In Depth

What makes F1 champion Lewis Hamilton so special?

After his sixth world title there can be no doubt the Mercedes driver is one of the greatest ever

Lewis Hamilton’s sixth F1 world title has appeared a formality since the early rounds of the season and it was finally confirmed at the US Grand Prix on Sunday, as the Mercedes man came from fifth on the grid to finish second, easily securing the points he needed to wrap up the championship.

The Briton has surpassed Juan Miguel Fangio’s record of five titles and is now only one behind Michael Schumacher’s all time record.

But how good was his season and where does this latest triumph leave him in the pantheon of F1 greats?

A routine win?

“Hamilton's relentless brilliance has been the defining feature of his last three titles. But the absence of a real and sustained challenge from either the error-prone Ferrari and team-mate Valtteri Bottas means number six is likely to be underrated,” says Luke Slater in the Daily Telegraph.

“He has not really been under the pressure he was in 2017 and 2018 – but he has consistently driven at a level that nobody else has been able to match yet again.”

But let’s not forget that Ferrari seemed the team to beat at the start of the season, says Giles Richards in The Guardian. “With the enthusiasm of a rookie and the control of a master the 34-year-old proceeded to wring the neck of the season. This was perhaps one of his greatest displays – as intimidating as Tiger Woods at his peak and with that overwhelming sense of an unstoppable force displayed by Australia’s cricket side of 1999-2007.”

More than just titles

Six titles is a staggering achievement but Hamilton has other feathers in his cap.

“He's not quite surpassed Schumacher's titles and race wins total, but check out his win ratio and pole positions record - often the purest test of a driver's speed - and you'll see he is already a leading light in Formula 1,” says the BBC.

“Hamilton has won 83 races. Only Michael Schumacher has won more, with 91… In each of the last six campaigns, Hamilton has won on average 10 GPs. If he is to continue that trend next year, he will overtake Schumacher as the driver with the most race victories and will have done so in fewer races.

“Hamilton is way out in front in terms of pole positions - he has an all-time record of 87. Schumacher is in second place with 68.”

He is also frighteningly consistent. “In his 13th year in the sport he is the only F1 driver to have scored at least one victory in every season in which he has competed,” notes Giles in the Guardian.

A fair driver

Remarkably Hamilton has managed to become the dominant driver of the age, without getting caught up in controversy on the track.

“Beyond all the numbers, and all his ability, there is a characteristic that even now – with his body of work yet to be completed – marks him out as better than Schumacher... It is the fact of his sportsmanship on track,” says Jonathan McEvoy in the Daily Mail.

“There is barely a moment across 248 races when Hamilton has sought to play dirty. He has fought hard, compellingly so, but it is not his natural instinct to ram a rival off the road.”

Focused and professional

While Hamilton has been criticised for his lifestyle, Matthew Syed in The Times is impressed by his dedication to the cause over more than a decade in the cockpit. “The distractions — as for any successful sportsperson — have been legion. He could have become complacent. He could have become comfortable. He could have spent more time with his millions. He could have courted the celebrity circuit, or allowed himself to get sweet-talked by sycophants, or succumbed to many of the other temptations that have blunted the appetite of champions down the ages,” he says.

“Yet Hamilton’s professionalism has never wavered. Those who infer that his forays into fashion or whatever else are indicative of a loss of focus misconstrue the issue. Hamilton’s extracurricular activities are always strategic, calibrated methods for winding down or resetting; anything that will give him an edge when he returns to the exacting demands of the track.”

Is he the greatest?

It is almost impossible to compare drivers as F1 has changed so much down the years, yet “Hamilton can conclusively settle the issue before he is done,” says McEvoy in the Mail. “That is by equalling the record total then winning an eighth world title at another team.”

As Syed says: “He now stands on the verge of becoming the greatest performer in his sport, a modern-day icon whose odyssey contains many of the ingredients Hollywood would recognise. From Stevenage, to Rye House Kart Racing Club in Hertfordshire, to gilded venues such as Monaco and Monza, Hamilton has never stopped improving, never stopped questing, never stopped reaching higher.”

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