What now for des­tiny’s child?

Ig­ni­tion / An­thony Rowl­in­son /12.15

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

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.

Fol­low An­thony

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