Formula 1 World Champion and record holder, Lewis Hamilton MBE, is now Sir Lewis Carl Davison Hamilton. He was Knighted in the Queen’s New Year Honors list.
The Briton, who celebrated his 36th Birthday on Thursday, January 09, sealed a seventh drivers’ title at the Turkish Grand Prix in November – equaling Michael Schumacher’s championships record.
Hamilton’s grandparents came to the UK from the Caribbean island of Grenada in the 1950s and his father Anthony grew up in west London before marrying a Caucasian woman, Carmen. They separated when Lewis was two.
Anthony lived in a council house in Stevenage and worked in IT for the railways taking on extra jobs to supplement his income to support Lewis’s racing – selling double glazing, washing dishes, putting up ‘for sale’ boards for estate agents and so on.
According to a BBC Sports feature, Hamilton’s road to unprecedented success started at Rye House, an unassuming little go-kart track tucked between a supermarket distribution centre and a nature reserve at the junction of two railway lines just off the A10 in Hertfordshire.
It was there Hamilton went aged eight, with his father Anthony and a second-hand kart, and took his first step on to the motorsport ladder.
He immediately stood out. Not only because he was good – and he was – but because in terms of skin colour, he did not look like any of the other kids he was racing.
Motor racing – like many sports that require financial input or attract the wealthier members of society – is notoriously universe. Formula 1 had never had a black driver.
Money was not the only problem. The Hamilton’s were usually the only black people at races, and there was racial abuse.
“The first time it happened,” a young Hamilton told the BBC at the time, “I felt really upset and told my mum and dad. I felt like I needed to get revenge, but lately, if anyone says anything to me, I just ignore them and get them back on the track.”
Aged 10, Hamilton became the youngest ever winner of the British cadet kart championship. That year, in 1995, he attended the Autosport Awards, the motorsport industry’s end-of-season shindig. He walked up to Ron Dennis, the boss of McLaren, introduced himself and said: “One day, I want to be racing your cars.”
Three years later, after Hamilton had won his second British kart championship, Dennis signed him up to McLaren’s driver development programme. Whitmarsh was put in charge of overseeing Hamilton’s career.
Hamilton did what was asked of him, dominating European F3 in 2005 before moving up to GP2 in 2006 and driving one of the most impressive seasons the championship – now known as Formula 2 – has ever seen. F1 beckoned.
Alonso, who had joined McLaren for 2007 after winning two consecutive titles with Renault, was unimpressed when he was told his new team-mate would be a novice.
Whitmarsh says: “Fernando was, ‘Well, why are we doing that? If we’re going to try to win the championship, we don’t need a kid in the car, we need someone experienced. I need a strong team-mate; we don’t need a rookie.’ But it turned out to be quite a different story.”
What followed was a dramatic, tumultuous season in which arguably the strongest driver pairing ever put together in F1 came close to tearing McLaren apart.