SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 29 OCTOBER, 2020
14 seasons into his +F1 racing career
“Well done, Lewis. You are writing the history books.” The congratulatory words by the race engineer heard over the pit radio hit the nail on the head. Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line in Algarve, Portimao in the unique Portuguese Grand Prix to a record setting 92nd win of his Formula 1 career.
Fourteen seasons into his F1 racing career, the Brit and the only black driver in Formula 1 history has etched a career not even he could have imagined back in 2007 when he took his baby steps on the hallowed F1 track.
Although racing has always been in his blood – he began his journey as a go karting exponent at an infantile age, even he could have not imagined that one day he would be standing on the podium, having first equalled and then beaten the legendary Michael Schumacher with 92 race wins and on track to equal the German’s record of seven drivers championship titles by the end of the ongoing season.
Comparison across eras between drivers rarely do either the driver justice. Furthermore, Hamilton has been wide eyed and giddy, emotional even, speaking about his childhood idol, the late Ayrton Senna, as well as acknowledging Schumacher’s immense contribution, impact and challenge on the Brit driver as he collected commemorative helmets from the respective drivers’ families.
With more pole positions – Hamilton has 97 compared to Schumacher’s 91 and more podiums finishes in the ratio of 161 to 155, Hamilton is now the benchmark that every driver dauntingly must aspire to. This, even as there seems a greater hunger now on the part of the Brit, albeit on the wrong side of 30, to stretch his own milestones by making it past 100 race wins as well as more driver championship titles, that will see Hamilton go past Schumacher in another season.
What Hamilton has achieved is phenomenal when one considers that back in 2013, while replacing Schumacher, Hamilton had just one world drivers’ title to his name not to mention that he was behind the German by 70 race wins, a gap considered too huge even for the promising rookie driver.
Now Hamilton is insatiable as he has made season after season dominant to the point of being labelled ‘boring’ for lack of a worthy competitor.
If hopes rested heavily on Sebastien Vettel with his four drivers championship titles with Red Bull, his stint with Ferrari has been largely forgettable as Hamilton’s successes have only painted the German in a poor light, notwithstanding the fact that there have been driver issues as there have been team issues with the prancing horse, unable to replicate or even come within closing distance of Vettel’s predecessor’s feats. With only 53 wins in comparison with the Mercedes driver, Vettel’s own history making efforts have considerably paled in light of the colossal stature of Hamilton.
Despite the fact that his team mate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas, did not make it easy, eventually Hamilton stamped his authority over the tricky race start in Algarve to etch his name into history, a feat unimaginable when Schumacher retired his wheels for a final time in 2012.
Hamilton was both, humble and gracious, in victory, acknowledging the presence of his father, Anthony, at the race track to mark the milestone as well as the team at Mercedes was “pushing” for more.
“I couldn’t have dreamt of being where I am today. I didn’t have a magic ball when I chose to come to this team and partner with great people. But here I am and what I can tell you is I am trying to make the most of it every single day. It’s going to take some time to sink in,” Hamilton stated as he was asked to weigh in on his success in eclipsing Schumacher’s record after the race in Portimao.
Although Schumacher came out of retirement in 2010 for a two year stint with Mercedes, few would have agreed with the former Ferrari driver that anyone could beat his longstanding phenomenal records.
But in the days leading up to Hamilton’s record equalling win at the Eifel Grand Prix in Nurburgring, a haunting video emerged with Schumacher being almost unassuming in stating that his records were not beyond invincible and that he believed his records could be broken by Hamilton or anyone else for that matter.
That humble statement came true less than a decade since his retirement, enlivening a season that has been hampered severely by the coronavirus pandemic which delayed the start of the season and also, was overshadowed by the ongoing problems at Ferrari. However, appropriately enough the focus has switched back on the thirty-five year old Briton driver and true to expectations, Hamilton has kept the European tracks busy and himself on track to be etched into racing history.
The six time champion has completely dominated season after season, leaving behind in the dust, Sebastien Vettel, who had a leg up when Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013 with a four driver championship title status compared to Hamilton’s one at McLaren.
Although Hamilton showed promise as a rookie in 2007 – a year after Schumacher’s first retirement from F1, his eventual success was not far behind as he followed up expectations in the following year with his first driver championship title.
However, it was not until 2014 that the results started to become associated with the now epic Mercedes team, that sits rather authoritatively on the top of the constructors’ titles table and on the cusp of making it six titles on the trot with no small contribution from Hamilton himself.
In his six career dominating driver titles seasons, the only blip between 2014 and 2020 came in 2016 when his team mate and former friend, Nico Rosberg, roared to his first drivers championship title before shockingly announcement his retirement at the end of the season. It spurred another growth chapter in Hamilton’s life as he grew by leaps and bounds as the results are evident.
Despite the setbacks, hurdles, delays as well as the rousing catch up play from teams like Red Bull and Racing Point with young, ambitious drivers like Max Verstappen kicking at his heels, Hamilton has shown his superior prowess and control, picking up speed on creating history in a bleak year when schedules have had to cautiously revised and drama going on in the background with regard to seats and drivers has been distracting to say the least.
The stunning decision from Ferrari to hand Vettel his two weeks’ notice as it were ahead of the rescheduled first race of the season sent shockwaves up and down the pit garage. It might have served as a warning to his older counterpart by two years. But as the Mercedes team sees it, they might have to sell their factory lock, stock and barrel in their team principal’s words to renew Hamilton’s contract for the 2021 season.
While Hamilton already commands a hefty 40 million dollar pay cheque per annum, few teams besides Mercedes might actually be in a position to vie for the Brit’s attention. While there was speculation that eventually Hamilton should join Ferrari before hanging up his boots, it would seem that the partnership between Hamilton and Mercedes is secure in the words of Hamilton himself. Their partnership has been more than mutually beneficial even as Ferrari have struggled to stay competitive, tottering currently at sixth in the constructors titles points and not even scoring a fourth of what the Mercedes have already in their kitty with five races to go.
Leading by 77 points with five races to go from his team mate, Hamilton is aware of the need to close out this season as well as gear himself for greater ambitions. Having journeyed with them rather successfully between 2013 and 2020, Hamilton acknowledged the team factor in his success, about the engineers as well as the factory workers at Mercedes that made it possible for him to be in this exalted position.
Not taking it lightly either on the social front, Hamilton has courted controversy for his ongoing, engaging comments about the need for upliftment of more aspiring young black drivers, attributing the backing of his family and sacrifices made to get him into a position to be picked by Mercedes’ youth programme as well as using his position of privilege to bring focus on the topic of Black Lives Matters and the movement against police brutality, calling for drivers to unite under the banner of ending racism across all spectrums.
Just 23 years of age when he won his first race title and speaking of his own age now and his ability to stay on track to now beat Schumacher’s seven drivers championship titles to potentially seal it with another season victory next year, Hamilton said, “I still feel physically strong but you still wonder when is it going to tip over and lose performance. But showing by today it’s not yet.”
In another television interview, Hamilton stated he did not feel he had hit his peak yet. With surging emotions and records in sight, this might just be the added incentive the thirty-five year old needs to keep the other younger drivers at bay in this season and the next.