Meerkat Musings

Lewis Hamilton

LewisHamilton

(Lewis Hamilton)

I first wrote this page back in 2014, in fact, it was shortly after Lewis Hamilton won his second world championship. Flash forward to the 3rd of November 2019, and today, Lewis won his sixth world title. Needless to say, this page was in serious need of updating!

Debut

When Hamilton first entered Formula 1 he was fortunate enough to do so at a McLaren team that, despite a poor 2006, were confident going into 2007 that they could be competitive. Hamilton was paired with then-world champion Fernando Alonso, and would remarkably finish on the podium in his first nine races, including four second places and two wins. I remember thinking that he was looking like championship material already, and his record as a rookie was remarkable.

It began to look like, incredibly, Hamilton might win the title in his first season. Going into the Chinese Grand Prix, he was in a position to clinch the title with a race to spare, but a strategy error saw Hamilton stay out on degrading tyres with the consequence that his race ended after 30 laps. At the final race in Brazil, Hamilton suffered gearbox problems early on that stranded him toward the back of the grid. He would recover to finish 7th but needed 5th for the title, losing by a single point to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. He did beat his teammate Alonso on countback, quite the achievement!

During the course of 2007, Hamilton’s relationship with Alonso, initially quite good, soured. The Spaniard felt, as the more experienced and reigning world champion, that he should have preferential treatment and also support from Hamilton, but McLaren refused to impose team orders on either man and allowed them to race. In Hungary, Alonso held up Hamilton in the pit lane during qualifying, denying Hamilton the chance to record a final flying lap, and the team, rather interestingly, mentioned that Hamilton had ignored orders to allow Alonso past him during an earlier phase of qualifying.

Tensions had also surfaced earlier in the year, at Monaco, when Hamilton claimed he had not been allowed to challenge Alonso for the win.

In the end, Alonso left McLaren after just one year, and Hamilton was partnered by promising Finn Heikki Kovalainen.

The First Title

Motorsports / Formula 1: World Championship 2008, GP of Australia

(Hamilton racing in Australia in 2008. He would briefly hold the title of youngest world champion)

To be honest, I don’t remember the 2008 season all that well. I remember it chiefly because Hamilton took the title, albeit doing so by taking things right down to the wire, as he did in 2007. He won the first race in Australia, and would take four more wins, heading into the final race needing 5th or better if his closest challenger, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, won the race.

In changeable weather, Massa did indeed win the race, but Hamilton, who had so narrowly missed out the year before, would pass a struggling Timo Glock on virtually the final corner to get fifth place, and with it, his first F1 crown.

I’ve seen hints that Hamilton didn’t deserve the 2008 title, and that he owed it down to misfortune for Massa. Well, Massa took himself out of the first two races, which is hardly Hamilton’s fault. Massa also made mistakes in Britain to finish outside the points whilst Hamilton drove supremely to win in a rain-soaked race. The first time that Hamilton received what could be considered good future was when an engine failure cost Massa a win at Hungary, and he was a little unlucky himself not to claim more points from that race, given tyre problems. At Singapore, it was the Ferrari team that cocked up Massa’s pit stop, so again, that could be considered fortunate for Hamilton. Yes, Hamilton made his share of mistakes that are his responsibility alone (such as in Canada), but he also ended up with no points from Japan thanks to Massa colliding with him. They both made mistakes during 2008 and in the end, on balance, Hamilton did enough to come out on top.

Ups and Downs

2009 was a difficult year for Hamilton. The McLaren team were one of several to be caught out by changes to regulations that handed the initiative to previously slower cars, and although he would two races (Hungary and Singapore), he finished down in fifth in the championship.

2010 was better, and a good car saw Hamilton, now joined by reigning champion Jenson Button, put together a serious title charge. Unfortunately for him, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber had the edge, and though he went into the final race with a mathematical chance of winning the title, Hamilton needed all his rivals to effectively fail to finish, which was never likely. He had to settle for fourth, but at least he’d been closer!

The Most Horrible Year

HamiltonMassaCol(Hamilton and Massa come together at the 2011 Indian Grand Prix)

2011 was a nightmare for Hamilton. Off the track, he had relationship dramas, and his head was not generally in a good place, with this affecting his performances on the track. He would have several collisions with Ferrari’s Massa, creating tension between the pair. Most of these were due to errors of judgement from Hamilton, who would only produce his best in fits and spurts throughout the year.

Renewed but Unreliable

In 2012 Hamilton came back refreshed and in a much better mindset for F1. He would be quite consistent to begin with, finished 3rd in the first three races, and winning in Canada. However, team errors and reliability issues prevented him from making a concerted title challenge – retirements costing him potential wins in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, whilst, through no fault of his own, he was wiped out at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix and might have finished on the podium in Brazil if not for another accident caused by another driver.

During 2012, rumours began to surface that Hamilton was considering leaving McLaren, the team that had effectively nurtured him since before his F1 days. When he announced he was joining Mercedes, I have to confess to thinking ‘well, we won’t see him competing at the front for a while’. Mercedes had a reasonable car but it was tough on tyres and didn’t have the raw pace of other cars, and it seemed like a risky move. In hindsight though, it would prove to be the best move.

