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The Circuit

The man behind Hamilton's F1 dream

  • Story Highlights
  • McLaren boss Dennis first encountered Hamilton as a 10-year-old karter
  • The partnership began in 1998 as McLaren funded his racing development
  • Hamilton has stated he wants to finish his career with the Woking-based team
  • Next Article in World Sport »
Neale Graham
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Lewis Hamilton has always believed it was his destiny to become Formula One world champion and at the last race of 2008 in Brazil he fulfilled it.

Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton go back 13 years -- here they celebrate McLaren's first drivers' title since 1999.

Plenty of people have helped him along the way, not least his father Anthony. But the man who made his dream come true is Ron Dennis, the boss of McLaren.

Dennis had made a world champion of Hamilton's idol, Ayrton Senna, something not lost on the young racer when he met Dennis for the first time.

It was at an award ceremony in 1995 that a 10-year-old Hamilton tugged on Dennis' trousers to tell him he wanted to one day race for McLaren. Video See Lewis Hamilton's rise to fame »

Dennis never forgot that moment and three years later Hamilton was signed to engine partner Mercedes' young driver development program. Read more about F1 at The Circuit.

A decade on and the Dennis-Hamilton partnership delivered McLaren's first world champion since 1999 and the youngest in F1 history.

"He has done everything he has been asked to do, and more," said Dennis.

"He has made the sacrifices, made the commitment, and whilst it's nice to have direction, to raise your game, you still have to be the person that makes it happen.

"He has phenomenal support from his family, but also from the team, which has a lot of depth and which has worked so hard. It has meant everybody has enjoyed this and it will take a while to sink in."

McLaren were always backing the right horse. Hamilton, who has already stated he does not want to drive for any other F1 team, had been on a fast-track to superstardom from the moment he started racing go-karts aged eight. Can Lewis Hamilton become the best F1 driver of all time?

He wiped the floor with his opponents in every category of karting he raced in, often against boys a year or two his senior. By the time he reached single seaters, his name was being spoken about as an F1 driver, even a star, in the making.

After a dominant year in GP2, the feeder series for F1, in 2006, which showcased the full range of Hamilton's driving skills, McLaren took up their option on him for 2007.

He partnered double world champion Fernando Alonso, where he was expected to learn his trade as the Spaniard launched another title bid.

It was a gamble but Dennis knew what McLaren had under their wing.

Still, no one could have foreseen the impact Hamilton would have in embarking on the greatest rookie season the sport had ever seen.

Four wins, six pole positions, two fastest laps, nine straight podiums from the start of year and a total of 109 points -- just one behind champion Kimi Raikkonen, of Ferrari.

Hamilton could -- should -- have won the 2007 championship, one of the most dramatic, controversial and keenly fought in history, but bad luck and inexperience when it counted in the home straight cost him.

But Hamilton returned stronger for 2008 and though his title-winning campaign was undeniably littered with mistakes, he was not alone in that.

In the end, he did the better job as Felipe Massa and Raikkonen failed to make the most of a Ferrari that, on balance, was probably the fastest car.

Hamilton's wet-weather prowess -- as demonstrated in Monaco and Britain this year -- has lifted him up there towards the pedestals occupied by previous rain-masters, Michael Schumacher and Senna.

And like all the best racers, Hamilton is capable of putting on a great show, of producing remarkable, memorable drives. The last few nail-biting laps of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix will be remembered as F1, indeed any sport, at its very best.

"If you look at the statistics, he has won more points, more races and had more podiums in the last two years than any other driver," reflected Dennis.

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"He is now the youngest world champion ever, and he just keeps on delivering. At the end of the day, he is two years into his career, and there is a long way to go."

At 23, Hamilton has started his record-breaking run early. What odds he ends his career holding every F1 record going? And that he does it all at the wheel of a McLaren?

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