So, Lewis Hamilton is now a six time Formula One World Champion. Only one man has done that before. That man of course is Michael Schumacher, who claimed seven driver’s championships. And even with the new regulations that will come into effect on 2021, Hamilton looks set to claim at least a seventh world title in the near future. A lot of factors will go into whether he does achieve this feat, whether Mercedes can continue to produce a championship winning car with the upcoming rule changes, whether Ferrari sort themselves out to actually convert their pace into race wins. Three times on the trot in the back end of this season, the Prancing Horse has had a one two in qualifying and three times they failed to convert it into a race win. Hamilton has said he’s only just getting started.
This season hasn’t been as spectacular as some of his other title winning seasons. But it has been more consistent. Of the 19 races contested so far this season, he’s won ten and been on the podium a further six times. That’s high points finishes in all but three races. Hamilton has had a habit of starting a new season a little slowly before exploding into life halfway through. He has been on it from the get-go this year. There has been no let up, no real mistakes that he has made all the way through the season. Even with Valterri Bottas having a much more competitive season and Ferrari’s sudden increase in pace in the last four or five races, Hamilton and his team were able to stay ahead, both tactically and in terms of pace on the track. From Bahrain where he went after Vettel and put himself in position to take the lead after Leclerc’s engine let go to the race win in Mexico where he managed the tyres and the gap to Vettel for 40 plus laps to win, Hamilton has not had a terrible weekend where everything goes wrong the entire season. So, while this may not be his most exciting or spectacular season, it is his most consistent and his most impressive.
But is he now the greatest? Well, it can be argued straight away that no, he isn’t because he has six world title and Schumacher has seven. But the fact of the matter is that in Formula One, in almost any sport, you cannot hold up one person as the Greatest of All Time because the sport shifts and changes and goes through many eras. Football has just entered a new era with VAR. Players like Ron Harris and the other ‘hard men’ of football wouldn’t survive in the modern game, because the circumstances and the technology have changed. By modern standards, they’d be sent off every time they played. And this is even more the case in Formula One.
Juan Manuel Fangio is often held up as a great of the sport, for good reason. He won five world championships for four different constructors. But the cars today would look like spaceships to him. His car had its engine in the front, produced a fraction of the power, had nowhere near the same amount of downforce, nothing like the braking power of a modern hatchback, let alone a Formula One car. The tracks were not geared in any way towards safety, he didn’t have a flame retardant suit on, or a full face crash helmet.
The cars have evolved and progressed at such a rate you can never really give an answer to the question ‘who is the greatest Formula One driver of all time?’ Many say it’s Fangio, others Jim Clark. There are those who will say it’s Alain Prost or Niki Lauda. Many turn to Ayrton Senna as the pinnacle of Grand Prix drivers and yes, Michael Schumacher has to be very high on the list. But so much has changed throughout the years in the sport that that’s not really fair. In a modern season, there are 21 races. In Clark’s era, there were ten for the whole year. Cars from the 60s had 1.5 litre engines, compared to the modern 1.6, but they produced a fraction of the power. 210 horsepower against upwards of 700. The tracks no longer have crowds sitting three inches away with some straw bales and maybe a fence in the way. To win a Formula One world championship, you have to be good and have a bit of luck. All the names I’ve rattled off and a whole lot besides could reasonably be argued to be the greatest but it just isn’t that simple.
For those that claim that Hamilton’s success is only down to the fact that he has always had the best car, so what? Fangio only signed one year contracts so that he could jump into whichever car was the fastest each year. Senna was angling for a move to Williams for years before he ever drove for them, because they consistently had the best car. And Hamilton hasn’t always had the best car. For four years at Mclaren, he was most certainly not in the fastest car. And when he moved to Mercedes in 2013, he was moving to a team that had only ever won one race before. ONE. And the car for the 2013 season wasn’t much to write home about either. It’s only once Formula One entered the hybrid era that Mercedes began to dominate the sport like they have.
Hamilton will have challenges to overcome in the future. Charles Leclerc has had a phenomenal first season at Ferrari and will be challenging for world titles in the future. The regulations for 2021 will change the game with how much the cars and racing will be affected. And while he may always have his detractors, by clinching his sixth world title, he has secured his place as one of the legends of the sport. Not THE legend, but certainly one of them.