The Silver Arrows

2014BrazilGP(Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg leads him round the first corner at the 2014 Brazil Grand Prix)

The first half of 2013 was a frustrating one for both Hamilton and his teammate, Nico Rosberg. The car continued to be very hard on its tyres, despite delivering great pace over a few laps. The pair would often qualify strongly, only to finish lower down the order, as they sought to conserve their tyres. I was personally able to attend the British Grand Prix, where I watched Hamilton finish 4th despite a spectacular tyre failure early on (that potentially cost him a win), and he would win at Hungary (a track that by now it was clear Hamilton enjoyed). He would finish ahead of Rosberg in the world championship standings, despite one less win, by virtue of tremendous consistency.

2014 – Title number Two

Heading into the 2014 F1 season, one thing had become clear – Mercedes had a car that was comfortably the best on the grid. The engine was the best, and the overall design of the new, turbo-charged car, was very strong. At the first race in Australia, Hamilton put the car on pole, but an early mechanical fault forced him to retire, and he was immediately 25 points down on race winner (and teammate) Rosberg.

People will be quick to point out that the Mercedes was by far and away the quickest car, and that neither Hamilton or Rosberg faced any competition from anyone apart from each other, but regardless of this, 2014 produced Hamilton’s best performances so far. After failing to finish the first race, Hamilton would out-race Rosberg to win the next four races, and also out-raced Rosberg in a total of nine of the fourteen races the pair of them both finished. He took eleven wins to five, battling hard all the way. A worthy champion!

The turbo era would see Mercedes produce the best car once again in 2015, and this time, Hamilton dominated, leading the title race from the first race to the last. His third title was secured at the US Grand Prix, to much elation and emotion from the man himself – whilst once again Nico Rosberg was his chief challenger, but Rosberg had no answer to Hamilton’s pace and consistency. Hamilton would win ten of the 19 races in 2015, and was on the podium in every race bar two. However, Rosberg would win the last three races, setting the tone for 2016…

A Friendship Unglued?

Whilst Hamilton and Rosberg had risen up the ranks together, and had considered themselves to be friends, the tensions of title battles were taking a toll on their relationship. 2016 saw the pair end up more or less not speaking to each other, a situation not aided by Hamilton being in a sour mood, following a poor start to the season (a combination of errors and incidents). Rosberg won the first four races, whilst Hamilton had scored two second places, a third place and a seventh place, meaning Rosberg had 100 points, to Hamilton’s 57, so for Hamilton, who hates not winning, anything less than victory in round five in Spain was not good enough. Hamilton took pole but Rosberg got by him around the first few corners, with Hamilton coming back at Rosberg, with the pair colliding and both going out of the race.

Hamilton would win the next two races, including a win at Monaco, and Rosberg would struggle, but Hamilton had issues in Azerbaijan, and erratic performances in Italy, Singapore and Japan did not help his cause. An engine failure in Malaysia naturally did not help him!

For the final four races, Hamilton would take victory, but Rosberg needed only second in each race to take the title. For Hamilton, this simply wasn’t good enough.

2017-2019 – New Rules

Rosberg retired immediately after becoming champion, and since 2017 Hamilton’s had Valtteri Bottas as teammate. New car designs (wider cars with lower rear wings and higher speeds) saw Ferrari step up their game in 2017 and 2018, but Mercedes have continued to be the top dogs – and Hamilton, in both 2017 and 2018, would fend off the challenge of lead Ferrari man Sebastian Vettel to win titles four and five. It wasn’t always the easiest of situations for Hamilton, but through his solid skills and a seemingly endless drive to win, would see off the Ferrari threat, whilst in 2019, consistency and some terrific race craft has seen to it that the man from Stevenage is now a six-time Formula 1 world champion, just one shy of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven.

Hamilton’s not always deemed the most likeable of guys. Common complaints I see concern his apparent petulance and arrogance. Sometimes, via the radio messages, or after a poor qualifying session, Hamilton is seen as moody. The truth? He can be all of those things – but so can any driver, and any top sporting professional – no one who is driven to succeed as much as these guys are achieves what they achieve because they accept anything less than the absolute best from themselves. Second place is not good enough to Lewis Hamilton. He strives for excellence and will aggressively do what he can to hold onto a place. In the process, he’s honed his skills as a driver, being supreme in wet conditions, able to adapt to changing rules and circumstances, and manage his tyres brilliantly. He’s fought with some of the very best drivers of his generation, including Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, and he has not shirked from the challenge. Having won title six, having won 83 races at the time of writing this, and with 87 pole positions, Hamilton must have an eye on Schumacher’s aforementioned record of titles – but he is also just eight wins shy of equalling Schumacher’s win record as well. What once looked beyond reach, suddenly seems vulnerable. No matter what people may say about Hamilton as a person, his talent cannot be questioned.

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