Eyeing the improbable
After sealing a stunning sixth F1 World Championship crown at the United States GP, the Briton has affirmed his status as a modern-day great and moved within striking distance of the sport’s all-time legend Michael Schumacher
All he had to do was ensure a top-eight finish at the Circuit of the Americas. Even if the only man left in title contention – teammate Valtteri Bottas – managed to win the race, an eight-place finish for Lewis Hamilton would have been enough to secure the 2019 drivers' title. Ahead of the race day, an uncharacteristic qualifying performance had placed Hamilton on the fifth position in the starting grid. If he had to win the race, there was a mountain to climb for Hamilton with Bottas, and the Scuderia Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc racing ahead of him. In pursuit of the championship, many would have expected Hamilton to adopt a rather defensive approach and maintain his position. But Hamilton did what he does the best – attack, attack and attack ! Until the final lap, he kept on fighting and eventually surrendered the numero uno position to teammate Bottas.
One of his greatest strengths is that he has never been more consistent. His qualifying might not have been so impressive this year, but his race performances have been incredibly strong and incident-free. His consistency may mislead some into believing that there is no more to come. But undoubtedly, there is more of Lewis Hamilton left, at least for three-four more seasons.
If taken into consideration that Mercedez is arguably the best manufacturer (during Hamilton's most seasons) in terms of rating points acquired and Schumacher would race on a car that would acquire only two-third of the points, many would be of the opinion that Hamilton has an advantage of the car and Schumacher is the better driver. But statistics are in favour of the British star and if he manages to equal Schumacher's record next season, we can expect a comparison of the two greats on various parameters. Juan Manuel Fangio's previous record of five titles stood for 46 years until Schumacher eclipsed the Argentine, but to add a seventh was, to many, a step that would surely never be equaled. Other records within Hamilton's reach include career wins (Schumacher: 91, Hamilton: 83), total race starts (Schumacher: 308, Hamilton: 248) and total podiums (Schumacher: 155, Hamilton: 150).
Schumacher acknowledges that Hamilton has the best car on the grid, but also insists that there is more to his success than that. "He always gets the maximum from the opportunities. Everything fits together with him. He has the experience, he is a crazy natural talent, he knows when to attack and when to sit back, and he feels extremely comfortable in his team. He knows he is the absolute No. 1 and there is no stopping him," said the retired German racer.
Just because Lewis Hamilton admits 2019 was the toughest of his six World Championships doesn't mean we should be duped into thinking he's maxed out. This year Ferrari and Red Bull have been stronger than ever in the turbo-hybrid formula. And there were certainly times when Mercedes no longer had the best car, which makes some of his victories all the more meritorious.
The sixth world title puts him one ahead of legend Juan Manuel Fangio, and just one behind the great Michael Schumacher. Arguably in the best form of his career, the Mercedes star is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches his mid-thirties, but can he re-write the record books, or will the presence of young stars such as Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc slow his progress in the coming years? 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. If Hamilton manages to pull off such improbable even for 4-5 years as his father expects him to, there is no stopping him from being the GOAT!
Hamilton, however, vindicates his fans' claims as a candidate to be the GOAT for not only his natural talent, pure speed, race-craft and statistical success, but the way in which his personality and background have attracted a new global demographic to the sport.
*with inputs from motorsport
journalist, Rob Watts
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