2007 was a polemical season for Formula 1
in every possible way. It was the year of a new superstar to replace the recently-departed Michael Schumacher, the fall from grace of a double world champion, intrigue, ill-feeling and espionage – and the crowning, after years of seeing his title chances torpedoed by poor reliability, of the 'nearly man'.
Indeed, so much happened over the course of just seven months it is difficult to know exactly where to begin, but given he made the most startling and successful debut of any rookie in the sport's long history, Lewis Hamilton
would seem to be as good a place as any.
The 22-year-old arrived onto the F1 scene as the reigning GP2
champion, but as GP2
champions go, he was incomparably well-prepared. Having been groomed by McLaren-Mercedes from the age of just ten – stretching all the way back to his early karting forays – team boss Ron Dennis knew he was not so much taking a risk with Lewis, as finally allowing his young protégé's immense potential to be realised.
That much was evident right from the opening grand prix of the campaign in Melbourne, when Hamilton finished third behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen
team-mate Fernando Alonso. That, though, failed to tell the whole story, as Lewis had in fact led Fernando for much of the race, and paddock whispers suggested the team had deliberately lengthened his second pit-stop so as to allow the Spaniard past, thereby saving face and avoiding the embarrassment of having a double world champion being beaten by a man starting his very first race in the top flight.
It may have calmed the waters briefly, but ultimately there would be no stopping Lewis, as McLaren
was involuntarily forced to revisit the 'immovable object meets irresistible force' atmosphere it had endured during the Ayrton Senna–Alain Prost era of the late 1980s.
Hamilton secured a rostrum finish in each of the opening nine races, and back-to-back breakthrough victories on F1's North American leg in Montreal and Indianapolis, but even before that the strain was beginning to show, and thus began the chain of events that would eventually lead to Alonso and McLaren's messy and premature divorce come season's end. Tensions first came to a head in round five at Monaco when Hamilton was told to hold station behind Alonso, a catalyst which saw the young Briton refuse to toe the party line and uncharacteristically speak out against what he felt was 'number two' treatment.
Somewhat ironically, it would be the Spaniard decrying what he perceived to be the lack of equal treatment within the squad later on in the summer, most notably in the wake of the Hungarian Grand Prix, when his and Hamilton's increasingly personal, tit-for-tat tussle for supremacy during qualifying caused controversial pit-lane tactics and led to McLaren
being made ineligible to score any points over the weekend.
Following that encounter, Alonso's 'robust' opening lap driving at Spa-Francorchamps just over a month later and the much-publicised bitter rows between both men and Dennis, battle lines were drawn and all bets were off. In a scene eerily reminiscent of the Prost-Senna saga, there seemed to be no limits to what the two drivers would do in order to gain the upper hand.
Ultimately, of course, all their internecine in-fighting would serve neither Alonso nor Hamilton, as the latter suffered a run of bad luck in the last two grands prix which permitted Kimi Raikkonen
to take them both by surprise in the final race of the season in Brazil and pinch the drivers' laurels by just a single point. The Finn may have triumphed in the opening race of the campaign – often seen as a good barometer for championship success – but he then went on to suffer a mid-season lull as he, like Alonso, struggled to get properly to grips with Bridgestone's new-for-2008 Potenza rubber.