The 2007 season saw Lewis Hamilton burst onto the Formula One scene, after a long-term driver development deal with McLaren brought the young Stevenage hopeful into the “fastest sport on four wheels.” He set about the task of re-writing the history books in emphatic fashion, after having secured the GP2 series title the previous year. The chariot of choice for him was the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-22, with the 17 tracks around the globe being his stage upon which to perform. The first five races from Lewis were nothing short of spectacular, finishing all of them on the podium, which put him on equal pegging with teammate Fernando Alonso going into Montreal. That race saw the emergence of a new driver to look out for, as Hamilton made himself a true contender from the moment he secured his first Grand Prix victory in Canada.
Even with the halcyon highs of what Hamilton had achieved in terms of great success for both him and Woking, the team was about to be abruptly brought down to earth with a resounding bump. “Stepneygate” caused major fiscal and championship problems for the team, as both Scuderia Ferrari’s Nigel Stepney and McLaren’s Mike Coughlan had been found to exchange confidential information over numerous matters. Even the Spanish matador made his involvement more personal as the matter continually escalated.
This resulted in McLaren being disqualified from the Constructor’s title race and fined $100m, when the World Motor Sport Council issued the final judgement in September. But Alonso and Hamilton were still able to focus on their driving to the full, having been allowed to keep their respective points, as they were deemed to not be directly involved, with Lewis really looking to carry on with what he does best.
Hamilton’s chance to drive the final nail in the coffin against his rivals would come at the penultimate race at Shanghai, as his impressive form continued through to the previous round at Fuji, where he secured his clearly dominant 4th race win of the season, as Alonso crashed out heavily during the torrential downpour.
Hamilton was on fire like a proverbial Chinese dragon, grabbing his sixth pole position of the season around the 5.451km track. However, the importance of what events could happen during the race would signify the turning point in what was a very close title fight. From the moment the five red lights went out, Lewis stormed ahead and led the field into Turn 1, setting about making his dream become reality. A place in F1 immortality was clearly calling, which would make Hamilton the first Briton since Damon Hill in 1996 to win the driver’s title.
Lewis carried on and took his first pit stop, with light rain dictating that intermediates would become “de rigeur” with it all going according to plan for the driver and his team. But with calls from the pit lane asking Hamilton to stay out repeatedly, it was only a matter of time before the tyres would wear out, as half distance fast approached.
On lap 30, Hamilton was finally able to pit for new tyres, but the right rear tyre had completely delaminated on the inner part of the tread. As the car approached the turn into the pit lane, the loss of traction was clear to see, as Hamilton went straight on and ended up beached in the gravel trap. The rookie’s hand signals to the onlooking marshals proved to no avail, and just like that, his race was all over.
The frustration from Hamilton was clear to see, as well as the team having to make good their apologies to Lewis for their strategic “faux-pas,” but the call that was made could not be undone, as well as the consequences that surely followed. The beneficiary of the mistake was Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who was able to secure his fifth race win of the season, followed by Alonso and Felipe Massa, with Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel making amends for his crash with Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber the race before by finishing fourth.
The title race was then even further compounded by more bad luck for the Brit at Brazil, as Raikkonen and Alonso were also in the frame to secure the title. We all know what happened there, as the gearbox issue coupled with a win from the “Iceman” meant that Lewis missed out on his place in F1 history by just one point. It all could have been so different if the right call was made was made at the right time…
(Image credits: www.mutanteggplant.com, crash.net and Getty Images)