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Hamilton's days at McLaren Reviewed

RachF1
SENIOR ANALYST
665   //    22 Dec 2012, 10:31 IST

F1 Grand Prix of USA

This September, it was announced that Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren and join Mercedes as part of a multi-million dollar deal with the German manufacturer. McLaren had nurtured Hamilton since he was 13 when he became a part of its Young Drivers Programme. It would have been hard for the British driver to reach F1 without this programme as his father didn’t had enough money to support his racing career. Having spent 6 seasons and 110 races at McLaren which included 21 wins and one title, Hamilton decided to move to an under-performing Mercedes team saying he ”needs a fresh challenge”.

We take a look at Hamilton’s days at McLaren.

2007 Season – Immaturity and unhealthy battle takes away title in debut season

Lewis Hamilton made his F1 debut alongside defending world champion Fernando Alonso in 2007 having won the GP2 world championship in 2006. He got a flying start with a podium finish in his very first race, the Australian Grand Prix. He stayed on podium for next 8 races and got his first victory in the process at Canada. The second half of the season wasn’t as good apart from 2 victories at Hungary and Japan. He was involved in an intense off and on-track rivalry with his team mate Fernando Alonso. At the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying, Alonso blocked Hamilton in the pitlane to prevent him from setting a flying lap. Alonso set the fastest lap but Hamilton was promoted to pole position post qualifying after the former was awarded a 5 place grid penalty for the same.

Coming into the second-last race of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix, Hamilton was leading the championship by 12 points to teammate Alonso and 17 to Ferrari‘s Kimi Raikkonen. After staying out too long on worn out tyres, Hamilton came into the pits but his tyres didn’t had enough grip and he went on to the gravel trap and into retirement. Raikkonen went on to win the race and reduce the gap to just 7 points. Many argue that this mistake costed him the championship.

At the final race in Brazil, Hamilton lined up in 2nd place, one place ahead of Raikkonen. But a cautious start saw him losing places to Raikkonen and Alonso slipping down into 4th place. He then tried very hard to retake positions lost and in the process ran wide and slipped to 8th place. Hamilton was then more cautious as started regaining place before a gearbox problem stopped him for nearly 30 seconds before he was able to fix it and get his car going. But the damage was already done and Hamilton was then running in 19th place. From then, he recovered well on an aggressive 3 stop strategy to finish in 7th place but that wasn’t enough and Raikkonen beat him by a margin of just one point in the championship.

Season Stats

Standings – 2nd
Points – 109
Wins – 4
Poles – 5

2008 Season – Becomes the youngest world champion in a crunch season finale

After nearly winning the title in his first season, Hamilton signed a 5 year multi-million dollar deal with McLaren. He also got a new teammate in form of Heikki Kovalainen who swapped his seat with Fernando Alonso.

He started the season with an emphatic victory from pole position at Australia. He also went on to win his home race, which he described as his most difficult and meaningful win. He led the championship for most of the season scoring five wins and seven pole positions. His only committed one major mistake when he hit Raikkonen’s car in the pitlane who in turn was waiting for the light to turn green. Both of the drivers retired from the race and Hamilton was given 10 place grid penalty for the next race.

Singapore was a lucky race for Hamilton when Ferrari mechanics immaturely released Massa(his main rival) despite the fuel hose being attached to his car. He went full distance of the pit lane before Ferrari mechanics removed the fuel pipe and allowed the Brazilian to leave the pitlane. In the processed, Massa slipped from 1st to back of the grid while Hamilton went on to finish on the podium increasing the gap in the championship.

Coming into the final race in Brazil, Hamilton was leading the championship by 7 points and with rival Felipe Massa leading the race, the former had to finish the race in at least 5th place to win the Championship. And he indeed was running in 5th place until he ran wide and Vettel overtook him on the 2nd last lap.

Felipe Massa went on to win the race and he and his team had already started to celebrate their victory. But as Hamilton approached the final corner of the final lap, he and Vettel overtook Timo Glock, who was running on dry tyres despite the wet weather to take 5th place. Thus, Hamilton went on to become the youngest world championship(Vettel now holds that record) by the same margin he lost the championship the previous year, 1 point.

