Sport

Is Lewis Hamilton the greatest British athlete ever?

Lewis Hamilton back in 2010 (ph-stop via Flickr)

By Will Parry | Contributor

Victory at The Turkish Grand Prix on November 15 secured Lewis Hamilton, the first black Formula One driver the sport has ever seen, the 2020 Driver’s Championship. This was title number seven for the Briton, equalling the legendary Michael Schumacher’s record.  A magnificent achievement, one nobody thought possible For anyone, let alone Hamilton. 

The success of the Stevenage born driver has spanned across his 13 year career in the sport. The first championship came in 2008, a year after Lewis Hamilton burst onto the scene with a record-breaking rookie season. 

Hamilton’s aggressive and erratic style of his driving quickly feared many in the sport, and angered many too. One being teammate Fernando Alonso in 2008, when the two shared infamous spats which dampened the narrative around his success on the track and would follow him throughout his career. 

Success has not been guaranteed for Hamilton. It would take six years and a constructor transfer, before he would have his hands on the title again. 

Hamilton shocked the world by leaving McLaren for Mercedes, a relatively unsuccessful name in Formula One to date without a single Constructors’ championship, with Juan Manuel Fangio being their only previous racer to win a Driver’s Championship back in 1954 and 1955. 

The first year at Mercedes was not pretty. Hamilton had some success winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2013, but the season had passed with Hamilton ending the championship in fourth, the third time in five years. The big gamble on Mercedes had not started well. 

2014 was the year where he would prove the doubters wrong. New regulations in the sport saw him rise through the darkness. 16 podiums from 19 secured Hamilton his second crown. The six-year wait was over. But again, the victory was clouded by incidents with teammate Nico Rosberg, a rivalry that would only intensify over the next few years, eventually coming to a head in 2015.

Under the encouragement of Mercedes, the campaign was fiercely contested by the two. The season was on the line going into the US Grand Prix. Victory secured in a wheel-to-wheel finish with Hamilton taking the win on the line helped to secure title number three for the Briton, an brilliant achievement that put him level with F1 icon Ayrton Senna. 

A series of errors, including the famous engine failure in Malaysia, would cost Hamilton the 2016 title, opening the door for teammate Rosberg to claim victory for the German’s his first and only Championship.

The Mercedes replacement, Valtteri Bottas, proved to be the perfect partner for Hamilton’s latter career. The Finnish native was happy to play second fiddle to Hamilton, finishing races behind him and helping him fend off title charges from Sebastian Vettel, allowing the Briton to secure title number four and five in 2017 and 2018. Mechanical errors by Ferrari certainly played a role in Vettel’s failure as they seemed to crumble by the mid-way point, paving an easier road to victory for Hamilton. 

The success did not stop there. The maturity of driving and his prowess in wet conditions meant the title count would surpass five. 

Silver Arrows teammate Bottas coupled with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, putting Hamilton to the test but to no prevail, as he made it four titles in a four, with two more victories in 2019 and 2020, taking his total to seven championships. One of the highlights being victory in Portugal, his 92nd Formula One victory, eclipsing Schumacher’s 91-win record. 

Victory in Turkey had ended a season whereby Hamilton achieved more than just success on the track, leading social justice battles within the traditional exclusive sport in the name of Black Lives Matter.

Drivers taking a knee, Mercedes car replacing the silver for black and a commission pushing for the increased diversity at every level of the sport, have all been heralded by Hamilton himself. This challenged the historically white and affluent history of the sport, in favour of a more progressive stance. Top billing on the podium for The Powerlist, presenting the most influential people of African, African Caribbean and African American heritage. A huge honour.

Will the honours stop there for Hamilton? The Times have reported that the record equalling driver will be given a knighthood by the Queen for his achievements. The thirty-five-year-old has also received backing from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for the monumental achievement. This would eclipse the MBE he received in 2009 and something Hamilton stated himself would be his “greatest achievement”.

Following all his successes, Lewis Hamilton can be considered one of Britain’s best sporting exports. Formula One is often unfairly treated when weighed up to the successes of Andy Murray, Bobby Moore and Jessica Ennis-Hill who are deemed more marketable. None of these will be remembered for having the dominance over their respective sports as Hamilton has had. 

For Formula One fans, expect to see Hamilton continue his success on the track with Mercedes. His contract was due to expire at the end of the 2020 season, but talks remain largely positive for an extension. 

The only thing stopping Hamilton would be a complete change of direction by Toto Wolff, team principal of Mercedes, which seems highly unlikely. There are no signs of retirement from the Briton who will be desperate to secure that record breaking eighth title, making it difficult to deny Lewis Hamilton to be the greatest of all time.

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