Formula 1, 2008: The Rise of Lewis Hamilton and The McLaren MP4-23
Love him or hate him, Lewis Hamilton has become one of the most successful Formula One drivers in history since his debut in 2007. Missing out by just 1 point in his first season, he made up for it in his second season by becoming the then youngest World Champion, behind the wheel of the mighty McLaren MP4-23. Although he claimed the title, it was a close fought race throughout the season – here is a recap of Hamilton’s first championship year.
Birth of the MP4-23
Although it bore visual similarities to its predecessor, the McLaren MP4-22, the MP4-23 was a significant evolution – upgrades to its wings, body, and barge boards, and a longer wheelbase, helped give this new machine its own unique identity. As it happens, the McLaren MP4-23 was revealed on January 7th, 2008 – Lewis Hamilton’s 23rd birthday, following 10 months of development. A total of 150 engineers worked on the project, with approximately 14,000 engineering man hours required to get it ready for its launch at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart-Untertükheim.
The perfect start
The first race of the 2008 season was the Australian GP, held at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, where reigning Drivers’ Champion Kimi Räikkönen set the pace in the first practice session four tenths quicker than Hamilton and rival Felipe Massa. But Hamilton claimed the fastest lap in the second practice, and took this form into qualifying, where he secured pole position with a time of 1:26:714 in the third session.
The race was an eventful one, with crashes, collisions, and retirements resulting in only seven cars finishing the race
Starting at the front, Lewis Hamilton held the lead into the first corner ahead of BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica. The race was an eventful one, with crashes, collisions, and retirements resulting in only seven cars finishing the race. Because of his early lead, Hamilton was able to avoid the chaos and finished more than 5 seconds ahead of BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld.
Troubles in Malaysia
Although a little off the pace, Hamilton had initially secured fourth position in the qualifying sessions, only to be demoted five places on the grid for dangerous driving – he and McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen slowed to conserve fuel after their flying laps and impeded Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso.
Despite the demotion, Lewis fought his way back up to 4th place by lap nine, but a team pit lane error on lap 19 proved costly – the crew struggled to remove his front right tyre, forcing him to stop for almost twenty seconds. He took the setback in his stride, and again made strides on the pack to finish in fifth place.
Falling Further in Bahrain
Although the Malaysia result wasn’t ideal, Hamilton maintained his lead on the Drivers’ Championship table with 14 points. Bahrain presented an opportunity to extend his lead on rival Räikkönen, however some self-inflicted bad luck resulted in him posting one of his lowest results of the season.
Some impressive driving lifted him to 13th, but this was a day Hamilton would want to forget
Lewis began the race in 3rd position, but after a poor start his anti-stall system kicked in, and he was passed by six other drivers before he could get some go forward. This mistake was a hindrance, but when he collided with the back of Fernando Alonso’s Renault his hopes of a respectable finish faded fast – the McLaren MP4-23’s front wing was knocked off on impact, forcing him to pit and throwing him back to 18th. Some impressive driving lifted him to 13th, but this was a day Hamilton would want to forget.
Following his Bahrain woes, Hamilton had made good strides in the following couple of races, claiming third in Spain and splitting the Ferrari drivers on the podium in Turkey with a strong 2nd place finish. With his championship hopes revived, Lewis combined luck and grit to take the win at Monaco.
Starting in third position, Hamilton negotiated the wet and slippery conditions carefully and used a well-timed pit lane exit to overtake Räikkönen on the inside. He later connected with the barriers on lap six, but this was a stroke of fortune as it meant he was able to get a new set of tyres and some additional fuel when he pitted. The extra fuel helped him claim the lead from Massa, and another tyre change when the weather improved helped him extend his lead to 13 seconds.
Although he suffered a slow tyre puncture on the final lap, Hamilton crossed the line to secure his first win in Monaco, and with it he was back on top of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Securing the Championship
A mixed remainder of the season, including some low returns in Canada, France, and Japan, and wins in Great Britain, Germany, and China, left Hamilton with a simple equation for the final race in Brazil – finish fifth place or higher to secure the Drivers’ Championship.
Felipe Massa did his part to add to the tense showdown, securing pole position to Hamilton’s fourth
Additional spice was added ahead of the race, with Former Formula 1 team owner Eddie Jordan stating, “if Massa tries to take him out as he did in Japan in order to steal the title then Lewis has to be ready for it.” Hamilton and Massa both dismissed his comments, but it underlined just how much was at stake for both drivers.
Felipe Massa did his part to add to the tense showdown, securing pole position to Hamilton’s fourth. Massa was to hold this position for the race, crossing in first, but Hamilton became involved in a tight battle with Sebastian Vettel. As heavy rain arrived in lap 69, Hamilton ran wide, allowing Vettel to slip into fifth position.
With 1 point needed to claim the championship, Hamilton was one position lower than he needed to be when Massa crossed the finish line. But as the Ferrari garage began their early celebrations, both Vettel and Hamilton passed Toyota’s Timo Glock in the final corners, handing Lewis the world title by the slimmest of margins.
The McLaren MP4-23 was a formidable machine that had the manoeuvrability and power necessary to keep Hamilton at the front of the pack
In a season of ups and downs, mistakes made, and lessons learned, Lewis Hamilton had just enough in the tank to finish on top of the world. Though McLaren didn’t win the Constructor Championship, finishing second to Ferrari, the McLaren MP4-23 was a formidable machine that had the manoeuvrability and power necessary to keep Hamilton at the front of the pack. 2008 marked the first Drivers’ Championship title for McLaren in nine years, and remains the last time their team claimed a world title.
Does the McLaren MP4-23 rank in your top Formula 1 cars? Check out our blog on Five of the Greatest F1 Cars for our top picks! And check out our range of scale model Formula 1 cars if you’re keen to own an accurate replica of the McLaren MP4-23, or the legendary Senna McLaren MP4/4!