Like my other F1 drivers pages, this one has been in serious need of a re-write. It previously read as a dry statistical look at Hamilton’s career, which can be found anywhere. I want this to be more personal.
In a way, there is a very tenuous personal link between the six-time world champion and myself – we are both originally from the town of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. That’s it by the way – we have no other connection, but that small detail is one reason why I’ve paid a lot of attention to Hamilton’s career over the years, and why I call myself a Hamilton fan. I’ve been prepared to defend him on F1 forums I visit, when I’ve felt it necessary.
At the time of writing this, Lewis Hamilton has not only got six F1 titles to his name, he has 84 wins (second only to Michael Schumacher’s record of 91) 88 pole positions (the current record), 47 fastest laps (second to Schumacher’s pretty incredible 77) and is the only Briton to have won back-to-back titles. His record speaks for itself, yet, as with all the top F1 racers, there are always doubters. ‘He’s had the best car, he’s had no real challenge’, being a typcal charge.
But, to this F1 fan, such claims could be levelled at nearly every F1 champion. No one has won the world title in a poor or average car – every champion has done so with machinery that was competitive, and Hamilton has had his share of ferocious challenge. After all, his very first team-mate was the then-reigning champion Fernando Alonso, and along the way Hamilton has been paired with Jensen Button (who is criminally underrated) and the eventual 2016 champion Nico Rosberg. Hamilton has battled with Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Mark Webber, at points when all those drivers were competitive in their own right, and with cars of similar quality. He’s not shirked from those challenges and has kept himself hungry and determined for more success.
Hamilton’s desire to win can lead to him coming over as surly when he’s not winning. This has led to criticism of his apparent attitude over on the forums I take part in, but to me, it’s largely unfair, and Hamilton sometimes gets singled out for behaviour that many F1 drivers exhibit during a race. No one who is in the super-competitive, high-pressure environment of a Formula One Grand Prix is there to cruise around – they all want to win, to be the very best, both on the day and across the season. It’s not surprising that if things go wrong, or don’t quite go their way, their tempers can get the better of them. Hamilton is no different, but his razor-sharp focus and dedication to F1 (it is pretty much his everything) can lend itself to him being seemingly prickly if he’s not winning – and to be fair, he can be quite grumpy in those circumstances.
This can be seen in his relationships with other drivers, most notably his former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg. The pair had been friends since their karting days in 2000, and would become team-mates in 2013, when Hamilton joined Mercedes. 2013 wasn’t a competitive season for the Silver Arrows, but in 2014 they were a class beyond everyone else, leaving Hamilton and Rosberg to fight for the title.
It was here that the cracks began to appear. Hamilton did not like being beaten by Rosberg, and would defend ruthlessly from his team-mate in Bahrain and Spain. The first serious dent to their friendship was when Rosberg took a controversial pole at Monaco (he misjudged a breaking zone and triggered yellow flags, forcing Hamilton to abort his flying lap). Rosberg would win the race, and the incident led Hamilton to publicly declare they were no longer friends. Hamilton would backtrack, but I vividly recall that it wasn’t the best omen.
There would also be a contentious collision in Belgium (that gave Hamilton a puncture and cost him any points that day), but their friendship more or less held together, until 2016 (despite additional close-quarter combat in 2015). It was 2016 that showed Hamilton could be rattled, and I remember thinking it was a disappointing year for him. Technical trouble did cost him, but he might have been champion regardless, if he had focused more. There was that infamous accident in Spain that saw the two Mercedes drivers both go out, another clash of cars in Austria (where Hamilton recovered to win), and all the while it was clear the friendship between the pair had disintegrated. To me, it was due to the fact that Hamilton hated losing to anyone, least of all his team-mate.
That is all due to that deep-seated need to win that Hamilton possesses. As I mentioned before, Formula 1 is Hamilton’s whole world. It dominates his interests and his life right now. It clearly still brings him tremendous joy, even now, and each world championship carries as much meaning as the last. It is only a matter of time, be it in the strange year of 2020 or beyond, that Hamilton will break Schumacher’s record of wins. Schumacher’s record of seven world championships, once thought untouchable, is suddenly at risk. Hamilton can claim to be statistically one of the best ever, but he can also rightly claim to have delivered some fine performances, pushing relentlessly for more glory. It seems no one wants it more than Lewis Hamilton.