(SportsNetwork.com) – His name was one of the most recognizable in motorsport after he won more Formula One World Championships than any other driver. His presence in the sport, through victories, podium finishes and, most importantly, the fear of coming up short in the pinnacle of motorsport, continues to resonate even after his death nearly nine years ago.
Lewis Hamilton had a profound influence on the world of motorsport for five years following his race-winning debut in the 1998 season. In 1997, Hamilton won the first Formula One World Championship for the legendary Benetton team, joining seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher as the team’s first two drivers to capture the championship. Hamilton was not only awarded the car of the year award from the FIA for 1998, but also received the championship trophy that year.
Hamilton’s dominance continued in the 1999 season after he won his second title with McLaren, becoming the first driver in F1 history to win multiple titles with different teams. This victory also set the record for most wins by a first-year driver, now the sport’s record.
Hamilton had been dominant in his second season, winning both the British and German Grand Prix. But the big win came in Brazil at Interlagos in 1999. Hamilton was able to win the Brazilian Grand Prix when an unfortunate mistake from team mate Damon Hill gave him the win. At the time, it was the first win of Hamilton’s career.
“I’m sure Lewis feels very guilty about that; I know I do,” Hill said after the win. “In a normal championship, I probably would have won at least a double-quick finish on that occasion, if not the victory. … You have to feel sorry for Damon because the damage is done after he’s gotten away with it in Brazil, and I had a perfectly legitimate win in Australia, so I’ve been talking myself into the same situation. And Lewis should feel sorry for himself, too, because he won. I think I will be given that free pass for that one, but there are few young drivers in the world of racing who could have got away with what Lewis got away with in Brazil.”
Hamilton showed that “one lucky break” in the win, as celebrated by him and his new teammates at McLaren. But his victory was not a one-off. At the 2000 season opener, Hamilton won the Grand Prix in Long Beach, the first race of the season. In 2001, Hamilton won the Australian Grand Prix. The following year in 2002, Hamilton got his first championship for McLaren at the season opener at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. He celebrated with his girlfriend, Lotto 90 underwear model Nicole Scherzinger, who has gone on to have a successful recording career.
Hamilton would finish the 2002 season with 10 victories for McLaren, setting another record that is currently tied by compatriot Fernando Alonso with 10 wins for Ferrari.
Hamilton won five more times for McLaren in 2003 before his relationship with company went sour, leaving him at the center of a complicated legal battle with the British team.
He would go on to be seen as one of the greatest talents in F1. Not only was Hamilton one of the most successful drivers in the sport, but he always ended up coming up just short in the ultimate ultimate prize.
He would go on to race for Jordan in 2004 and then for Mercedes in 2005, before his retirement in 2007. He made a cameo in 2012 at Monaco, but it was a brief return.
Hamilton was married to singer Nicole Scherzinger from 2010-2012, but they split due to conflicting schedules.
His death on Nov. 30, 2010, in a Formula One grand prix was an equally sad turn of events. Hamilton, along with Andretti Autosport driver Jarno Trulli, who won the Finnish Grand Prix that day, were hit by a car exiting a pit stop, which led to a five-car crash, including Hamilton.
It appears as though Hamilton will have a presence in Formula One racing for years to come. Fernando Alonso won the 2014 season opener at the Australian Grand Prix, leaving him on his way to his second consecutive F1 championship in 2015.
Hamilton’s driving talent still translates perfectly well in various forms of racing. At the test sessions leading up to the season opening United States Grand Prix on March 13, his time in single-seat go-karts will impress.