Lewis Hamilton has proven to be one of the best to ever do it…and he’s not finished yet
Words by Charles Odugbesan
“I believe if he wins his 4th Driver’s Title this year, then pretty soon we’ll have to at least throw him in the conversation of greatest driver of all time.” A quote from my History Maker article last year prior to Formula One Champ Lewis Hamilton claiming that 4th crown. Fast forward a year and at the end of the 2018 season, Lewis has now clinched a 5th World Championship, seeing off stiff competition from archrival and 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
The image of Lewis Hamilton stood on his number 44 Mercedes, peace sign held aloft to the Mexican crowd is iconic. It’s a grand culmination of everything he’d have dreamt of and strived to achieve from the age of five. To have merely been involved in Motor Racing from an early age given his ethnicity and financial background was a cultural shock, to say the least. But despite his disadvantages, he has flourished and was signed by McLaren at the age of 13. 20 years on he has battled and beaten the most decorated collection of World Champions the sport has ever seen in one era and in an 11-year career, won 5 World Championships with 2 runner-up finishes. And this may have been Hamilton’s most impressive campaign to date securing 17 podium finishes, 11 pole positions and 11 race victories in 21 races – his best combination of all three statistics in one season.
For me, the arguments against Lewis Hamilton’s greatness are null and void. One of the main criticisms is that throughout his Formula One career he has always been afforded the luxury of driving a highly capable or otherwise the best car on the track. He was not forced to learn his trade at a lower tier team and work his way up like great champions from the past or present a la Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Vettel etc. For this there is a simple retort: clearly, Lewis’ supreme talent was just spotted a lot sooner than usual, hence his signing with McLaren at such a young age. And for years the sport has seen drivers given dominant seats and underperform. Lewis has consistently been at the very sharp end of the field for 11 years and beaten every teammate he’s been paired with. That is undeniable. And if not for dramatic circumstances, he could be level on Championship honours with the most decorated (and arguably the greatest) driver in the history of the sport, Michael Schumacher. Essentially it’s all about what you do with the position you have been put in, not the position itself.
As well as being a phenomenon on the track, Hamilton also is proving to be a transcendent athlete away from it. More so than ever the use of social media and the model of ‘business-athlete’ has modernised the sport, drawing attention from new and younger demographics all over the world and Hamilton is most certainly at the forefront of these changes. Never before have we seen a Formula One drivers’ lifestyle, personality and hobbies so openly revealed to the public. Lewis has also demonstrated how expansive his mindset is, confessing to wanting to pursue music and fashion once his racing career is over. Of course, his actions will divide opinion, especially when it comes to certain ex-racers and the traditional, ‘back in my day’ type of racing fan. But having said this, there always has to be that one cowboy sent over the hill to check for the Indians. 33-year-old Lewis Hamilton from Stevenage is that cowboy.
As a youngster, Hamilton always spoke of wanting ‘to be like Ayrton Senna’. Since then he has surpassed the late Brazilian if not in stature, certainly in accolades. It is more than safe to say that he is in the upper echelon of drivers, and indeed champions, in the history of this sport. Perhaps one day a new champion will rise to the summit, telling tales of wanting to be like Lewis Hamilton.