Hamil­ton joins For­mula 1’s all-time greats

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

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.

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