It'll be tough for Hamilton

April 2 - 8, 2008

Fifth place in Malaysia after a disappointing qualifying session was in stark contrast to a comfortable victory in Melbourne for British Formula One star Lewis Hamilton.

However, what would probably have concerned him more was the way in which Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, defending world champion, cruised to an impressive victory.

It is widely acknowledged that the Ferrari team have had an exceptional time testing in Bahrain and if their reliability holds up then Hamilton might well find his second season in Formula One a lot harder than his rookie year.

The British newcomer made such an impact last season that future success was predicted to be a formality and this is likely to be the case with the question being when, rather than if, he will become world champion.

This weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix might well go a long way to answering the question. Last year's second for McLaren behind Massa in the corresponding race suggests it is a circuit that suits Hamilton's team and his battle with the Finn should dictate how the rest of the season develops.

Born in Hertfordshire in 1985 and named after Olympic champion Carl Lewis by parents Anthony and Carmen he has always been associated with the motor racing world. He began karting at eight and apparently told Ron Dennis, head of McLaren, when he met him, how good he was and that he wanted a job. Dennis told the young boy to come back when he had won some races and Hamilton did exactly that!

Through the Cadet Ranks, Junior Yamaha and Junior Intercontinental, Hamilton excelled and when he was 13 Dennis signed him up for the McLaren driver development programme. Success in Formula A and Super Formula A soon propelled him into Formula Three where he raced with the likes of Nico Rosberg before finding a seat in GP2. His championship win in 2006 coincided with a vacancy at McLaren and he was duly given the spot much to the general public's surprise.

His first season was an astonishing achievement and he broke numerous rookie records and his front row position in Bahrain in only his third Grand Prix focused the world's press on this extraordinary talent.

His first victory was in Canada, a race he won from start to finish despite the safety car being employed four times which again demonstrated a maturity beyond his experience.

As the season drew on it was apparent that Hamilton was going to stay in contention for the whole season and so it proved. However, at the business end of the season, his inexperience began to tell and mistakes at China and the last round in Brazil cost him the title that three weeks previously had looked a certainty.

Throughout this meteoric rise to the summit the British media were in raptures, fawning over his every achievement which is understandable given what they were and the impact he was making. Comparisons with Tiger Woods were inevitable and suggestions that he would dominate the sport for years to come, whilst premature, were understandable.

It was obvious he was a class act but unlike other sports it is not enough in Formula One - a competitive car and good reliability are essential components to reaching the top and staying there.

Meanwhile, Hamilton's off-track life was receiving more and more attention from a hungry media and his stormy relationship with teammate Alonso constantly covered. Information was easy to come by and with Alonso's seemingly arrogant attitude to the newcomer it was easy to paint him as the villain and Hamilton as the innocent, much of which appeared to be the case.

The first signs of bad publicity came when he announced he was moving to Switzerland. When he was caught speeding in France at 122mph with his Mercedes Benz being impounded he was not criticised, in fact, it enhanced his reputation as he was a racing driver after all. But, deciding to move abroad without admitting it was for tax purposes, was too much for some and the first signs of a negative press began to emerge.

The risk of being built up only to be knocked down is always a risk that every sports star faces in England but there is little they can do about it except concentrate on what they are paid to do and as long as Hamilton continues to win races then all will be forgiven. However, should his form, or the team, slump, then there will be plenty of people looking for an opening to exploit.

He is still only 23 and until he has three or four years maturing both on and off the track it is impossible to know which way it will go. What is not in dispute though is that he is a fantastic talent.

What is unknown though is how good his main rival is ... and if Kimi Raikkonen puts his mind to it, and the Ferrari matches his ability, the young Englishman might find that he plays second fiddle for longer than he had hoped for. This weekend's Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix will be an important sign post in finding out which way it will go.

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