Karting is a motorsport that is loved by people, both young and old. Aside from being an enjoyment, it is also considered to be the training ground of most drivers before single-seaters. Some of the most outstanding Formula One drivers attribute their successful racing careers to driving karts.
Famous F1 drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Mika Häkkinen, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, and Lewis Hamilton started karting at an early age with some of them starting as early as three years old.
Hamilton, the first and only black F1 driver did not come from a wealthy family yet he has proven to the world that nothing is impossible if you are determined to reach your goal. But how successful was he as a kart racer?
The trouble with the curves
Hamilton was eight when he began to compete at the Rye House Kart Circuit. He had trouble with curves and his former rival, Nikki Richardson recalled that Hamilton was spinning off a lot. The only black kid in the club was causing mayhem in the circuit that parents of other drivers would complain to Anthony, his father. With his father’s constant guidance, Hamilton eventually got the hang of it.
He quickly became so good at it and in the 1995 Super One British Kart Championship Hamilton made a breakthrough win after a tight match with Mike Conway. This made him the youngest driver to win the British cadet karting championship at the age of ten.
It was also that year that Hamilton walked up to McLaren Formula One team boss Ron Dennis with an autograph book and told him one day he wants to race his cars. Dennis responded by writing on his autograph book to call him after nine years so they can sort something out.
Despite their family’s financial struggles due to the cost of the sport, Hamilton stayed in the cadet class karting. His father who was also his mentor and manager had to take extra jobs just to support his passion. And Hamilton did not fail him, he continued to dominate the kart racing circuit, winning the McLaren-Mercedes Champion of the Future series, and becoming Sky TV Kart Masters Champion at the Kart Masters British Grand Prix and Five Nations Champion in 1996.
In 1997, Hamilton maintained his McLaren title and added the British title in the Junior-Yamaha age group.
Three years after Hamilton met Dennis, the Hamilton household’s phone rang. Dennis presented Anthony with an offer to financially support his son’s racing career, with the condition that Lewis should keep working hard at school. After officially signing the MacLaren Driver Development programme, Hamilton became the youngest such driver to have a contract with an F1 team. The contract also includes technical support and a future option for entry into Formula One.
The contract lifted the financial burden from Hamilton’s father but with the funding came an extra for the teenage driver to meet higher expectations. He has to prove himself worthy of his benefactor’s investment and he did just that.
Hamilton graduated to the Junior Intercontinental A level that year and finished second in the McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future. He also raced in the Italian Open Championship, finishing fourth.
In 1999, Hamilton won the 29° Torneo Industrie Open with 99 points followed by Alexio Lattanzi with 96 points and Giacomo Ricci came in third with 94 points. Hamilton finished second at the European Championship and maintained his position in the Italian Open Championship in fourth place.
The following year, he became European Champion in Formula A, winning all four rounds. He became the world No. 1 at 15 and remains the youngest ever karting champion.
He also won the World Cup Championship Formula A in Japan, one of the support races in the Elf Masters at Bercy in France, and the second round of the Italian Open.
Because of his achievements in the sport, the British Racing Drivers’ Club made him a ‘Rising Star’ Member.
In 2001, he landed fourth place in the Italian Open Masters’ Formula A with 81.4 points. It was also that year that Hamilton had a chance to race with Schumacher when the latter made a guest appearance at the German’s home track at Kerpen. Hamilton finished four places behind the F1 star, but the Ferrari driver praised Hamilton and was convinced that he will make it to Formula One.
Lewis Hamilton’s Karting Highlights
|1995||Super One National Championship (IAME Cadet)||1st|
|1996||Kartmasters British Grand Prix (Comer Cadet)||1st|
|1997||Super One National Championship (Formula Yamaha)||1st|
|1998||Torneo Industrie (100 Junior)||19th|
|Green Helmet Trophy (Cadets)||12th|
|Italian Open Masters (ICA Junior)||4th|
|1999||Torneo Industrie Open (ICA)||1st|
|S. Garda Winter Cup (ICA Junior)||6th|
|Trofeo Andrea Margutti (100 Junior)||18th|
|Italian Open Masters (ICA Junior)||4th|
|European Championship (ICA Junior)||2nd|
|2000||Trofeo Andrea Margutti (Formula A)||7th|
|World Cup (Formula A)||1st|
|European Championship in Formula A||1st|
|World Championship (Formula A)||20th|
|2001||Italian Open Masters (Formula A)||4th|
With an impressive total of six karting championships, including two in 2000 where he won the World Cup and European Championship in the top class, Formula A Hamilton surely is one of the most successful kart drivers of all time.
Of course, most successes did not come without struggles. Hamilton owes half of his success to his father who dedicated all his time and money to support him every step of the way. His dad is one of his inspirations in doing his best in his sport. According to him, his dad wanted him to have a better life than he (his father) had ever had. Anthony wanted him and his siblings to succeed so badly and he never wanted to let his father down.
Hamilton is currently tied with Schumacher with seven F1 championships and he holds the record of 91 F1 race victories.