Hamilton’s ‘greatness’ is down to timing

In many ways, winning Formula 1 championships is all about timing. When Michael Schumacher left Benetton for Ferrari, many thought he was daft in doing so. A few years later and Ferrari would come to dominate F1 handing Schumacher an armload of titles. Things seemed poised for Renault and Fernando Alonso and after claiming two titles, the bloom fell off the rose.

It was then up to Red Bull to start its domination handing the team four titles and allowing Sebastian Vettel to become a rare driver indeed with more championships than Senna, Clark and Stewart. While the Austrian company was pummeling the competition, Mercedes were starting their own campaign.

Back in 2009 it all began, harmlessly enough, with Brawn GP. Team owner Ross Brawn had acquired Honda’s orphaned F1 team and promptly secured a Mercedes engine supply. This was a massive move and one that would ultimately find McLaren walking away from their long-term relationship with the German carmaker.

Mercedes had eyes on building a F1 empire and after a few years of toiling away and convincing the series to move to an engine format they really wanted, they have achieved an incredible performance advantage winning the Constructor’s and Driver’s championship in 2014.

Like Schumacher before, many wondered if Lewis Hamilton had made a mistake by leaving McLaren and his title-winning performance on Sunday was really a big answer to a question that has plagued him for two years. Lewis knew he made the right choice and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was his public statement on the matter.

Unlike Schumacher, Hamilton only toiled for one season in an evolving car. It took Schumacher from 1996 to 2000 before he saw the results of all the hard work. Mercedes, on the other hand, had been ironing out the wrinkles long before Hamilton arrived and Schumacher, as it turns out, was one of the drivers helping them do so.

What it provided was a more immediate trip to the top for Hamilton if he could deliver—and deliver he did! The 2008 champion won 11 races in 2014 leaving the British press to suggest that he’s now better than Schumacher and a host of other F1 greats including Clark, Hill and Stewart.

I’ll chalk that up to British exuberance as Lewis is the freshly crowned F1 champ but let’s be realistic here—Clark, Stewart and Schumacher are in a different league and with some luck and hard work, Hamilton could join them but first he has to surpass Vettel to be taken seriously as being better than some of F1’s legends. The good news is that he just might have every chance to do so. He has the race pace and skills needed.

I saw a different Lewis Hamilton in 2014. Once the kid who over-drove his car and torched his tires and lacked car sympathy as well as heads-up race craft has now come of age in the F1 world and chosen to leave his personal drama at home. There were some odd statements from Lewis about his family not being at the race but then allowed at the last minute. I suspect that is by design from team management, as they know that his family and friends could be his single biggest distraction.

Lewis was more focused this year. His eyes and mind were at the office and he managed to win 11 races using less fuel than most of the drivers on the grid as well as remain calm, collected and sympathetic to an all-new car that even the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebstian Vettel are struggling to get on top of.

No, this is a different Lewis. This is the Lewis many knew existed. The good news is, this is a different Mercedes and Lewis’s fortunes could be very bright indeed because of it.

Mercedes have been planning since 2009 and this planning has now delivered a baked-in performance advantage over the entire grid to the tune of 1.5 seconds per lap. Unless the regulations change dramatically over the next 3-4 years, there is every reason to believe that Mercedes will be the dominant team over the life of these new hybrid regulations.

What this could very well mean is that Hamilton could be poised to win multiple titles just as Sebastian Vettel did at Red Bull Racing. Some, including Sir Jackie Stewart, believe that the field will bunch up and that competition will grow stronger next year with Honda and McLaren combining with Fernando Alonso to take the fight to Mercedes as well as Ferrari getting on top of their program with a raft of staff changes and a new driver in Vettel. However, Stewart said:

“It’s made it slightly dull this year,” said Stewart. “Everyone expected Mercedes to win the races. Complete domination by any particular make of car is always boring for the spectators.

“Fans would like to see more competition and I think next year there will be more competition.

“Honda are coming in, to provide engines for McLaren, while Williams will hope to build on their tremendous performance this season and Red Bull will come back strong.”

That may be true but I tend to think that Mercedes have such and advantage now that it will take time for McLaren or Ferrari to gain purchase. This leaves me thinking we might just see a couple more titles for Hamilton over the next two years because he’s clearly chosen to leave the personal drama at home and get back to his goal of winning championships and he’s honed his race craft into a title-winning machine. It’s all about timing and Lewis has played it perfectly just like Vettel, Schumacher, Prost and Senna did before him.

Hat Tip: BBC

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