Hamilton's F1 drive is a dream come true

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The 13-year-old boy who approached McLaren's team chief, Ron Dennis, at an awards ceremony stuck out his hand and said politely, "Hello, my name is Lewis Hamilton and one day I'd like to drive for McLaren."

A week later, having checked out the young man's credentials, Dennis called Hamilton's father Anthony (who had suggested that there was nothing to lose by introducing himself to Dennis) offering to underwrite his son's racing career.

Yesterday, Dennis made Hamilton's teenage dream come true when he confirmed that the 21-year-old from Tewin, in Hertfordshire, will drive for the revamped McLaren-Mercedes team in the 2007 Formula One world championship, alongside the title holder, Fernando Alonso.

"It is a dream come true," Hamilton said. "To be racing in Formula One with McLaren has been the ultimate goal since I was very young and this opportunity is a fantastic way to end what has been the best year.

"I have grown up with McLaren and Mercedes and wouldn't be where I am today without their support and guidance. I'm aware that this will be a challenge and I know there will be a lot of attention on me. But the team have told me to relax, do the best I can and enjoy the opportunity. I'll work hard to get results."

Hamilton has been a part of the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz Young Driver Support Programme since its inception in 1998, and with Dennis' backing he won the McLaren-Mercedes Champions of the Future kart series before going on to win 10 of the 15 races in the British Formula Renault Championship in 2003. Two years later he dominated the Formula Three Euro Series in his second season in the category, before winning this year's GP2 championship in style at his first attempt with five victories.

Opinion has been divided whether going up against a driver of Alonso's calibre is a wise move in his rookie season, but Hamilton said he had no qualms on that score and Dennis said yesterday that he has complete faith in his protégé.

"I'm distinctly unimpressed by the majority of drivers in Formula One," he said. "Lewis is well equipped to deal with the drivers who fall into that category." He qualified his remarks by adding: "Of course we have reservations; Lewis is an unproven product. But having the world champion in one of our cars means that we can be less conservative and take the opportunity to give Lewis his chance."

Hamilton was given the news of his graduation on 30 September, but it was not made public then in order to let the outcome of the world championship be decided and the hoopla over Michael Schumacher's retirement to die down. Dennis said that this was now the right time, as testing recommences in Barcelona next week to signal the start of all the teams' 2007 campaign. Pedro de la Rosa, who stood in this year when Juan Pablo Montoya left the team, will revert to test driver status, together with Briton Gary Paffett.

Hamilton, who breaks new ground as the first black driver to race in F1, is highly regarded within the sport, not least by Dennis, who paid tribute to his parents Anthony and Linda. "Lewis gets his basic character from his family values, and we have just supplemented them," he said. "He is a well rounded individual who appreciates not just what McLaren-Mercedes have done for him, but also what his family have done for him."

* Jenson Button will miss Honda's first winter test session - a three-day test in Barcelona next week - after fracturing two ribs in a karting test session.

Fast track Hamilton in driving seat

* 1985 Born Tewin, Hertfordshire, 7 January.

* 1995 British cadet class and STP karting champion.

* 1996: Wins Champions of the Future, Sky TV KartMasters and Five Nations karting series.

* 2000: Formula A European champion, and wins World Cup. British Racing Drivers' Club 'Rising Star'.

* 2003: Wins British Formula Renault championship.

* 2005: Formula Three Euroseries champion.

* 2006: Wins the GP2 Series. 13 September: Given first test in a McLaren. 24 November: Confirmed as race driver for 2007 season for McLaren-Mercedes.