In the driver's seat

If he wasn’t born to win, Lewis Hamilton was certainly bred for success. No driver has ever been groomed so thoroughly for formula one stardom as Hamilton, who is the uncertain favourite going into Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.

The uncertainty is partly to do with his mercurial talent and mostly because there are so many questions going into the race.

The biggest technical rule changes in F1 history have left most teams so under-prepared,  no one really knows what to expect at Albert Park.

Just getting the new cars to work was the major issue in pre-season testing, with reliability and performance still largely unknown.

They will be works-in-progress during Friday’s practice sessions and Saturday’s qualifying time trials, with fingers crossed in Sunday’s 58-lap, 307.5-kilometre race that they will last the distance.

Hamilton’s Mercedes-Benz team performed the best in the three pre-season tests, crucially completing the most mileage with the least problems.

Hamilton and his German teammate Nico Rosberg also set the pace to earn the collective favourite tag ahead of what will be the most tense and unpredictable start to a season ever.

Even Mercedes’ silver arrows racers weren’t trouble-free in testing and developments and refinements since the conclusion of the final test in Bahrain at the start of the month could change the order again at Albert Park.

In Hamilton’s favour is that Mercedes-Benz has developed the strongest and most reliable of the new heavily hybridised turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines, stealing an advantage over rival power unit suppliers Ferrari and Renault.

While the form guide is notional at best, what is certain is that Hamilton will be hard to beat if Mercedes delivers on its pre-season promise. The 29-year-old Englishman is arguably the most gifted driver in F1, with an attacking on-the-edge style  that thrills F1 followers.

But his speed is matched by an unpredictability that has limited his achievements to less than his ability deserves – and promised.

It is a measure of his talent that one world championship and 22 race wins are regarded as not fulfilling his potential.

Subject to emotional swings and vulnerable to the distractions of his super-celebrity lifestyle, Hamilton has squandered his  pedigree.

His preparation for F1 was unparalleled, winning the support of McLaren in his teens from karting, through junior racing car series to F1. He precociously predicted the partnership when, at the age of 10, he introduced himself to McLaren F1 team boss Ron Dennis and announced ‘‘I want to race for you one day’’.

Dennis was impressed and kept tabs on Hamilton, signing him three years later as the squad’s long-term protege.

His training and grounding was so thorough and meticulous that when he was promoted to McLaren’s F1 team at 23 in 2007, he was more ready than any young driver had ever been.

He performed with such brilliance that he was like a supernova, making a mockery of his rookie status by winning racesand matching his world champion teammate Fernando Alonso.

In fact, Hamilton was so competitive from the outset that his success caused a huge rift between McLaren and Alonso.

Hamilton  famously went on to snatch the world championship from Ferrari’s Felipe Massa after gaining the title-winning place on the last corner of the last lap of the last race.

Hamilton came to resent the restraints McLaren’s heavily corporate ethos put on expressing his personality, leading to many clashes over his increasingly ‘‘Hollywood’’ lifestyle.

His indiscretions included the hooning incident two days before the 2010 Australian GP when he was caught by police performing a burnout as he left the Albert Park circuit.

Hamilton was noticeably more focused and effective in 2012 following a searching self-appraisal, the effectiveness of which was reflected in more consistent results.

But like a child compelled to leave his family and make his own way, he left McLaren to join Mercedes-Benz alongside Rosberg.

If Mercedes’ front-running test form transfers to Albert Park and beyond, Hamilton now appears to be ready to make the most of the opportunity.

This story In the driver's seat first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.