Lewis Hamilton: One of Formula 1’s greatest?

HE’S SECURED a third world championship title with as many races to go, has almost 50 Grand Prix pole positions and is being compared to his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, but is Hamilton really one of the greatest drivers we’ve ever seen?

Canada 2015, where Hamilton took his fourth win in only seven races. Credit: Richard Paquet

Canada 2015, where Hamilton took his fourth win in only seven races.
Credit: Richard Paquet

Statistically he’s a juggernaut; eating up records as he continues through this his ninth season in F1. He’s been the youngest winner of an F1 championship (until Sebastian Vettel under-took him in 2009), the only Brit to win back-to-back championships, taken pole position at 21 different Grand Prixs, and has only failed to finish on the podium twice this season so far. Since his move to Mercedes in 2013 he has accelerated his ascent to the hall of driving legends, and very few people can slow him down. Team mate Nico Rosberg is closest to him on this year’s points table, but is out of reach with a current deficit of 78 points, and the only other contender (and race winner) this season has been Sebastian Vettel, at 96 points off the leader.

With Hamilton taking over half the wins for a season not yet finished, it paints a clear picture. It seems the days are gone of an exciting final race in Brazil, of a year’s efforts coming down to one day to decide who will walk away victorious. Mercedes’ dominance both in qualifying and on race day for the last two seasons has all but shut the door on last-minute drama, with Hamilton and Rosberg far away from the pack.

Mercedes engines have been leading the way on the grid for the last few seasons, with Force India and Lotus also performing well. It has been argued that since the most recent change to FIA rules that Mercedes have outright had the most effective car on the track, and the results attest to this. Only Ferrari and Red Bull Renault have posed any threat to the might of their engineering under the hood, and Vettel has been the only driver to move in between Rosberg and Hamilton in the top two spots, albeit only briefly. In fact, Vettel is over 100 points ahead of 4th, placing him firmly in with the Mercedes men.

The apparent dominance of Mercedes has covered a still-burning rivalry between Vettel and Hamilton. Two years yonger and with the big records still under his name, surpassing Vettel would surely establish Lewis as the superior driver. Credit: Stefan Brending

The apparent dominance of Mercedes has covered a still-burning rivalry between Vettel and Hamilton. Two years yonger and with the big records still under his name, surpassing Vettel would surely establish Lewis as the superior driver.
Credit: Stefan Brending

Despite his pace and points, Rosberg has yet to convert this into a championship title (a career best of 6th), and only found the podium 10 times in his eight years in F1 before joining Mercedes. Looking at his stark improvement you’d not be blamed for thinking that the drivers have a lot less to do with the result of the race than the constructors. The last era, before Hamilton joined Mercedes, we were in the midst of the “Red Bull Years”, where talk of double and triple diffusers was rife and Christian Horner’s team seemed incapable of losing. Sebastian Vettel won four back-to-back championships and his last was with the biggest points margin ever in the drivers’ championship; an implausible 155. The construction of the car no doubt had a part to play in that success, but Vettel’s continued form in an arguably lesser car stands to contradict that.

Look at some of Hamilton’s as yet unconquered records: Only four men have one more world titles, and of them only Vettel is still on the track. Only two drivers have won a championship with more races to go, and of them only Vettel is still on the track. Only one racer has won a season with a bigger points margin, and again it’s Vettel. Are these just drivers in the ‘hot car’ of the season, or are they that much better than the rest of the field? Looking at what the younger, emerging drivers are doing in comparatively under-resourced cars (Max Verstappen for Toro Rosso in particular drives a brilliantly tactical race) I say that Hamilton is certainly a talented driver, but to be placed upon the same pedestal as Senna, Lauda or Shumacher is premature. There’s still much more to prove.