When Lewis Hamilton clinched the 2019 World Drivers' Championship and brought his overall championship tally up to six, the world of Formula 1 erupted with glee. After all, how often do we get to see history being scripted live?
Hamilton is slowly becoming not just the most iconic name of this era of motor-racing, but extending his greatness to encompass all eras of the sport. In the car, he is a rock " delivering outstanding performances with precision and consistency. When last did Hamilton make a mistake that caused him embarrassment?
Outside the car, he is a rockstar " opinionated, spunky and unpredictable, with a millennial twist for good measure. He has brought Formula 1 closer to a new audience of young fans "as well as redefined what it means to be a Formula 1 driver.
- Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) November 5, 2019
Interestingly, Hamilton entered Formula 1 during Fernando Alonso's era of dominance, lasted through the Sebastian Vettel era " and only then established his own time. The cycle of life (and sport) indicates that eventually younger drivers (perhaps Charles Leclerc or Max Verstappen) will grow into the spotlight. But right now, this is firmly Hamilton's time to shine.
For the past several seasons that Hamilton's created many records, we have been pondering over the imponderable question " what makes Hamilton tick? After all, it takes more than a glorious twist of serendipitous fate to bring a young boy born on the 'wrong side of the tracks' in Stevenage, England to the ultimate echelons of sporting greatness.
After claiming the crown, Hamilton gave us a little glimpse into his head. "I really like the idea of thinking of an artist creating a masterpiece. Ultimately what I do is an art form. That's the idea in my mind that I'm trying to create a masterpiece and it's still not finished quite yet," he said.
Never give up on your dreams guys. Keep believing. Keep fighting. pic.twitter.com/IWjisULZwb
- Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) November 4, 2019
Hamilton has won ten races this season, with two races out of 21 still remaining. His closest rivals " Leclerc, Verstappen, Vettel and teammate Valtteri Bottas " have all won races this season as well.
Despite the story that the statistics tell, this has not been a season where Hamilton mercilessly dominated the field. In fact, he's yet to have a moment of brilliance a la qualifying in Singapore or the opening lap in Monza " from 2018. Rather, he often had to fight for his place under the sun " often relying on clever strategy rather than just raw speed. Hamilton admitted that the car this season has "not been easy", despite Mercedes scoring nine 1-2 finishes with the W10.
As for clever strategy, it was Hamilton who adapted constantly to squeeze out more life from his tyres to deliver on the strategy. Come to think of it, Hamilton was notorious with his tyre usage in his early days in Formula 1.
Declared Mercedes' Technical Director James Allison, "He's just been a points machine, getting them wherever. He's won a lot of races. (He's been) every bit as strong as last year, just not quite as flashy. It doesn't have that single stand-out appeal of the Singapore lap sort of plucked from nowhere, or the inch-perfect positioning of his car to force Vettel into a mistake in Monza. But go look at his Mexico race if you want to see a professional driver at the peak of his power."
83 wins. 87 poles. 150 podiums. Six world titles...
Not just the most successful British @F1 driver of all-time.
One of the greatest British sportsmen of all time! 👊
Take a bow, @LewisHamilton!
- Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) November 5, 2019
In fact, the key to Hamilton's magnificence this season has been his sheer consistency: he has zero DNFs this season. Let that sink in " he's driven every single lap of every single race this season. In fact, if Hamilton continues this way, he will become only the second driver after Schumacher (2002) to complete every lap of a season. Hamilton's also shared that the loss of his close friend and Mercedes' non-executive chairman Niki Lauda this season was especially difficult, calling it an "emotional rollercoaster." In a touching gesture, Hamilton dedicated his championship to Lauda.
Hamilton vs Schumacher: The greatest ever?
Hamilton has already created a sporting masterpiece of sorts over the span of his racing career. By claiming a historic sixth world championship, he is now just one shy of the great Michael Schumacher's all-time record of seven titles. A few years ago, not many would have thought Schumacher's record would be equalled so soon " and yet, Hamilton stands at the cusp of doing exactly that. His Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was unequivocal in his belief that it is possible.
He revealed, "There is a reason why the Schumacher record stands " because it's very difficult. If we're able to provide the drivers with a good car next year, one that is competitive, we continue to work on the gaps we still have, try and minimise the mistakes and he has a good season, there is no reason why he (Hamilton) couldn't go for a seventh title."
For his part, Hamilton has always been deferential and humble about possibly matching Schumacher's seven titles. When he won the title last year (in 2018), he refused to comment on the comparisons, saying, "Let me just try and realise that I've won this one!"
This year, he continued to downplay the possibility. He revealed, "I definitely had thought that getting anywhere near Michael was just so far-fetched... And now it seems so close, yet it is so far away that I still can't really comprehend." Whether Hamilton is actually able to surpass Schumacher's tally depends entirely on how the 2021 regulations shape up " and whether any of his rivals are able to rise to the occasion.
6ï¸£ titles 🏆6ï¸£ reactions 💬
- Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) November 8, 2019
Championships apart, he has blazed through the sport's record books. For example, he holds the title for the most pole positions of all time " 87 poles, which is 21 poles better than anyone else. If qualifying is the ultimate test of a driver's speed and precision, Hamilton is truly unparalleled. The biggest irony in all of this? Hamilton has often stated that he is "not really one that thinks of records and those kind of things."
Although it is tempting to stack drivers against each other " especially in a bid for ultimate greatness " it is important to remember that both Schumacher and Hamilton raced under in very different eras and contexts. While they both had the luxury of being with dominant teams, it is also true that they helped build up these very teams. Eddie Jordan, the former owner of the Jordan Racing Team with whom Schumacher made his debut in 1991, believes that Hamilton has the edge over Schumacher as he has had to fight teammates whereas Schumacher's partners had to yield. It is also important to remember that Hamilton is active at a time when Formula 1 has an increasing number of races ever season " making it easier for him to make and break race-specific records.
The road ahead
Formula 1 is trying very hard to position Hamilton as not just a great champion of the sport, but as one of the greatest sportspersons of all time " calling him the "ultimate sporting package" and comparing him to the likes of Serena Williams, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt and other superstars. It certainly helps that Hamilton has the flair and flamboyance to make an impact " his personality is as noticeable as his performances.
Not long ago, there were serious concerns about Hamilton leaving the sport out of boredom " or simply wanting to pursue his various other passions. He shared after his championship win that he "doesn't fancy retiring right now" and that he will continue in the sport even after his contract expires in 2020. He added, "It's a scary thought that one day we athletes have to hang up and stop doing what we've loved our whole lives."
- Damon Hill (@HillF1) November 5, 2019
Incredibly, Hamilton remains as motivated as ever " hungry to win with a seemingly insatiable appetite. He admitted, "Outside the car, just trying to remain focused, that is the toughest. It is only other athletes at the top of their game who can relate to it, probably." Setting aside the questions that remain about where Hamilton's career will go from here " and how much more greatness he can claim for himself " it suffices to say that he is a driver F1 will ever forget.