From the moment Lewis Hamilton set foot in Formula One, he let everyone know he meant business. His rookie F1 season is still the most successful ever and has set the standards for rookies in the sport quite high.
Hamilton was set to begin his Formula One journey when he signed with McLaren to compete in the 2007 season. By competing in F1 that season, it meant that he had one record already broken. Rookie Lewis Hamilton became the first Black driver to compete in Formula One in the sport’s entire history.
Prior to the start of the season, it looked like Hamilton had quite the task ahead of him. Chosen to be his teammate was Fernando Alonso who had also just signed for McLaren. Alonso was coming off the back of winning two back-to-back titles with Renault and was hoping to collect a third at McLaren.
Hamilton knew he had a lot to prove, and knew the challenge of having a teammate as successful as Alonso. In 2006, the Brit drove an incredible campaign during the GP2 season, and he was hoping to carry that momentum into his first season in F1. The pressure was very much on.
Streak of podiums
Despite being a rookie, Hamilton hit the ground running from his first-ever F1 race, at turn 1 of Albert Park, on lap 1. The young Brit overtook Alonso, and BMW driver Kubica, at the first corner to take second position. Lewis managed to keep Alonso behind him for most of the race, before losing out at the second round of pit stops, where Alonso jumped him. Hamilton went on to score a podium in his first F1 race ever, after finishing P3, with Alonso finishing P2 behind race winner Kimi Raikkonen.
The podium was exactly where Lewis Hamilton stayed for the next four races, finishing P2 each time.
Five races into the season, and we had a title fight in our hands. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa of Ferrari, along with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, established a four-horse race to the title.
On the sixth race of the season, it was a day that Lewis Hamilton had probably dreamt of before, and it had finally turned into a reality. In just his sixth F1 race, rookie Lewis Hamilton crossed the chequered line first to secure his maiden victory at the Canadian GP.
Rookie vs champ
Typically, when there’s a rookie driver in an F1 team, the more experienced driver often becomes the priority and the team leader – a dynamic that was expected to happen in the McLaren team in 2007. But there was a problem that had never before been encountered. Lewis Hamilton, in just his first-ever lap in Formula One, had already proven that he had it in him to compete with his two-time champion teammate Fernando Alonso and come out on top through sheer talent and speed.
Naturally, in a sport as competitive as F1, a rookie proving to be tough competition for a two-time champion would never be an easy pill to swallow for the latter.
In the race where Hamilton got his first-ever F1 win, Alonso had a poor race. Alonso encountered braking problems and penalties, leaving him to settle for P7.
Just days after Montreal, Alonso mentioned that he “wasn’t comfortable with everything” from the moment he arrived at McLaren. To make matters worse, he came out second best to Hamilton in Indiana. This time though, it was not due to issues with his car or penalties. Despite getting alongside him on track, Alonso was unable to make a move stick, with Hamilton crossing the finish line first.
Tensions reached boiling point at The Hungarian GP. During qualifying, Hamilton refused to follow team orders to give Alonso track position during the fuel-burning stage of Q3. In what was an obvious act of retaliation, Alonso remained stationary in his pit box, blocking Hamilton. This was to ensure that the rookie could not complete a final qualifying lap. Alonso went on to claim pole position but was given a five-place grid penalty for his retaliation. Hamilton went on to win the race, with Alonso finishing P4.
Despite squabbles with his teammate and prime Kimi Raikkonen being right up there, the F1 rookie found himself still in a three-way battle for the title towards the very end of the season.
By the time the season concluded, rookie Lewis Hamilton had accumulated 12 podiums, 6 pole positions, 4 race wins and 2 fastest laps in a 17-race season. All the more, he finished P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, 1 point behind Kimi Raikkonen. Defending Champion Fernando Alonso finished the season level on points with teammate Hamilton. However, because the rookie secured five second-place finishes to Alonso’s four, the Championship awarded him second place, while Alonso received P3.
In fact, Hamilton was mathematically, the favourite to win the title that year going into the final race. It would have been his first F1 title and in his rookie season. Unfortunately for him, a lack of grip at the Chinese Grand Prix led to the young Brit beaching his car in the gravel trap. A moment that might have singlehandedly lost him the title. That was the second last race of the season though, and for a rookie to be in a title fight all the way to the last race of the season was worth all the applause.
As of 2023, no one in the history of F1 has ever had a rookie season as successful as that of Lewis Hamilton’s.
In fact, under the current points system, Lewis Hamilton would have scored 265 points in just his rookie season, driving against arguably prime Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso!