It must all look so far away to Lewis Hamilton now. That tumultuous time at McLaren. The bitter infighting with then two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in Hammy’s first year as an F1 pilot. Then the year-long battle with Felipe Massa and Ferrari, going down to the last race in Brazil, when for a moment he was out of the points needed to win the title, handing the championship to Massa, only to snatch fifth place back and the title as well. It was a very emotional two years.
Then there was 2009 and Jenson Button driving a Brawn with a secret weapon that put any idea of a repeat to rest. Then there was 2010 and new kids on the block Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber entering the fray. Not to mention Hamilton’s nemesis Alonso was back in action as the chosen one at Ferrari, taking the season opening race from Massa and Vettel. And oh yeah, that guy who also just won a championship, Jenson Button, he was drafted at McLaren to partner Hamilton.
Then there was 2011, and 2012, and 2013 — the Red Bull and Sebastian show, and why do I bring all this up? Because he’s been in F1 for nine years now, and aside from the two title wins (6 years apart), the five months in 2010 in which his driving was superb, and a few highlights in 2013, Lewis Hamilton has not had the best of times in F1.
There was a time when you could go to any F1 chat room or comments section (my favorite at the time was the BBC’s F1 website) and with remarkable ease find comment after comment of poisonous rhetoric directed at Hamilton. I always found this surprising because the majority of the criticism was coming from his own countrymen.
Of course, in true rock star fashion Hamilton has also brought some of this criticism on himself. The on-again off-again relationship with Nicole whatever-her name-is, aren’t we glad that is over? There remains his desire to become a recording artist which sadly he is still pursuing, and bringing his dog Roscoe to the track on a regular basis, let’s just say I could do without both of these aspects of the driver’s life.
Then one has to remember all the child-like outbursts to his team that the TV audience could hear when things didn’t go his way on the track. And the crashing into people. Let’s see, first there was Felipe Massa in Monza, then Mark Webber in Singapore, and a solo crash-out with nobody’s help in free practice in Japan. Didn’t Hamilton crash into his teammate in Canada one year when he missed his braking point? How about crashing into the back of Kimi Raikkonen at pit exit due to not paying attention to the red light? And somehow Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado had at one point some kind of magnetic attraction.
Remember the countless penalties he endured as a rookie? Do you recall the drama Hamilton caused when he inferred there was some FIA conspiracy against him because he wasn’t white? How about misleading the stewards at the Australian GP and then having to apologize very publicly?
Yes, Lewis has had to endure it all, up, down, forward, backward and dare I say sideways. But that was then, and this is now, 2015, and it appears that Lewis can do no wrong. His third world championship is almost guaranteed and he’d be a strong favorite to win the title next year as well. He’s with the right team at the right time and Hamilton has really and truly put his mark on the glorious sport that is Formula One.
Let’s run down Hammy’s stats shall we? First, number of wins. Hamilton is fifth on the all time list with forty victories and is currently one behind Sebastian Vettel and his hero Ayrton Senna. Which is to say, if the season continues on course he will soon be third, with more wins than Vettel and Senna. Although there are not enough races this year to equal and surpass Alain Prost there is next year and the year after that and, well, you do the math. Here are some more stats if you fancy:
A two-time world champion soon to be three.
Third all time pole positions with 39
Fourth all time on the podium with 81
Points, this one is skewed for the obvious reason, but Lewis is third all time with 1738
Laps led, Lewis is fifth in this category, 2272
Has won his home grand prix three times
Lewis Hamilton this year became the most successful British driver in the history of the sport in regards to race wins, moving ahead of Jim Clark, Sir Jackie Stewart and Nigel Mansell. And try this on for size, if the driver in car #44 can win in Singapore this weekend then Lewis Hamilton, as mentioned before, will not only be equal in wins with arguably the best F1 driver in many people’s minds (Senna! not Vettel!), but will have done it in the same amount of starts. And just for fun, if Hamilton can claim yet another pole, it would be a record for the Briton at eight in a season, also a record which Senna accomplished back in 1989. Very impressive.
All of this has been basically in the last three years and possible because Hamilton was gutty enough to leave the world-class and second most winning organization in F1, McLaren, and take a chance on Niki Lauda and Mercedes and let’s not forget that little thing in the back of the car called a hybrid engine, or more accurately the ICU, which the FIA recently switched to and coincidentally Mercedes had been developing for quite some time. Right place, right time.
I wrote a post last year about Hamilton, maybe you saw it? A Date With Destiny was the title I chose and I could not have known then how appropriate it would become. I have dedicated quite a few posts to Lewis and they run the gamut from highly critical to outright complimentary and everything in-between. They’ve definitely become more complimentary as Lewis has matured and grown as a driver.
In fact, in this blogger’s opinion Lewis Hamilton has been doing something else recently besides driving very fast. Lewis is starting to embody my ideal of a modern F1 driver. Now don’t go getting the wrong impression, I am still a crazed-out Fernando Alonso fan and I still believe he is the most complete driver on the grid. But the Spaniard is more like Michael in his clinical approach and life regarding F1. One never saw or read about Michael whooping it up the way, say, Eddie Irvine did. Hamilton is more like that Playboy style race car driver from the seventies of F1 minus all the booze and the cigarettes if you catch my drift, and I love it.
This year one cannot click on any F1 website or pick up a celebrity magazine without Hamilton splashed across the pages and not necessarily due to his race wins. Let’s run down what the Briton has been doing lately aside from setting the F1 world alight.
On Lewis’s twitter account he has posted pictures of himself with, in no particular order: DJ/Rapper Common, Bon Jovi, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Lionel Ritchie, Pharrell, Keith Richards, Rihanna, Dwayne Wade, Samuel L. Jackson, and Tom Ford, I mean Tom FORD. Need I go on?
Lewis recently appeared on the Graham Norton Show, has been on the cover of GQ several times already, just won an award from GQ for man of the year, flies around in his $30 million private Bombardier Challenger 605 jet, painted candy apple red and if that is not the personification of living the dream I don’t know what is, do I even need to mention the relevance of the term jet set… pretty sure I do not.
Hamilton is the king of social media as well, taking over from Fernando Alonso and in a big way. All totaled up FB, IG, and Twitter, Lewis has over 7.7 million followers to Alonso’s four million. Wow!
And awards, he’s got those too. Aside from the one I just mentioned, and the two the FIA hands out at the end of the F1 calendar year, you know the one, big and silver and has a list of some pretty cool people etched into its sides, Lewis won the prestigious Laureus back in 2008, and again last year. He also won a Bambi (whatever that is) in 2008. He was the BBC Sports personality of the year for 2014, the 2013 British Competition Driver of the Year recipient, is an MBE, and has lunched with the Queen of England. Twice. And I’m sure I can find more if I keep looking.
Is the part about how much money Hamilton makes even worth mentioning? Fine, here it is. When Hamilton finally got around to inking a new deal with Mercedes it was roomered to be worth 100 million pounds which again put the Briton ahead of Alonso, and Vettel as the highest payed driver current on the gird.
Lastly, while we are on the topic of dream living, our man who it seems is at the zenith of his career showed up to the Italian Grand Prix with Grand Blond Hair. I rest my case.
Right about now Hamilton is clearly enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit, the many pursuits, of happiness. With all the attention and awards that this thirty year old is amassing you might think it would start going to his head, that he might start to lose focus in a way that we remember from his rookie years, and if you were to look at Hungary in a vacuum you might be right to say that. But the fact is that Hamilton is making everything look so easy on track, well, who can blame him for wanting to hang out with Rihanna and Jack Nicholson and write a music track or two.
I am sure that what we see is only the tip of the carbon fiber iceberg if you will pardon my attempt at trying to be funny. But back to serious, right now Lewis Hamilton is driving at such an incredibly high level, with the quickest and best balanced race car at his disposal, that it is hard to see how anyone, reliability notwithstanding, will be able to catch him. I just don’t see it happening. Not his teammate, not Vettel, not Raikkonen and, just to bring a smile to everyone’s face, most definitely not Alonso – oh how it pains me to say that one.
I have on various occasion likened Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso as the top three drivers of their generation, all separated by a few years although one could also lump them together seeing that they have all raced each other on many, many occasions with many more on the way. On any given day any one can finish in front of the other two on genuine and honest ability and pace. Given the right chassis and engine package, all three are in a league of their own. Sadly for all the remaining F1 drivers on the grid, this is simply a fact that cannot be denied. So where does that leave us right now?
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel
A lot has been made of Vettel’s two wins, in Malaysia and more recently in Hungary, but James Allison’s chassis is still a year or two behind Mercedes and that is if you assume Mercedes will not be continuing development at the rate they have been. On balance, if one takes all the races that have been contested this year, Vettel and Ferrari are still finishing an average of thirty plus seconds behind Hamilton. I mean for chrissake the silver arrows were running next year’s engine at Monza – that is how far advanced things are in Stuttgart.
