US win makes Hamilton one of F1 greats

Lewis Hamilton confirmed his place among Formula One’s greatest drivers of all time on Sunday when he clinched his third world championship with victory in the United States Grand Prix.

Already acclaimed as the fastest man of his generation and widely recognised as Formula One’s best-known and most exciting racer, he completed a fairy-tale rise from a broken mixed-race home on a Stevenage municipal housing estate to iconic status as a global sporting celebrity.

Having won his first title, with McLaren, as a bold, and sometimes brash, 23-year-old in a dramatic last-lap surge in Brazil in 2008 and his second in a double-points ‘double-jeopardy’ duel with his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi in 2014, Hamilton claimed his third with almost luxurious ease.

From the start, he has dominated the 2015 season, reeling off victories with the aplomb of a man who is not only in the field’s dominant car, but also the master of his art and destiny – a matured version of the fast, committed, fearless and utterly tenacious competitor of his early years at the top.

Then, in the period before he decided to move on from McLaren for Mercedes at the end of 2012, his obvious talents were sometimes marred by emotional outbursts, frustration at perceived injustices and impetuosity on the track.

These were part of the legacy from his childhood anxieties as the son of a black father and white mother, who separated when he was only two years old, and his later struggles to settle in life as a teenager.

His father Anthony re-married and, taking on several jobs to earn the necessary cash, nurtured his early career as an outstanding young kart racer who, at 10, became the youngest British Cadet kart champion.

Famously, in December 1995, after taking that title and borrowing clothes for the occasion, Hamilton approached McLaren boss Ron Dennis at the annual Autosport Awards gala dinner in London and told him he wanted to race for his team.

He had already taken to racing in a bright yellow helmet, as worn by his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, who won three drivers’ titles with McLaren.

Three years later, Dennis phoned the Hamilton home in Stevenage and recruited him to McLaren’s young driver program, providing the financial support necessary to back the youngster’s racing career.

His natural speed and daring enabled him to become an outstanding racer when he progressed to single-seater cars, winning titles in British Formula Renault, European Formula Three and GP2 with a succession of thrilling performances and stunning victories.

In 2007, he was handed his F1 debut at McLaren alongside two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and almost snatched the title in his rookie season, his inexperience letting him down in the final two races.

When he did take his maiden title, at the final corner of the final lap of the season at Interlagos, he usurped Alonso as the sport’s youngest champion (a record since taken by four-time champion Sebastian Vettel).

Instead of launching him towards multiple glories, Hamilton’s early success led him into a period of frustrating challenges.

In a team run by Dennis, and managed intensely by his father Anthony, he struggled for results in cars that were not as fast as those of his rivals, notably the Renault-powered Red Bull of Vettel.

He was a perennial challenger, but unfulfilled and found solace in an “on-off-on-off” relationship with American pop singer Nicole Scherzinger that ensured he was a regular visitor to the United States, introduced him to the music industry, and a level of celebrity that he had not previously experienced.

By 2012, he had taken control of his own life and broken away from the two men who had dominated his career – Anthony, with whom he split in 2010, and finally Dennis – and signed to join Mercedes as successor to seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.

It was a move that freed him to express himself on and off the circuit and, petulance discarded, allowed him to grow with into the multiple champion he became in 2014 and the dominant force of 2015.

Though deeply upset when he broke up with Scherzinger before the season began, Hamilton was given a chance to concentrate on his racing and began 2015 in better shape and form than ever before.

Without emotional distraction, he took a chance to explore and expand his other interests by spending more time in America and, with his own private jet, enjoying a lifestyle packed with high-profile appearances at film premieres, festivals and fashion shows mixed with working to help under-privileged children.

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