In Japan Lewis Hamilton took his 71st career victory and took another step close to his 5th world title, that would make his the second most successful driver in Formula One history behind only the great Michael Schumacher but can he become F1’s most successful driver?
Right from the start Hamilton showed his star quality, in his first ever Grand Prix in Australia 2007 he leap frogged his teammate Fernando Alonso at turn 1 and eventually finished 3rd behind 2nd placed Alonso and soon to be champion Kimi Raikkonen who were both regarded as the drivers to beat at that time. Consistency proved to be a great strength of Hamilton’s by finishing on the podium 10 times in hist first 11 races claiming 3 wins in the process. He would have a bitter rivalry with his teammate Fernando Alonso throughout the season which any less of a driver would lose their call when faced with competing with the reigning two-time champion. Mistakes and China and Brazil coupled with a mechanical issue meant that Hamilton would finish runner-up in his debut season by 1 point which sent ripples throughout the paddock, Hamilton was the real deal.
Hamilton would claim the title in the following season in a far less consistent season and would break Brazilian hearts when he took the title from home hero Felipe Massa on last corner of the last lap of the last race when passing Timo Clock for 5th. Hamilton had already realised his dream and became world champion and looked like an unstoppable force along with the almighty McLaren Mercedes team.
A major regulation change for 2009 would catch McLaren out through and the team would fall behind the likes of Red Bull and Brawn GP who came from the ashes of Honda. Hamilton would come under some controversy in the first race of the season, Hamilton would finish 4th behind Jarno Trulli who went off track under the safety car, Hamilton would pass him and then let Jarno passed. Overtaking under the safety car wasn’t and isn’t permitted but Hamilton had lied to the stewards and told them that he didn’t let Trulli through, Trulli was later penalised. It would later come to light that Hamilton was instructed by Dave Ryan to let Trulli past and then would withhold this form the stewards, Hamilton would later be disqualified from the race leaving a black mark on his character. Hamilton would salvage the season in the latter parts of the season by claiming 2 wins in Hungary and Singapore but would finish 5th in the championship.
Hamilton would have another reigning world champion in 2010 with Jenson Button joining the team after leaving Brawn GP who had just been purchased by Mercedes. Hamilton would enjoy a much more competitive season in 2010 and would take the title to the last round but would finish 4th with Webber, Alonso and F1’s latest champion Sebastian Vettel finishing ahead of him.
2011 would be a season characterised by his on track collisions with Felipe Massa, Hamilton would regularly fall fowl with the stewards and would ultimately be beaten by teammate Button in the championship for the first time in his career meanwhile Vettel and Red Bull would claim their second championship.
Perhaps the most influential season in Hamilton’s career would be in 2012, a season that saw 7 winners in 7 races and races and Hamilton make one of the biggest decisions in his career. Frequent pit stop issues, under-fuelling the car in Spain costing Hamilton pole and a DNF in Singapore would convince Hamilton that a fresh start was needed and he would turn to Mercedes. He would replace Michael Schumacher who would retire from the sport and partner childhood friend Nico Rosberg who was regarded very highly. Hamilton was willing to commit to a long-term project building a team around him just like Michael did with Ferrari, he had seen the progress the team had already made and where they were with their development for the 2014 regulation changes. Many had criticised the move claiming that it was a career ender bu Hamilton believed in the project.
2013 would be a strong first year with Mercedes he would claim 5 pole positions, win his first race with the team in Hungary and finish 4th in the title beating his new teammate Nico Rosberg. Come 2014 Mercedes were the team to beat and Hamilton and teammate Rosberg would be the only two able to fight for the title, the result of this would be a break in their relationship and an on track collision in Spa. Hamilton would come out on top though with 11 wins and claiming his second world title. He had more than double his teammates race wins and proved he had the better race craft. 2015 came much easier for Hamilton wrapping the title up early in Austin to earn his 3rd world title, it appeared that he now had the measure of his teammate Rosberg but he would soon learn a valuable lesson.
Rosberg would finish 2015 winning the last 3 races and then start 2016 winning the first 4, Hamilton appeared to lose focus and maybe began to underestimate his teammate. The two would collide in Spain resulting in the teams first double DNF in the turbo-hybrid era. Hamilton headed into Monaco without a race win and needed to find something if he wanted to win the title, he would qualify 3rd after suffering issues with his car in qualifying. Hamilton showed once again that he was a master in wet conditions, Daniel Ricciardo had led most of the race but Hamilton was in quick pursuit but a mistake by Red Bull meant that Ricciardo fell behind Hamilton in the pitstops, Ricciardo tried to get past Hamilton but he would place the car in all the right places preventing the Aussie from winning the title. Hamilton would start to win again and would fight a close battle with Rosberg for the rest of the season but it wouldn’t be enough and Rosberg would beat Hamilton to claim his first world title. Rosberg would then shock the F1 world when he announced that he would retire from the sport with immediate effect, something that would no doubt have irked Hamilton who wouldn’t be able to beat Rosberg in 2017.
Hamilton would now have Valtteri Bottas as his teammate who was called in late to the team. Hamilton would have a new challenge though in Vettel, with new regulations in place for 2017 Ferrari had caught up and Mercedes would have to fight another team for the world championship. Hamilton would yet again raise his game, he would claim 9 wins and put Vettel under constant pressure, Vettel would eventually crack and start to make mistakes, an outburst behind the safety car in Baku and a misjudgment at the start in Singapore would costs Vettel his chance at the title while Hamilton would calmly claim podiums and points where needed on his way to his 4th world title.
Hamilton is yet again on the cusp of winning the title this year and doing so win his 5th world title, Hamilton is already regarded as one of the greatest of all time but could become F1’s number one in a few seasons if he claims another 22 wins and 2 world championship. Hamilton could very well become F1’s most successful driver of all time.
Make sure to join in on the conversation and follow us on Twitter & Instagram: