Once. Twice. Three times a World Champion. This is now what Lewis Hamilton can tell both himself and the world at large. Following victory at the United States Grand Prix in Austin last weekend, Hamilton secured his second World Championship in a row and third overall. This in itself is not news. Hamilton’s dominance this season has been obvious to anyone with even the most casual of interests in Formula One; his official coronation has been perhaps the most foregone conclusion in sport this century.
There are those who will argue that Hamilton, now 30, has had an easy ride to the title with a car so much better than his rivals that it was almost like watching donkeys try to keep up with fully-fledged thoroughbreds. This not only does a great disservice to Hamilton himself, but also takes away much deserved credit from the team of engineers and designers who have given him the platform to assert the dominance witnessed. Furthermore it ignores the ‘rivalry’ with the Briton’s teammate, Nico Rosberg, whose car has all the same advantages as Hamilton’s, yet it is not the German whom we have seen triumphant, before the Mexican GP, on 10 separate occasions this season.
Hamilton is a worthy champion: regardless of how good your car is – and there is no denying that the Mercedes is a very good car – it takes outright skill to win on such a regular basis. Becoming a three-time World Champion takes more than just luck; people’s attention should instead turn to Hamilton’s future potential and where he stands among the greats of the sport.
David Coulthard has gone on record as saying that we are now in the “Lewis Hamilton era”, while former World Champion Nigel Mansell believes it is time for the newly crowned World Champion to focus on Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. It is a big ask, but is it a realistic one? At first glance it may seem like an unachievable goal; by the start of the next season, Hamilton will be 31 years old and already one of the more senior drivers on the grid. If we are to assume that he will retire at, the latest, 38, then this gives him seven more seasons to rack up four more world championships just to equal Schumacher’s record.
Regardless of how good you are, how good your car is, that is a tall order, especially at an age when most athletes are looking more towards a comfy chair and slippers, rather than another season at the top of the game. Not only would Hamilton have to do battle with Father Time, but he also has to contend with competition from the rest of the grid. Sebastian Vettel is already a four time World Champion and also two years Hamilton’s junior, while there are any number of up and coming drivers to contend with.
Having said all this, Formula One is perhaps one of the more forgiving sports on the over-30s, with many drivers regularly competing well after hitting the big three-zero. A greater emphasis on mental capabilities instead of physical prowess allows this; Schumacher himself is perhaps the best example, with the first of his five consecutive titles only coming after his 31st birthday.
Providing Hamilton has a competitive car – not necessarily even the best – then there is every chance that Schumacher could well be finding himself with some company at the top of the World Championship leader board. But let us not get too carried away; it was not so long ago that Vettel too was tipped to eclipse his illustrious compatriot.
Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly a great driver, and this third title only cements his place amongst the Formula One pantheon. Already the bookies’ favourite for next year’s championship, it would be surprising if he fails to add to his title haul, with Hamilton very much in his prime and Mercedes currently leaving its rivals desperately trying to keep up.
When Michael Schumacher claimed his seventh, many said “never again” with Hamilton. However, you should never say never.
Image courtesy of John MacFadyen