Best of 2018: From McLaren prodigy to five-time champion

The great Michael Schumacher is the only driver to have claimed more Formula One drivers' titles than Lewis Hamilton, after the Briton sealed his fifth crown at the Mexican Grand Prix this year.

A fourth-place finish in that race enabled Hamilton to pull level with Juan Manuel Fangio as a five-time world champion, with Sebastian Vettel having missed out on the win required to stand a chance of extending the title race.

Four of his triumphs have come with Mercedes in the last five seasons, following his maiden triumph with McLaren in 2008.

We take a look at Hamilton's path to F1® greatness.

2007-08: MAKING HIS MARK AND TITLE NUMBER ONE

Few can claim to have enjoyed a stronger debut season than Hamilton.

Podium finishes in each of his first nine races for McLaren, including two victories, set the newcomer on his way to a 2007 title tussle that would go down to the wire.

Victory in Japan saw Hamilton in the driving seat with two races to go, leading team-mate Fernando Alonso by 12 points and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen by 17, and he could have won the title in China had it not been for an ill-timed maiden retirement.

Gearbox trouble cost him at the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix and Raikkonen capitalised to win that race and edge to the top of the standings by a single point.

But the promise was plain to see and Hamilton was not to be denied for long.

He was McLaren’s number one driver in 2008 following the departure of Alonso to Renault and brought up his first world title in dramatic fashion, taking a crucial fifth place on the final lap of the last race of the season to snatch glory from Felipe Massa in front of the Brazilian’s own fans at Interlagos.

2013-15: DAWN OF THE DOMINANCE

All four of Vettel's four titles (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013) came between Hamilton's first two, as Red Bull enjoyed a four-year period of F1® success.

But it was Mercedes' return to the grid as a constructor in 2010 that would prove the catalyst for Hamilton to truly fulfil his potential.

After three seasons with Schumacher and Nico Rosberg on their books, Hamilton was drafted in to fill the not insignificant boots of the former in 2013, finishing fourth in the drivers' standings at the end of his first season with the team.

The beginning of the hybrid era marked the start of a golden age for Mercedes, and for Hamilton, and he won 11 of 19 races in 2014 to win the championship by 67 points.

More of the same arrived the following season when Hamilton graced the podium in 17 of 19 races, earning him back-to-back drivers' crowns, with Rosberg second to his team-mate on both occasions.

There appeared no stopping Hamilton in his all-conquering machine.

2016: THE ROSBERG RIVALRY

Step forward Nico Rosberg.

Fed up of being the bridesmaid, Rosberg came into his own during a season that saw the rivalry between the two drivers reach boiling point.

Rosberg won the opening four races before the drivers took each other out in Spain, with pressure mounting on team bosses to step in to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Momentum shifted one way and then the other over the course of a fascinating campaign but not even a run of four victories was enough to rescue a third straight title for Hamilton.

Rosberg eventually won the championship by five points before stepping away from the sport to the surprise of many, leaving Hamilton as clear favourite to regain the title in 2017.

 

2017-18: BACK ON TOP

Rosberg's retirement as world champion left F1® fans hoping Hamilton would find competition from a new source, with Valtteri Bottas stepping into the German's shoes to partner the three-time champion.

Hamilton's new rival came in the form of Vettel - a man chasing his own slice of history as he looked to reinstall himself as a title contender and match Fangio's five world crowns.

It was the Ferrari man who held the upper hand early on, securing top-two finishes at the opening six races of the 2017 season.

Neither made the top three during a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix and Hamilton soon seized control of the title race, going on a run of five wins from six races after the mid-season break as reliability issues limited Vettel's threat.

Hamilton wrapped up last season's title in Mexico with two races to spare, making him the most successful British driver in F1® history.

And this year's campaign followed a similar pattern, the Mercedes man surging clear in the second half of 2018 to ultimately triumph by a commanding margin.

After he got the better of Vettel for the second season in succession, few would now bet against Hamilton equalling Schumacher's haul of seven titles.

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