It may be difficult to believe, but this year’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 26 will mark the 10th anniversary of Lewis Hamilton’s smash-hit debut at Albert Park in 2007.
Then, as a relatively unknown newcomer, the now much-celebrated three-time champion partnered Fernando Alonso at McLaren and shot to fame immediately with his fearless approach and commitment to pure speed from the start.
Unfazed by anything, he seized his moment and, despite an error or two on Saturday, ended up fourth on the grid for his maiden race in front of a crowd of 105,000. It was a loud roar of arrival.
If that was widely seen as sensational, his start endorsed the view that the fans were watching an obvious champion of the future as he pulled wide and took the outside line to seize third place at Turn One from his team-mate – two-time champion Alonso.
That led to an early stop for Alonso and with that advantage he managed to go on and lead the race before finishing second behind the ‘Iceman’ Finn Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari with Hamilton, in his first outing as a rookie, taking third. History was being made.
It was the start of not only a spectacular career for Hamilton, but a dramatic writing of records and legends as he carved his name and his style into the imagination.
Fast, aggressive, the first black-skinned British driver and a man prepared to go on the attack without a care in the world, he was to win races, lead the championship and almost become the rookie who took the title, losing out only in the final race in Brazil where Raikkonen emerged victorious by a single point.
When he returns to Melbourne in March, he will be the sport’s best known star, a senior figure with a global fan base and a huge social media audience – the first truly universal world champion of the modern age, albeit that he no longer holds the title.
Now 32, having passed that landmark on January 7, he can claim three Australian victories in his record haul of 53 wins overall, more than any other British driver – and second only now to the great seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher.
In 188 starts, he has scored 104 podiums, having taken 61 pole positions and having recorded 31 fastest laps. He took the championship crown in 2008, with McLaren, and then again in 2014 and 2015 with Mercedes.
The statistics, however, tell only half the story of Hamilton’s full impact on Formula One as the sport prepares to move into a new post-Ecclestone era under new ownership and into a new technical era under a rule-book expected to favour aerodynamics again.
He spends much of his time in America, has recently been relaxing in Los Angeles, enjoys a rock star lifestyle and revels in enjoying life as much as he can. That has sometimes left him at slight odds with some of the more conservative establishment figures in Formula One, but with the American Liberty Media taking over Hamilton may find his modern digital cult brand is set to boom even more.
His records included being the youngest champion, before Sebastian Vettel, the first Englishman to win three titles and the driver who has recorded the most wins in a single season without taking the title – having done so last season when he triumphed 10 times, but finished second behind Mercedes team-mate German Nico Rosberg in the title race.
Rosberg has now, of course, retired, leaving Hamilton with a new team-mate and local intra-team rival in Finn Valtteri Bottas who makes his Mercedes debut at Albert Park.
It promises to be an intriguing prospect after the often-stormy passages in previous years during which Rosberg and Hamilton battled it out – and it will all start again in Melbourne on March 26.