Hamilton joins Formula 1’s all-time greats
Over two grand prix weekends, Lewis Hamilton surpassed hero Ayrton Senna’s GP win tally and entered the select club of three-time world champions
Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel… and now Lewis Hamilton. Victory at October’s US GP enabled Hamilton to put the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship beyond the reach of any of his rivals, and in doing so he joined the select group of aces who have won the drivers’ title at least three times each.
And this isn’t the only significant achievement Hamilton has notched up this season. Two weeks earlier, in Sochi, he passed a landmark that had personal resonance for him: having already matched his hero Ayrton Senna’s 41 GP wins, Hamilton made it 42 with victory at the Russian Grand Prix. Senna took his final win on his 158th start – the 1993 Australian GP – while Hamilton hit the 41 mark on his 162nd, at Suzuka this year.
Sebastian Vettel also surpassed Senna’s victory tally this season, notching up win number 42 in Singapore. His rivalry with Hamilton may come to define this era, and with the competitiveness of their current machinery, each must now have their sights set on the next goal: Alain Prost’s score of 51 wins looks comfortably achievable for both, as the French four-time champion himself has acknowledged. He tweeted after the Russian Grand Prix: “I have to look in both mirrors at the same time – not easy.”
Michael Schumacher still leads the all-time F1 rankings with 91 victories, which may be beyond the reach of 30-year-old Hamilton and 28-yearold Vettel. That said, Hamilton in particular is now racking up the wins at a rapid rate – at the time of writing he has added 21 wins to his tally since the start of the 2014 season.
This rate of success, similar to that demonstrated by Vettel with Red Bull in 2011 and 2013, underlines how a driver needs a dominant car for a number of seasons in order to achieve these sorts of statistics. Fernando Alonso, who has been stuck on 32 wins since the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013 (his 201st start), would not argue with the logic of that argument.
Hamilton’s success vindicates his decision in 2012 to ‘leave home’ and sever his ties with McLaren, who had supported his career since his karting days. At the time this move came as a shock to many, but in truth the patriarchal relationship between McLaren and Hamilton was as suffocating as it was comforting. Hamilton took a risk, bought into the Mercedes growth vision of Ross Brawn and Niki Lauda, and in stepping out of his comfort zone he put himself in a position to develop further as a driver.
Hamilton’s McLaren years were chiefly characterised by frustration; the world title slipped through his fingers in his rookie year; the team were wrongfooted by the 2009 technical regulations and only regained frontrunning pace mid-season; and further chances were missed in 2010 and 2012. Had he stayed at McLaren from 2013 onwards, Hamilton would have been part of their humiliating slump in competitiveness.