Lewis Hamilton: F1’s greatest of all time?

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By Barney Stone, Deputy Online Sport Editor and third year History student

With Vettel failing to secure the mandatory win in Mexico, Hamilton’s 4th place finish was enough to secure him his 5th World Championship Title.

A dominant performance from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen thwarted any chance of an upset last Sunday, as Hamilton equaled Juan Manuel Fangio’s record to become the third man in history to reach five world titles. Given the magnitude of Hamilton’s recent coronation, the debate as to his legacy in the sport has inevitably re-emerged. This leads us to wonder, is Hamilton the G.O.A.T in Formula 1?

In popular imagination, Michael Schumacher remains the face of a sport that is often afflicted by fluctuating popularity and interest; his seven World Championship Titles, five of which he claimed in consecutive seasons between 2000 and 2004, reached the awareness of audiences regardless of their antipathy or disinterest with F1. Yet, whether because of perceived personality flaws or accusations regarding financial illegality, Lewis Hamilton is yet to garner the justifiable admiration of the British public - with the clear exception being the driving aficionados or career-long devotees, of course. Accordingly, it seems that on the season’s triumphant denouement, Hamilton rightly deserves his place alongside other British sporting heroes that currently dominate their trade: Mo Farah, Adam Peaty and Anthony Joshua, for instance.

A quick summary of F1 records and statistics provides evidence for this assertion of Hamilton’s greatness: five World Championships, seventy-one race victories, and all-time records for most poll positions (81), career points (2,968) and wins at different circuits (26). Given this quick snapshot, which also forgets a supplementary array of impressive achievements, he undoubtedly stands as the greatest British driver in history. Yet, as his success steadily accrues, one is left to wonder – what more must he prove?

Recently, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso placed Hamilton in the top five of F1’s greatest, amongst ever-present icons such as Senna and Prost. Hamilton seems unable to distinguish himself from the nostalgic ‘godfathers’ of the sport. Subjective debates about cars and the standard of competition throughout different eras inevitably clouds the debate, just as they do in the comparisons of Messi and Ronaldo against footballing greats like Pele. Conclusions are seemingly made based on opinion and thus undermined by personal bias.

However, at the age of thirty-three, and given current indications, it seems likely that Hamilton will exceed the supposedly impregnable statistical heights of Schumacher. Regardless of whether he manages to overtake Jenson Button in British popularity polls, and overthrow his reputation for arrogance and extravagance, further fueled by his recent £40 million per year contract extension, he deserves respect. Indeed, as the classical idiom iterates, the numbers speak for themselves. Moreover, as the first mixed-race driver to compete and win at the highest level, Hamilton has the opportunity to be regarded as an inspirational pioneer for a new generation.

His record-breaking 2008 Championship Title, sealed at the age of 23 in only his second F1 season, demonstrated superlative driving ability; this achievement alone would represent the pinnacle of any drivers’ career. However, reacting in the aftermath of his latest success, Hamilton conceded: ‘When you have won the championship, it is easy to just ride the wave and think it’s great. But I am always wanting to raise the bar’. This unwavering ambition, supported by a pure natural ability that few possess, puts Hamilton in good stead to continue challenging Schumacher as we enter the 2019 season.

With only two races left in 2018, it will be interesting to see how the narrative of Lewis Hamilton evolves within the British public’s sporting consciousness. More likely than not, these potentially ceremonial laps of honour, I’m sure, will remain a dogged attempt to maintain his domination over the podium positions.

Photo - Flickr / _chrisUK


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