Yesterday, we witnessed probably the greatest sporting achievement in British sporting history. Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher’s seemingly unassailable record of seven world championships. Add to that record numbers of Grand Prix wins (94), podiums (163) and polls (97) and you have a true champion of champions who must be the Greatest Ever Formula 1 driver.
He has done this from humble beginnings, a black man in a rich, white man’s sport, with style and panache and a keen sense of fair play. He has always been a clean driver who can never be accused of taking a rival out to gain an advantage. He has developed over the years, starting off, like Max Verstappen now, capable of hair-raising overtakes and wonderfully skilful in the wet, to the ultimate race strategist with an astonishingly sensitive touch, and tyre protector he is now. Throughout, his performances are remarkable for the paucity of mistakes. He has always made fewer than his opponents.
It is often said he is only the best because he has the best car, but only the best drivers find their way into the best cars and only the truly exceptional manage to stay there. However, he has regularly out-performed the expectation of the car. In 2008, 2017 and 2018, Ferrari had the best car but Hamilton still won. His team-mate, in exactly the same car has always struggled to better him across a whole season. In his debut season he shocked a brilliant driver, Fernando Alonso, by out-driving him and very nearly winning the championship. Jenson Button managed to finish higher in the McLaren of 2011 but quickly moved on. Nico Rosberg won the championship in 2016 at the third time of trying, an effort that depended somewhat on Hamilton’s ill-luck that season and exhausted him to such a degree that he immediately went into an unexpected retirement. Bear in mind, when Hamilton switched from McLaren to Mercedes, he was going to a new team in a move that was regarded as a huge risk at the time. It wasn’t as though he went to a team of established excellence like Ferrari.
Hamilton’s brilliance has been confirmed in the last two races on circuits he found problematic throughout all the practice sessions. He didn’t just find a way to win, he completely annihilated the field. Yesterday, in Istanbul, the best car was the Red Bull but by making the fewest mistakes, slipping once early on while his partner could barely keep the Mercedes on the track, deploying his own astute judgement over-ruling his team, magnificent tyre management, staying out and driving his intermediates into slicks as the circuit dried, and sheer speed, he triumphed by a huge margin. The race before in Portimão was equally a masterclass, putting in fastest lap after fastest lap when he could have been quietly protecting his lead, breaking the course record on the final lap.
Let’s hail a living British sporting legend who has achieved the seemingly impossible against the odds. Lewis Hamilton, we salute you!