Expert opinion and analysis
Lewis Hamilton somewhat stumbled to the finish line of his world championship title quest by labouring to a frustrated fourth placed finish in Mexico, but the struggles that day did little to take the shine off what has otherwise been another exemplary campaign from the now five-time Formula 1 champion.
It wasn’t a perfect year by any means, as there were difficult races like in China and Canada where he and Mercedes had no answer for Ferrari. But it was when the season hit the home straight after the summer break that he and the team really went up a gear.
Understanding why the second half of Hamilton’s year was so much better than the first is not an easy task, but there is a suggestion the strength of the post-summer Hamilton was perhaps the result of the weaknesses exposed by the pre-summer version.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who has enjoyed a closer relationship with Hamilton this season that at any time since they first teamed up in 2013, has long lived by the management mantra that it is the bad days that are the most important for any organisation.
One of his favourite phrases is: “Each day we fail is a day for our rivals to regret, because these are the days when we become even stronger to beat them again.”
That rings true for Hamilton and Mercedes this year – especially so because it was the hardest moments that helped instil the message that only perfection was going to be good enough.
“Through the year there were a lot of testing times for us,” admitted Hamilton after taking the crown. “It took some special laps, it took some special moments in the car and I honestly could just re-live those moments all the time. Some of those experiences I had in the car were really magical.
“These guys in the garage have just been flawless every single weekend, with our pitstops, with our decisionmaking in the background, strategy and set-up. That has been key. Ultimately, for me, I feel like I can drive anything and I feel I can take the car to places that nobody else can. But to do that, you have to get the car in the right place and so that means you’ve got to work with the team, to help unleash what’s great within them so that you can unleash the greatness in yourself.”
There are other factors that contributed to Hamilton hitting peak form. Off-track he seems to have found the perfect lifestyle balance: and his superstar status is something now that people admire rather than criticise.
Mercedes’ decision to team up with Tommy Hilfiger this year also brought in a sponsor that Hamilton is enthused to work with: and there seems to be a sense of real satisfaction at having helped produce his own clothing range.
“I think being able to tap into your creativity is only a positive, there’s no negatives about that,” says Hamilton of the Hilfiger partnership. “Naturally people will have opinions for and against things that you do, but one thing for me that all of you will know – and I don’t do everything perfectly and I don’t always say the right things – but one thing I do do is I do me.
“Only I can live my life the way I live it and it can’t be steered by anyone else. I try to do the right things in order to be my best. Having these opportunities to do these other things, tapping into a different part of the mind, naturally doing these things outside a race and it has nothing to do with being a racing driver, I think it’s keeping the brain stimulated and knowledge is power, so naturally when you’re learning new things, when you’re experiencing new things, you’re gaining knowledge as you travel the world.”
Attention of course now shifts to the future, and what Hamilton can go on to achieve. Having become only the third man after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher to win five titles, the seven crowns and 91 wins that Schumacher racked up is now the clear target for Lewis. But, as F1 has shown many times, success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future, which is why Hamilton is taking nothing for granted.
“Whether or not I’m going to have the chance to win more, who knows – but I’m going to give it everything to do so – but I think just one step at a time,” he says. “The 91 wins that he [Michael] has, that’s a lot of wins. There’s still a long way to go but I’m here for a few more years, so I’m hoping that I can at least get close.”
“ONLY I CAN LIVE MY LIFE THE WAY I LIVE IT AND IT CAN’T BE STEERED BY ANYONE ELSE. I TRY TO DO THE RIGHT THINGS IN ORDER TO BE MY BEST LEWIS HAMILTON
“Anyone that has got anything to say about segregation, show me any other sport, other than horse racing, where women and men don’t compete separately. I have no problem knowing who the best female tennis player is, who the best female sprinter is...”
There is no grand illusion that W Series will suddenly allow a flood of females to knock on the doors of F1 teams – or that we will have a woman world champion in the very near future. But if it helps potential talent get some attention and helps contribute to a change in attitudes then Coulthard says it will have succeeded.
And asked if he believes a woman could succeed in F1, Coulthard says: “Yes. I just don’t know at what level. The current baseline is Lewis Hamilton. Can they be as good as Lewis? I don’t know. I know there are a lot of men who are not as good as Lewis. If we don’t create a platform that may accelerate access, then nothing is going to change.”
A joyous Lewis Hamilton celebrates a fifth world championship title