Last Updated: 18/12/14 4:31pm
Seven years on from his maiden title success, Lewis Hamilton will start 2015 as F1’s undisputed number one as the reigning world champion.
Hamilton’s speed has never been in question, not even during the long years of Red Bull-Sebastian Vettel dominance. But it was the Englishman’s hitherto-unrealised maturity which stood out throughout his title-winning campaign of 2014 as Hamilton recovered from a series of misfortunes to claim the championship from team-mate Nico Rosberg.
With Mercedes ending the year with a sizeable advantage over the rest of the field, Hamilton will start 2015 as the overwhelming title favourite as he seeks to join the pantheon of three-time world champions. Not that Hamilton’s place amongst the legends of the sport isn’t already guaranteed: his second title-winning season concluded with the 33rd F1 victory of his F1 career, a new British record.
The rise was inexorable before that. Through karting, Formula Renault, F3 and GP2, Hamilton was thrown in at the deep end when McLaren boss Ron Dennis placed him alongside Fernando Alonso eight seasons ago but seemed more bemused than anything by the fuss that greeted the record-breaking start to his career. Almost a title winner in his rookie season, he ultimately fell short but at least Britain had a new (and much-needed) F1 hero - the sort even your granny is aware of.
It didn't take long for Hamilton to become World Champion but the 2008 season did nothing if not demonstrate the quixotic nature of his talent: on the one hand there were the sublime victories in Monaco and at Silverstone (where he finished over a minute clear of the field); on the other, there was that incredible climax in Brazil. Which other driver would have kept everyone guessing until the last corner of the very last lap of the season?
With hindsight, Hamilton can be thankful it turned out the way it did. Although in with a mathematical shot in 2010, he's otherwise never realistically been in contention. His title defence never really got started thanks to McLaren's underperforming MP4-24 while subsequent years have seen the arc of Vettel's career rocket sky-high and stay stellar.
The best chance Lewis had of breaking the spell came in 2012 when Red Bull and Vettel struggled to perfect their car's new blown exhaust early on in the season and McLaren produced a rival that, broadly, had performance to match. Alas, pit errors and reliability did not measure up - yet it was still a genuine shock to hear of his decision to leave for Mercedes.
Although rumours persist of a rift with Dennis, his former protégé insisted the move was simply borne of a desire for a "fresh challenge" having been associated with McLaren since boyhood. There was plenty of head-scratching at the time but given the way the 2013 season turned out, Hamilton's decision proved inspired.
A large part of that is down to McLaren having experienced their worst season for over 30 years. But while they clearly underperformed, the same might also be said of Mercedes, whose car was the only one to rival Red Bull's in terms of pure pace yet also had a tendency to eat its rubber.
Hamilton claimed one of Mercedes' three victories in 2013, a season which paved the way for their unprecedented dominance of 2014 as Hamilton and Rosberg secured a record-breaking one-two finishes. Expect more to follow - with Hamilton once again likely to be very much to the fore.