Thursday, 29 October 2015

3x Formula One World Champion: Is Lewis Hamilton Now a ‘Great’ of the Sport?

by Old PortmuthianTim Bustin

10 wins. 11 poles. Records set and smashed. And 2015 champion with still 3 races left to go.

Though his championship winning race in Austin last weekend may have been a chaotic one, filled with crashes, reversals of fortune, last lap drama, and even a full blown hurricane, since the off the 2015 drivers crown has looked to be firmly Lewis’. Defending constructor’s Mercedes this year gave Hamilton a car seemingly more superb than last year’s record breaking machine, and although the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel has been hot on his heels at many points throughout the season, no team, and indeed no driver – Lewis’ Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, is an unassailable 80 points behind, despite having the same equipment – has looked to match the might of when Lewis goes ‘Hammertime’.

2008, 2014, and now 2015. Only 10 drivers in history have won three or more world titles, and only 4 drivers have won more. Championships aren’t everything (just ask poor Fernando Alonso, possibly the world’s greatest driver right now, currently in the 9th slowest car), but to win thrice requires more than just good fortune. Ayrton Senna, Hamilton’s hero since boyhood and often considered the best driver ever, was also a triple champ – and strangely, Hamilton has equalled this feat in nearly exactly the same number of races (as well as for race wins). Speaking of race wins, Hamilton sits 3rd on the all-time list as of last race, with 43 – he’s also 3rd on the all-time pole positions rankings, all making him now the most successful British F1 driver in history.

So, 8 years after exploding into the F1 scene, in what was a record breaking rookie year, is it finally time to consider Lewis as one of the ‘greats’ of the sport? Not just great, like Jenson Button or James Hunt, but one of the greats – a Senna, or a Michael Schumacher, or a Niki Lauda? Sir Jackie Stewart, Britain’s only other triple champion, certainly thinks so – because Lewis is finally gaining maturity from his experience. Remember that a few years ago, in a McLaren unable to compete against what was a mighty Vettel/Red Bull combo, Lewis would be often withdrawn or almost convey a childish unfairness in interviews after losing – once even tweeting secret team data just to prove a point. But over the years, more and more you hear nothing but gratefulness to his team in success, and graciousness in defeat, with his manta being ‘We Win and Lose Together’ (though, like any good driver, you also hear the determination to improve and the drive to succeed). Yes his, perhaps questionable, fashion ideas are often misinterpreted for arrogance or foolishness (honestly, we’ll never understand why he tried going blonde), but Lewis is one of the few drivers that exists outside F1, with his outside life providing a balance and stress release for him. Certainly, a man who can attend high-profile events and celebrities gigs during weekdays, and then go and win the majority of races at weekends, is one in complete control of his life (Lewis’ profile also does wonders for promotion, proving driver’s do in fact, contrary to popular belief, have personalities).

Fellow driver Fernando Alonso believes Lewis to be a great for a different reason – “the good thing about Lewis is that when he didn't have the best car he still won some races… That's something that maybe not everyone did”. And it looks like that Lewis Hamilton is only going to get even better.

So, where can Lewis go from here? Since boyhood, his dream and target has been to match the records of his hero, Senna. Now that he has, and in almost exactly the same timeframe, Lewis says “I will be picking the baton up for him and carrying it for the both of us… and I want to see how far I can take it.” Mercedes aren’t suddenly going to produce a terrible car for the 2016 campaign, and his own teammate so far is failing to be a huge threat – so who could prevent him from taking that baton even further next year? Both Lewis and Vettel have stated they would love a battle between each other next year, reminiscing of the Senna/Nigel Mansell battles of the ‘90s, and if Ferrari make another big step then it’s possible they’ll win more than 3 races next year for sure – Team Williams didn’t improve on last year’s success, but who knows what they’ll do over the winter – the future of the once all-conquering Red Bull team is still uncertain, but if they can get a decent engine then don’t discount Daniel Ricciardo, the star of 2014 who outshone his then teammate Sebastian Vettel (the 4-time champion) – and finally McLaren-Honda is still an unknown, but if they can sort out their engine troubles, perhaps the mighty Alonso can finally score his third world title, which he’s deserved for even longer than Hamilton has deserved his.

Most likely, after Alonso retires in 2 years, Hamilton and Vettel will be left to keep at it for years to come – Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 championships and 91 race wins looks distant, but it’s not unassailable to any driver, and it comes down to the drive, the insatiable hunger, the focus and the determination to win, and win, and win again. And it’s Hamilton who says, even after defending the world title, setting records, and flying so high: ‘Still I Rise’. 

 Click here to see the official F1 biography of Lewis Hamilton.

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