However, if Ferrari does happen to match Mercedes on horsepower, aero and balance by next year I still feel Hamilton will have Vettel covered. Sebastian Vettel, while being a great race car driver and one that when out in front is virtually unstoppable (similar to Michael), I have never really seen him come from behind the way Hamilton, Alonso and even Raikkonen have. I have never been witness to Vettel driving a car beyond its limits, so in a straight fight with Vettel my vote goes to Hamilton. Time will tell and I am happy to be incorrect on this point as I have no real vested interest in either driver as far as favorites goes and respect each for very different reasons.
McLaren and Fernando Alonso
This section will be tragically short. All of us, the fans, Bernie Ecclestone, CVC Partners, the two drivers themselves (Ham and ‘Nando), hell, just about everyone that has an interest in F1 would give a lot to see a straight, outright, clean fight mano a mano between these two drivers with such a storied past. Well, the reality is this will not happen any time soon. In fact, if and when McLaren can deliver a car to Alonso that is up to the challenge, by then there is very good possibility we could see Ham move over to Ferrari and partner Vettel for a super team worthy of the name which would be just fine by me regardless.
(But just think of it for a moment. Allow yourself to fantasize what it could be like, the plots and sub-plots abound. It would be the showdown of the century. Alonso in a McLaren, a team he acrimoniously split with while fighting with the McLaren rookie who then won a championship with McLaren (which by all rights Alonso must feel was his), takes the fight back to Mercedes against the now veteran who left McLaren to go to Mercedes, who acrimoniously split with McLaren because Ron Dennis would not give up the idea of making a super car of his own that would take the fight to and customers away from Mercedes Benz’s road-going department, who also by the way Alonso felt betrayed him in not following through on his promise to grant Alonso number one status. Wow, that was a little confusing even for me and I wrote it! Anyway, I think you get the picture. No point comparing until Alonso has a car worthy of the fight.)
Mercedes Benz and Nico Rosberg
One would think, since Lewis has such an unbeatable car, that the person with the best chance of taking the fight to him would be someone driving the same car. Let me begin by stating for the record that I think Nico Rosberg is a talent worth each and every penny Mercedes re-signed him for and if not for a few mistakes and some bad luck, Rosberg would have prevailed last year against Hamilton. Does that mean I think he is on par with Hamilton? The answer to that is no. Simply put, I rate Hamilton, as do most of my fellow F1blog staffers, above Rosberg. You only have to look at our staff picks every race weekend to see we all pick Hamilton to win. (Which does make our contest one sixth less exciting I must say, but at the very least makes us all really think hard about P2-P6. Lately I have not been that insightful so unlike Hamilton, my repeat championship is not looking likely.)
While Rosberg as a driver is very, very good he has yet to show the very special ability to extract the absolute maximum out of a car. This for me is the ultimate test and one that in my mind has always separated the best from the very best. Whether it is a psychological thing, the early training in go-carts, conditions that suit a particular driver’s driving style more, or if it is really a matter of a natural given ability to outperform the competition, until Rosberg finds that sweet spot I think he will always be a couple of tenths behind his teammate and that translates to Hamilton being de facto number one driver.
Hamilton has owned Saturdays and aside from a couple of bad calls and a race to forget in Hungary (in which Hamilton was still able to finish in front of Rosberg, so even when it does not go Ham’s way it is still going Ham’s way), the Briton has Rosberg’s number.
Yes, right from the start of the season, it has been Hammer time. Niki Lauda, whom Mercedes Benz and for that matter Lewis himself have to thank for luring him away from McLaren in the first place, recently stated Hamilton was “unbeatable” and referring to Rosberg said he will have to hope for “mistakes” from the WDC points leader in order to have any chance at this year’s title and as unexciting as that is to state, it is probably the truth.
Once upon a time Mercedes were keen on taking a chance and employing LewIs Hamilton for his particular skill-set, although it was unclear if he had more championships in him. It has been also been written that it was due to his youthful life style, the jet setting, the music and the headline-grabbing relationships that the Merc’s board, or better yet the accountants, wanted Lewis representing their brand. Jet setting and headlines they have, and just a couple of other things too. Two world championships, another two on the way and a driver that can and most likely will deliver more.
Like I said, livin’ the dream….