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Lewis Hamilton has made the biggest decision of his career by opting to join Mercedes on a three-year deal. As a result, he leaves long-term employers McLaren, a team with whom he has experienced many highs and lows. In this GPUpdate.net photo album, we relive a number of those defining moments...
September, 2006: Preparing for his F1 debut
Hamilton first drove a McLaren Formula 1 car in 2004, but his test with the MP4-21 two years later was with a view to a full-time seat. This September outing came just days after the conclusion of his title-winning GP2 campaign. He would make his debut in 2007, partnering double World Champion Fernando Alonso.
January, 2007: Maiden McLaren launch
Hamilton joined new team-mate Alonso, with whom he would develop a fierce rivalry, for the launch of McLaren's MP4-22 on January 15, 2007. Although the Briton was officially announced as a McLaren driver on November 24 of the previous year, this was the first Grand Prix car that he could now call his own.
March, 2007: A podium finish on his debut
When he arrived in Melbourne for his maiden Grand Prix weekend, Hamilton took the Formula 1 world by storm and constantly featured at the front of the field. The then 22-year-old set the fourth fastest time in his first qualifying session, before crossing taking the chequered flag in a well-deserved third position.
June, 2007: Maiden Grand Prix victory
Hamilton secured his maiden Grand Prix win at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, just six races into his F1 career. He led BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld home by four seconds, while team-mate Alonso endured a troubled race en route to seventh place. Hamilton would repeat victory at Indianapolis one week later.
August, 2007: Tensions reach boiling point...
Hamilton and Alonso's relationship was strained at the best of times, but Hungary marked a major turning point. A bizarre qualifying incident, in which Alonso remained stationary in the pit lane while Hamilton queued behind, led to the Spaniard being penalised. The inter-team drama was unneeded.
October, 2007: Misses out on the title
Despite a valiant effort, Hamilton missed out on the 2007 Drivers' title by the narrowest of margins. After retirement in China, he held a slender four point lead heading to Brazil. His gearbox developed a temporary glitch early in the race and Kimi Räikkönen was able to steal the Drivers' crown from under his nose.
March, 2008: The perfect way to bounce back
Alongside new McLaren signing Heikki Kovalainen, Hamilton started the 2008 season in fine style. It was the best answer to his new-found critics after missing out on the world title a few months previous and, to his benefit, former team-mate Alonso did not start the year with a Grand Prix-winning car underneath him.
May, 2008: Hitting the jackpot in Monte-Carlo
Claiming victory on the streets of Monte-Carlo is a dream for any Grand Prix driver. Hamilton made that a reality in only his second F1 season, fighting back to take the win after tapping the wall and picking up a left-rear puncture. It will forever be remembered as one of his most dramatic wins with McLaren.
July, 2008: First triumph on home soil
Hamilton's maiden British Grand Prix win came in similarly treacherous conditions to those witnessed in Monaco, with heavy rain forcing many of his rivals into the gravel trap. Described as one of his favourite Formula 1 victories to date, it will take a rather special race to remove this one from the top of the list.
November, 2008: Fifth place seals the crown
A childhood dream was realised when Hamilton claimed his maiden title with McLaren in November, 2008. Although title rival Felipe Massa secured victory and was briefly in a position to win the title, he missed out when Hamilton dramatically snatched the place he needed at the final corner of the last lap.
March, 2009: A failed McLaren design
Hamilton's 2009 campaign got off to a challenging start for two key reasons: his car was far from competitive and he found himself disqualified from the opening race for mis-informing the stewards. This would be a trying campaign for the Briton, one which taught him many lessons both on and off the track.
July, 2009: Returning to the top step
The 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix marked Hamilton's first victory in ten races, with McLaren eventually bolting enough effective upgrades onto its initially unimpressive MP4-24. He would claim his second win of the season under floodlights in Singapore, but attentions had very much turned to the 2010 season.
January, 2010: A fellow British World Champion
The two most recent World Champions joined forces in 2010, with Jenson Button becoming Hamilton's new McLaren team-mate. Although many tipped Hamilton to brush his compatriot aside, the pair formed a strong working relationship and pushed the outfit forward in their efforts to claim Drivers' honours.
May, 2010: Turkish delight for Hamilton
After an incredible duel with Button, Hamilton claimed his first victory of the season in Turkey. The McLaren man was visibly subdued after taking the win, with his team asking him to save fuel in the closing stages before Button mounted a challenge. However, it was an extremely important 1-2 finish for the team.
November, 2010: It wasn't meant to be...
Hamilton missed out on a second world title by 16 points in 2010, with the honours going to Sebastian Vettel. Accidents in Spain, Italy and Singapore ultimately proved costly, while Red Bull's vastly improved efficiency proved to be a more significant challenge for McLaren than initially expected.
April, 2011: Three races in, the battle is on
Although Sebastian Vettel had enjoyed an incredible start to the 2011 season, Hamilton wasn't going to let him escape with ease. He produced a stunning drive to steal victory in the closing stages of the Chinese Grand Prix, securing 25 valuable points in his renewed bid to claim back the coveted Drivers' trophy.
June, 2011: Colliding with team-mate Button
The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix will always be remembered for the collision between Hamilton and Button, with the latter ultimately going on to take the win. Hamilton was adamant that he could have fought for victory, but his early impatience got the better of him. Maturely, he quickly decided to move on.
November, 2011: Success after an eventful year
Hamilton claimed a superb victory at the Yas Marina Circuit in 2011, bouncing back from an incident-filled year. With Abu Dhabi hosting the penultimate race, it was a strong way to bring the year to a close and although he retired from the season finale in Brazil, he could draw many positives from this event.
March, 2012: Not the dream winning start
Despite kicking off his 2012 campaign with a solid podium finish, Hamilton was far from encouraged by his performance in Australia. It may have been due to the fact that team-mate Button romped into the distance to secure the race victory, but Hamilton is pushing harder than ever for another world title.
June, 2012: The scene of his first win
Hamilton secured an emotional Canadian Grand Prix victory in 2012. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was the scene of his maiden win back in 2007 and, just as he did five years ago, the man from Stevenage blew away the competition. It also marked his longest run of points finishes since the middle of 2008.
July, 2012: Rumours are building...
Two costly retirements and a car that has been underperforming left Hamilton in a fragile mood ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, with rumours starting to surface of a McLaren exit. Despite the speculation, he remained focused and picked up a crucial win to claw back some lost points.
September, 2012: Victory in Italy is not enough
It looked as though Hamilton's mind was made up at Monza, with barely any emotion being shown after another impressive triumph. BBC pundit and former team owner Eddie Jordan claimed that Hamilton had already signed for Mercedes and neither the German marque or McLaren dispell the rumour.
September, 2012: Singapore, the final blow?
Hamilton's hopes of a much-needed victory were dashed when his gearbox failed in Singapore. The McLaren man had executed the perfect weekend until that point, posting an untouchable time in qualifying before controlling the first part of Sunday's race. An announcement about his future was now expected.
September, 2012: Step forward Mercedes
News broke early on Friday September 28, 2012, that Hamilton had signed a three-year deal with rivals Mercedes. When the time arrives, it will bring an end to a six-year spell in Formula 1 with McLaren, while Michael Schumacher's Grand Prix future is left in doubt. Hamilton's replacement will be Sergio Pérez.
Now the million dollar question remains. Can Hamilton claim a second world title with McLaren before he departs to Mercedes? With six races remaining, a total of 52 points currently separate him from championship leader Fernando Alonso. We will soon discover if the fairytale ending to this long-lasting partnership will turn into a reality.
GPUpdate.net's Mike Seymour on Saturday
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