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APRIL 17, 2007

Could Hamilton be a rookie World Champion?

There is much hyperbole doing the rounds at the moment about Lewis Hamilton's three-race Formula 1 career. The one thing we have learned is that Lewis is not a man who should be underestimated. Everyone, even Hamilton himself, has been surprised by the speed at which he has become a solid F1 frontrunner. For a new driver to race with such consistency at the front in F1 and not make the kind of mistakes that new drivers usually make is a remarkable achievement and this consistency has led him to be equal on points with championship leader Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. There is no doubt that Hamilton can win races.

After three such assured performances: each one showing a different facet of Hamiliton's ability, there is a tendency to think that he can do pretty much anything but it remains to be seen whether he can keep up the momentum for the whole year. Alonso and Raikkonen both know the rigours of the job but this is Hamilton's first season and that may have an effect on him.

Comparing different eras in motor racing is a dangerous business because so much changes but the statistics are certainly not in his favour. No rookie has ever become World Champion in Formula 1. In the 1960s and 1970s there were some meteoric careers but this was more to do with the fact that drivers were dying and thus there were more opportunities for new boys to make a big impression.

Race winners in their rookie seasons are pretty rare, but World Championship challengers are a very select group. Jacques Villeneuve was second in his first year in 1996 but he came from a background in high-powered Indycars and so started at an advantage. Further back in time Eugenio Castellotti, Jackie Stewart and Clay Regazzoni were all third in the World Championship in their debut seasons, while Ronnie Peterson was runner-up in the World Championship in his first full season.

Thus far Hamilton's F1 career has been almost perfect. His great strength seems to be to understand when to back off and NOT take a risk. He seems to have everything under control. If he can maintain that poise despite all the pressures areound him, then there is no reason why he cannot win the title, particularly if Alonso and Raikkonen allow themselves to be rattled by having team mates who are putting them under pressure.

Right now there can be nothing but speculation. Hamilton cannot dare to plan such things. He is best served by looking ahead step by step and not worrying about the bigger picture.