Lewis Hamilton - McLaren’s ex-rookie racerOver the next couple of days, I’m going to have a quick look at the British drivers ahead of the 2008 Formula One season which starts next Sunday, 16th March. First up is Lewis Hamilton…

Where to start - at this time last year noone had any idea how Lewis Hamilton would cope with life in F1.

Sure, we had seen him racing superbly in GP2, and we knew Ron Dennis would have ensured Lewis was vprepared better then any rookie in F1 history so should his performances really have surprised us?

Suppose his season had happened in reverse - he made some terrible mistakes and errors in judgement in the final few races, and had they happened in the first races then not only would it have lessened the Hamilton-hype machine, I think they would also have been accepted better by everyone. He was a rookie, and these were the errors to be expected from a rookie - yet because he started the season so well, when the mistakes crept in people couldn’t believe it and perhaps we were all a bit hard on him for it.

From the outside it looked easy, just play it safe and score a couple of points at each race and the title was in the bag. As it happened he continued with the gameplan that had served him so well earlier on and continued to strive for the wins which ulitmately was his downfall as he pushed things too far.

He says he has learned from all this, and he better hope that he really has.

If he is ever lucky enough to find himself in that position again then he has to prove that he has matured enough to be able to drive as he needs to rather than in the manner he wants to. I’m not sure he would ever admit to having learned anything from last year’s teammate and year-long adversory, Fernando Alonso, but Alonso has always been the type to settle for second or third if that’s what he needs rather than to risk everything to go for an unneeded win.

What happens this season is not all down to Hamilton though of course, there are hundreds of variable to throw into the mix - how good are his opponents, mainly Ferrari? How good is his car, the McLaren? How much are the team affected by the ongoing court cases they are involved in? How will having a new teammate affect Hamilton and his standing within the team?

I can’t see Heikki Kovalainen’s arrival meaning that the McLaren team will suddenly switch allegiance from Lewis, I think he will continue to be the golden child in their eyes - and more importantly in Ron’s eyes.

But what happens if Ron Dennis really does step down as has been reported lately, where does that leave Lewis? Would he still feel the same affinity towards the team, and the team towards him?

Nothing ever stays the same, in F1 or in life, and it’s impossible to second guess how these changes will affect things so we will have to wait and see.

This is only his second season, but I still think this is a pretty important one for Hamilton. A failure to challenge for the title, whether it’s his fault or the team’s, wouldn’t be welcomed by the British public and press, both of whom could easily turn against him. Most of the F1 followers I know were a bit sick of him by the end of last season anyway, or at least sick of the hype and constant coverage of his every move, so hopefully his “people” will have taken stock over the winter and seek to calm this down a bit.

Even if he is challenging for the title, if it ends in failure again then that could also pose problems for the driver who is seen as the one who could emulate or even surpass Michael Schumacher’s amazing career. Of course the one result which would satisfy everyone would be for him to go one better and actually claim the crown for himself this year.

Can he do it? Of course he can - but will he? I’m not so sure, I still think the Ferraris will be the cars to beat - and of the two drivers I think Kimi will be the one who deals with the changes better so I think he will retain his title. As for Lewis, I can see him repeating his second place again too which for most people would be a welcome result - but given the hype that surrounds this young man, it may not be seen as good enough.