Local motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter looks back at the time when F1 supremo Lewis Hamilton dominated a weekend at Croft.

MEN competing against each other in the newly-invented automobile can be traced back as far as 1894 when races were organised in France but the first to be termed ‘Grand Prix’ (which translates as ‘great prize’) was also held in France at the Pau circuit at the turn of the 20th Century.

Various incarnations of races and championships followed over the next 50 years, interspersed with two world wars of course, before a championship for drivers, classified as Formula One, was established in 1950 by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), motorsport's world governing body, and still exists today.

The sport has spawned many famous drivers over the past 70 years including such British legends as Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart and latterly James Hunt, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell and Jensen Button, all of whom sampled World Championship success over the years.

Graham Hill actually won two titles (1962 and 1968), as did Clark (1963 and 1965) whilst fellow Scot Stewart can actually boast three (1969, 1971 and 1973) but these pale into relative insignificance when it comes to a certain Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton MBE.

The 35-year-old celebrated his seventh world title earlier this month to tie him with Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver of all time. Hamilton also holds the outright records currently for the most wins (94), pole positions (97), podium finishes (163), points finishes (227), career points (3,738) and points in a season (413). And still counting. As a result, Hamilton is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport with certain elements declaring him the greatest of all time.

A protégé of McLaren boss Ron Dennis after signing up to the McLaren young driver programme in 1998, the story goes that when a ten-year-old Hamilton asked Dennis for an autograph, he said that one day he wanted to race one of his cars. Dennis told him to call him in a few years’ time and he would sort something then…

In the interim, Hamilton continued to climb the racing ladder. After a season in the Formula Renault UK series with Manor Motorsport in 2002, in which he finished third overall with three wins, he remained with the same team for the following year and won the championship with ten wins.

Two of those wins came at Croft in July 2003 as part of the British Touring Car Championship meeting and for those present that weekend, they may have noticed the guy in the number three silver Renault was a bit special. Arriving at the North Yorkshire circuit in a run of good form following successive victories at Silverstone and Rockingham, the then 18-year-old left the opposition for dead from the start.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

With the might of McLaren keeping a very keen eye on his progress, he demonstrated his not inconsiderable talent by smoking the field in testing, being more than half a second faster than his nearest rival before romping to pole position for both races.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

In the first race over 14 laps, Hamilton shot off at the front, but it wasn’t to be plain sailing as his suspension broke a few laps into the race. To most competitors, that would spell instant retirement as with a suspension damper hanging off, the car was virtually undriveable. But instead, he demoralised his rivals by not only finishing the race, but winning it by 1.5 seconds!

Race two was to be slightly longer but a lot simpler for the Stevenage driver as he cleared off at the front again, but this time with no car maladies to contend with, the winning margin was 4.5 seconds as no one else got a look in. As he loaded up to hit the southbound A1, he took with him a 19-point lead into the next round at Donington Park.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Hamilton retired in that first race at Donington but made amends by winning the next six races in succession to land the crown in superb style. It was his first major title and little did anyone know what he would go on to achieve in future years. He missed the last two races of the season in the championship to make his debut in the final round of the British Formula 3 Championship, but it didn’t end well as in his first race he was forced out with a puncture and in the second encounter, he crashed out and was taken to hospital after a collision with his teammate.

He eventually re-signed with McLaren for the 2004 Formula 3 Euro Series in which he finished fifth before winning 15 of the 20 rounds the following year to become champion. His success continued when he won the GP2 title in 2006 before the move into F1 where he finished runner-up in the 2007 World Drivers' Championship to Kimi Räikkönen by just one point in his debut season. Finn Räikkönen also raced at Croft as did another World Champion Jensen Button.

Hamilton won his first F1 title in 2008 for McLaren, who had supported him so much throughout his early career but ironically, it was the only one he would take for the team as the other six have come for rivals Mercedes.

Just how many more titles he can claim is anyone’s guess, but chances are, he’s set to usurp the great Schumacher given his current standing in the sport.

And whilst those two wins at Croft some 17 years ago won’t feature highly in his all-time favourite list, they were significant in that it was the first time ever Hamilton had done a double at a track and it set the precedent for him to do another pair of "doubles" that year en route to that important and inaugural first title.