the next season

and regain their respect though they had largely overlooked the fact that it was his debut season and that he had come within a point of a record debut Drivers Championship. Rather, they preferred to direct attention towards how this then 22year-old had choked. After Lewis stormed the F1 world with his nine consecutive podiums in his first nine races, comparisons with the legends of the sport have been growing. Most have relished the birth of a legend in the making and the fact that he has earned this sort of praise, with a Spanish legend and a Finn – regarded amongst the fastest ever – for company, speaks volumes of how much the Briton has achieved in a mere two years in the sport. Thirteen Grand Prix wins and a retirement later, Scot David Coulthard’s got only praise for the young Brit. “He is just dripping in world class performance. With the benefit of hindsight it was great he didn’t win [the title] in the first year because it just made the second year all that more special. I think he will always manage to be quite controlled and is the [Michael] Schumacher of the modern era. He is now the benchmark against which everyone has to be measured.” A number of Coulthard’s contemporaries have echoed his praise for Hamilton, but one great, Niki Lauda, has not. “When I was racing, everyone was ready to drive over someone else to win. Death was always an option. Today’s drivers have no idea,” he bemoaned. But the great man was a bit off the track. The on-track aggression is now a thing of the past. To a large extent, the sport and its somewhat confused short-term decision makers are to blame for

TIME TO KILL: This is where it all began. Lewis Hamilton takes the chequered flag at Albert Park last year.

this. A series of changes in the rules and regulations since the Schumacher-era has subjected the drivers to unending flak about how they will never match up to the greats of yesteryears. But it is about time we realised that F1 is a completely different sport now from what it was during the Senna-Prost era and earlier. Sport on the whole today is more about being consistent and making the maximum number of appearances in a calendar year for the team or governing body rather than showcasing raw talent. A prime example of where sport is headed today is Jelena Jankovic.

LEGENDARY COMPARISON Name: Lewis Hamilton First Championship: 2008 Season: 2nd Age: 23 Race Wins: 5 Podiums: 10 Points: 98 Points Per Race: 5.4

Name: Kimi Raikkonen First Championship: 2007 Season: 7th Age: 28 Race Wins: 6 Podiums: 12 Points: 110 Points Per Race: 6.5

Name: Fernando Alonso First Championship: 2005 Season: 4th Age: 24 Race Wins: 7 Podiums: 15 Points: 133 Points Per Race: 7 MARCH 2009 59


FORMULA ONE LEWIS HAMILTON

The only kind of charisma someone like Lewis Hamilton has is his girl Nicole Scherzinger. – Niki Lauda, three-time F1 Drivers Champion.

She finished as the World No 1 last year without a single Grand Slam victory. Similarly, Hamilton won the championship last year, but was not the driver with the most wins in the season, or the one with the most fastest laps, or part of the team that won the Constructors Championship. The name of the game today is consistency. There’s nothing wrong with it. For a rookie driver like Hamilton, coming into F1 today means he gets one shot, at most two, in a big team. Here, he has to subjugate his ambitions to the team’s interests and adjust to their way of working. If their mentality is to get the car to the finish line – even if that means sacrificing a possible race win for a podium finish – he has to stick to the plan. So it doesn’t matter if Hamilton wants to have death as an option or if he wishes to drive over someone else. As we saw in the Alonso-McLaren fiasco, one thing that remains constant is that even today, no individual is bigger than the team. Hamilton seems to have adjusted to and mastered today’s version of F1 perfectly. This will be his keystone to becoming the legend everyone almost takes for granted he will become. This is thanks mainly to a committed support system, namely, his family and the team around him. Anthony Hamilton always believed in his son. Whether it meant him taking on three jobs or running a business, he made sure that Lewis had every single opportunity on offer. He opened up new doors for his son and Lewis’ induction into the McLaren youth programme at age 12 is tribute to his foresight and an inspiration and user’s guide as to how to produce champions for

FATHER FIGURES: The man with real dad Anthony and team dad Ron Dennis.

parents all over, especially in India. At just 24, from winning remote control championships to winning the biggest prize in motorsport, the first Black Champion has come a long way. This season he says that he is more committed than ever. Hamilton’s mentor and ‘second father’ Ron Dennis has stepped down, only to make way for long-time deputy Martin Whitmarsh. Though there are the obvious pitfalls from a shift in power equations, a younger boss might just work in Hamilton’s favour. McLaren-Mercedes look like a solid outfit, who seem to have left their troubled years at the start of the millennium far behind. If this year’s quota of rule changes actually works and changes the sport and increases the on-track action, Hamilton could move one step closer to being regarded as one of the all-time greats, in just his third season.

LEGENDARY COMPARISON Name: Ayrton Senna First Championship: 1988 Season: 5th Age: 28 Race Wins: 8 Podiums: 11 Points: 90 Points Per Race: 5.6

Name: Michael Schumacher First Championship: 1994 Season: 4th Age: 25 Race Wins: 8 Podiums: 10 Points: 92 Points Per Race: 5.8

Name: Niki Lauda First Championship: 1975 Season: 3rd Age: 26 Race Wins: 5 Podiums: 8 Points: 64.5 Points Per Race: 4.6 MARCH 2009 61


'09 March Hamilton