Season Stats

Standings – 1st
Points – 98
Wins – 5
Poles – 7

2009 Season

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Race2009 turned out to be the worst season till date for Hamilton as McLaren failed to match the pace of Brawn GP(now Mercedes) and Red Bull who eventually became the new front runners in F1. The reason for slow pace was the new rule changes and the fact that McLaren developed their 2008 car right till the end to win the title.

With two wins at Hungary and Singapore and three further podiums, the 27-year-old finished the season in 5th place. At the end of the season, it was announced that 2009 champion Jenson Button will join Hamilton at McLaren from 2010 season.

Season Stats

Standings – 5th
Points – 49
Wins – 2
Poles – 4

2010 Season

After a poor 2009 season, Hamilton and McLaren were back in front in 2010. He finished in 3rd place at the opening race in Bahrain and his teammate Jenson Button led a McLaren 1-2 at China. He won his first race of the season at the Turkish Grand Prix which was followed by another win at Canada and a further two podiums. Retirements at four races hurt his chances of fighting for the championship . Moreover, Ferrari pace improved in the second half of the season and it became a straight fight between Alonso and the two Red Bulls.

With only one more win he was 24 points behind championship leader Mark Webber as he approached the final race of the season. He finished the race in 2nd place behind race and championship winner Sebastian Vettel.

Season Stats

Standings – 4th
Points – 240
Wins – 3
Poles – 1

2011 Season – Worst season of his career after problems in personal life and lack of focus

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Race

2011 was a season to forget for Hamilton who had problems both on and off the track. Despite a decent start to the season with a podium finish at the opening race in Australia and a win at China, his performance deteriorated and he was involved in a number of crashes.

At the Canadian Grand Prix, he collided with his very own teammate Jenson Button at the front/back straight and was forced to retire from the race. Button went on to win the race in what was probably the best race of his career. Apart from this collision, he was involved in a series of accidents with old rival Felipe Massa. For the first time, he was outpaced in terms of points by his teammate. Off the track, he split with his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and its side effects were visible on track.

However, he did win three races and was the only one to score a pole position(at Korea) apart from the two Red Bulls. The three victories came at China, Germany and Abu Dhabi. At China, he impressed with an impressive overtake over Vettel to take the lead of the race while at Germany and Abu Dhabi he took advantage of the misfortunes of pole sitters.

Season Stats

Standings – 5th
Points – 227
Wins – 3
Poles – 1

2012 – McLaren ruins chances of another title for Hamilton

2012 saw a matured Lewis Hamilton with the 27-year-old putting back his poor 2011 season behind. He was probably driving at his best, certainly better than he did in last two years. In fact, it was a year of what could have been as Hamilton would have won the title without operational errors and reliability issues with his McLaren.

In the first half of the season, he lost multiple places due to slow stops and operational issues. At Bahrain, for instance, he finished down in 8th place after two painful stops having started the race from second. At Barcelona, Hamilton stormed to pole position in qualifying but the McLaren mechanics didn’t add enough fuel in his car and Hamilton was forced to stop on track in his in-lap. He was eliminated from qualifying and had to start from back on the grid on Sunday. Despite his best efforts, he could only recover to 8th place. In the second half of the season, it was reliability that hurt the British driver. He was leading Singapore and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from pole positions, but had to retire at both the races due to a gearbox and a fuel pressure problem respectively.

On the positive side, he was still able to show his talent with some outstanding performances, especially in US where he pressurized Vettel for most of the race before inheriting the lead from him on lap 42. Before his victory at Austin, the British driver took the top step on the podium at three occasions, namely Canada, Hungary and Italy. But the points loss from things out of his hands was too high and the 27-year-old could only finish 4th in the championship, 91 points behind champion Sebastian Vettel.

Season Stats

Standings – 4th
Points – 190
Wins – 4
Poles – 7

Conclusion

To sum it up, Hamilton’s F1 career has been a roller coaster ride. He got a head start to his career in 2007, however, an intense battle with his teammate and some mistakes from his side costed him the title. He went on to win the title the following year, albiet only at the last lap of the race and by a margin of just one point. This was followed by three not-so-good seasons. In 2012, Hamilton was back to form, probably performing at his best but was let down by his team. In the 110 races, the British driver managed to win 21 races, 1 world championship and has finished on the podium on 49 occasions.

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