So long has Lewis Hamilton been dealing in the currency of success there is a sense of late that each successive transaction makes a lesser impact than the last. Such has been the British driver’s dominance he has made the exceptional seem almost matter of fact. At this weekend’s British Grand Prix another record is within his grasp. In a season he has already bent to his will Silverstone may once again fall to a relentless pursuit of success that has driven him since he entered Formula One.
A sell-out crowd of more than 140,000 will be watching him on Sunday as he attempts to become the first driver to win six British grands prix, eclipsing Jim Clark and Alain Prost, fellow five-time winners. For the fans here there will be no shortage of appreciation of his talent. Like Tiger Woods at his peak Hamilton is operating on a different plane from his rivals and is embracing the racing with buoyant abandon.
Hamilton is now in his 13th season in F1, with five world championships and 79 race wins. Only Michael Schumacher has more, with seven and 91. Hamilton is in every position to surpass the German’s records that most had thought would be untouchable. Since his debut for McLaren in 2007 at 22 when he immediately took the fight to his double world championship-winning teammate, Fernando Alonso, it was clear he would go far.
Hamilton believed he would do so, even then. “There wasn’t a moment that I doubted myself that I could do it,” he said. “I think that is ultimately what we all have, that confidence in ourselves. Of course I wanted to win the world title and I think in my first year I wanted to win the world title, straight away, and that was super-ambitious particularly up against a two-time world champion.”
It is a self-belief that has proved justified. His first title was in 2008 for McLaren but it is over the last five years that the success has become relentless, with four championships for Mercedes. The last two have come after strong competition from Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, who at times have enjoyed the better car. Yet it was Hamilton who emerged on top. He is now, at 34, a formidable package. The confidence is backed by a talent honed by his endless pursuit of improvement and the maturity that comes with age.
Jenson Button, the former world champion who is now an analyst for Sky Sports’ F1 coverage, drove alongside Hamilton at McLaren between 2010 and 2012 and believes his success has been evolutionary, with that self-belief at its heart. “He seems a lot more relaxed now. He truly believes in himself, believes that the people around him are there to help him rather than hinder him,” he said. “We all know he is super fast but he has learned a lot in terms of behind-the-scenes skills in working with the engineers, working with the car from lap one to the last lap. Those strengths are definitely there now and they probably weren’t when we were teammates. He’s learned a lot.”
Button is convinced he could go even further. “He could end up with 10 world championships if he stays with Mercedes,” he added.
Hamilton comes in to the British Grand Prix riding a wave of success. Six wins from nine races have placed him at the top of the table, 31 points in front of his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who has won only twice and is in identical machinery to the British driver. Vettel trails Hamilton by a hefty 74 points.
Hamilton’s standing, however, is perhaps better illustrated not by the numbers but in his competition with Vettel. The German took four titles for Red Bull but since going head to head with Hamilton for the last two seasons has simply been unable to match him. When the pressure has been on, as in Germany in 2018 and most recently in Canada this year, Vettel has made mistakes. Hamilton is making his task appear simple because he is repeatedly almost flawless. David Richards, who was team principal at the Benetton and Honda teams and is now the chairman of British racing’s governing body, Motorsport UK, has followed Hamilton for longer than most.
“I have known him since he was eight years old,” he said. “I watched him grow up and develop. I can remember the first time I saw the young Lewis as an eight-year-old at Buckmore Park karting track, coming down into a hairpin leading a gaggle of cadet karts and he stood out at eight years old, as he does now.”
Richards and Hamilton have discussed the British driver’s desire to create a legacy project that will encourage youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds into the sport. However, that remains a task he will pursue only after retirement, which may not be any time soon. Hamilton recently said he could race on for another five years. If the desire stays the same, and every indication is that he is as motivated as ever, it is easily conceivable he will do
Richards is convinced more is to come and Silverstone provides an opportunity truly to celebrate a driver whose success, much as sometimes he has made it look easy, deserves real recognition. “Lewis had to work at it; it was not gifted to him on a plate,” he said. “He is his own man, prepared to stand by himself – one of the iconic sportsmen, not just in Britain but on a world stage.”
Source: The Guardian