What now for destiny’s child?
Ignition / Anthony Rowlinson /12.15
Lewis Hamilton, a three-time world champion, says he has no interest in spending the rest of his F1 days trying to emulate the stats record of Michael Schumacher, the sport’s most successful driver (seven titles, 91 wins). But as he takes stock of his achievements over the first nine seasons of a remarkable career, perhaps he’ll reflect that such matters may not be his to determine.
Who would have thought, for example, that until the end of 2014 Hamilton would have won ‘only’ one world title, with that dying-moments finale at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix? Equally, who would have thought that his Mercedes chapter would produce such consummate domination, given the Red Bull/Seb Vettel stranglehold of the preceding seasons? That’s just what we’re experiencing, though: another era of team/driver harmony so perfectly rounded that it’s hard to imagine how it might be challenged, or by whom. Certainly very few would bet against Hamilton crafting a title hat trick in 2016.
Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari will certainly fancy having a crack, after their highly encouraging 2015. And the Red Bull-Ricciardo combo fear nothing and no one; with a competitive PU they’d be right there. Yet every one of Hamilton’s putative rivals has an asterisk by their name: for Nico Rosberg, there’s the psychological drubbing he has taken from Lewis over the past three seasons; for Vettel, there’s the Ferrari technical operation that’s not yet at Mercedes’ level; for Ricciardo, Red Bull’s endless engine travails.
That leaves Lewis set to capitalise on a historically unusual position for a British sportsman: expected victory. From the perspective of November 2015, Hamilton should enter 2016 as favourite to take another title and join the ‘four-or-more’ club occupied only by Schumacher, Fangio, Prost and Vettel. What a prospect: a Brit right up there breaking records and aiming for the very highest peak.
Perhaps the forthcoming reset of the technical regs, due for the start of 2017 (this month’s cover story, see page 26) might derail the Hamilton-Mercedes train? They will bring a revamped aero package, fatter tyres and more power, so might, for example, Red Bull gain an edge with a lightbulb of tech inspiration, as their Newey-inspired chassis did from 2009-13?
That’s a possiblity, of course, but Mercedes’ success has not come about by chance: their technical leaders Andy Cowell (Brixworth, engines) and Paddy Lowe (Brackley, chassis) have worked systematically and in harmony to eliminate weakness and maximise performance. And the same is true of Lewis Hamilton. He has banished a reputation for occasional petulance, and done a lot of growing up over the past couple of years, to emerge ever more assured and confident. Always freakishly gifted, he now has the maturity and self-awareness to channel those talents just as he likes. His F1 future is his own to write. • We’ll celebrate Lewis’s success in full, next month.