By Neil Leverett
- Lewis Hamilton seals sixth World Drivers’ Championship, finishing runner-up to teammate Valtteri Bottas at the US GP in Austin, Texas
- Briton moves ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio in list of title wins, now just one behind Michael Schumacher’s seven
- Hamilton hunger continues to burn, with Mercedes’ reliability and a somewhat transitional paddock aiding his goal
AUSTIN, TEXAS – After sealing the World Driver’s Championship in Austin this weekend, how did Lewis Hamilton make it super six, inching closer to Michael Schumacher?
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Hamilton hunger remains
Is Lewis Hamilton the greatest Formula 1 driver in history? For the time being, the answer to that question remains subjective, but after clinching his sixth world title after finishing runner-up to teammate Valtteri Bottas at this past weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, the Briton is coming close to sporting immortality.
Having become just the fourth man in F1 history to win three World Drivers’ Championships in succession, Hamilton continues to challenge the motor sport record books, how has he done so in 2019, and could he now go on to level the Great Michael Schumacher for title wins?
That will depend on Hamilton’s appetite for further success after 12 years in the sport, but with such a tantalising prospect of reaching a par with his former idol, that is quite the rabbit for Hamilton to chase.
Indeed as he told BBC Sport after Sunday’s race in Austin, whilst not a personal target to reach Schumacher’s tally of seven, Hamilton still firmly believes he still has room to grow as he bathes in the sunshine of his career:
“I have always said reaching Michael’s was never a target for me. I am not really one to think of records and those kinds of things. I definitely thought getting anywhere near Michael was so far fetched. It was so far away and now it seems so close – and yet it is so far away I still can’t comprehend it.
I believe I have the ability to continue to grow and to do more with this team and within F1. That would be the target but time will tell. Right now, I am just focused on trying to be as fit and healthy as I can be, smile as much as I can and enjoy this beautiful journey they call life.”
Mercedes’ monopoly, the reliable teammate
Despite having wrapped up the title with two races to spare, Hamilton has seen challenges come from all angles this term, most notably his own team – as the Briton might have expected in pre-season.
Not only has Hamilton hit six, but so have Mercedes in the Swiss manufacturer’s new era of dominance, now Constructors’ champions for the sixth year in succession, and they have done so with the presence of Bottas in his continued role of the ultimate team player.
Whilst the AMG engine has played a big part in the Briton’s success one more, Mercedes are more than the sum of its’ literal parts, and Bottas has played his own part as Hamilton’s tag-team partner.
As the two formed five 1-2 finishes on the bounce to begin the season, Hamilton and Mercedes never looked back, and at whilst at one point the Finn looked to be a serious contender to go nose-to-nose with Hamilton until Abu Dhabi, the Briton’s class shone through after a difficult summer.
Bottas however has shown his strength in backing up his number one, and with four wins this season – winning the last two Rounds – will again be a serious impediment in 2020 of Hamilton’s goal to attain the magic seven.
Verstappen still not finished article
2019 has seen Red Bull’s Max Verstappen greatly mature as a driver, but is still just that little bit away from becoming a serious challenger to the Formula 1 throne. But the signs are more than promising.
Freed for the machinations of the antagonistic Daniel Ricciardo, the Belgian – aside from Hamilton – has arguably been the greatest picture of driving consistency this term, indeed Verstappen began the season with six consecutive top four finishes to open the term.
Still, without a win approaching the end of June, Red Bull’s main man was seeing his title aspirations slip away for another year – having been talked up by many a serious contender to end the Mercedes monopoly.
Finally converting a super run of races in Austria to win in Spielberg, victory at Hockenheim saw a mid-season flourish before again being pushed down the reckoning again by Ferrari post-hiatus dash to the front.
Whilst the latter stages of the season have proved rather trickier for the inferior performance of the Red Bull, Verstappen however, has produced podium finishes in two of the last five races. It could just be that the Belgian proves a far steelier opponent next season.
Ferrari power struggle
Whilst the harmony – for now at least – is for all to see in relative terms at Mercedes, Ferrari are in the midst of a power shift which is making concerted efforts to challenge the F1 hierarchy all the more difficult.
With Charles Leclerc having moved into Kimi Raikkonen‘s vacated drive, the Monagesque – notwithstanding his obvious his obvious huge talents seen last season – has matured far quicker than many expected, which has presented a question of priority in the Ferrari garage.
Few could argue Sebastian Vettel‘s position as the man for Scuderia with four world championships under his belt, but 21-year-old Leclerc has began to snap at the heels of Vettel and after back-to-back wins at Spa and in front of the adoring Tifosi at Monza, the pecking order has began to be seriously questioned for next season.
Leclerc’s winning double has forced Vettel to set up-right in the cockpit and discover his ruthlessness, but as we saw Sochi the efforts of both men in attempting to gain favour with the team has backfired spectacularly.
Even with Hamilton well in the distance of Ferrari contention, if the Prancing Horse are to challenge the summit in F1 again the Italians must give careful consideration to where their best hopes of success now lie. Those conversations could be rather spicy.
A season of transition
Away from the troubles of the Prancing Horse, Hamilton’s win has also been aided by domino effect of the F1 pack having shuffled ahead of the 2019 season, particularly some of last season big players, who have struggled in adapting to new surrounding and car capabilities.
Not least Ricciardo, who after a fractured relationship with both Red Bull and team number one Verstappen saw a move to a repackaged Renault F1 as a fresh start, but the Perth driver has endured a frustrating campaign with the Oxford-based team.
Having retired or finished the race with non-classicifation five times this season, the Australian’s best effort this term was in Monza, when denied a podium finish by Hamilton in finishing fourth. There have however, been signs of improvement in recent weeks, so could serious winter work in the off season pay off in 2020?
2019 has also seen the vital emergence of fresh blood in Alex Albon. With Frenchman Pierre Gasly failing to reach a standard required, the London-born Thai driver was promoted from sister team Toro Rosso, and the 23-year-old has already grabbed his chance with both hands, recording top six finishes in every race thus far since summer resumption in Belgium – including fourth in Suzuka three Rounds ago.
For the sizeable underdogs in the paddock, Haas, 2019 has been a tale of woe largely for the now dually-partnered Ferrari manufacturer, but whose drivers in both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean have been seated at the pack of the field rather than regular top ten finishers as the two were last season.
For Hamilton, Having become just the fourth man in F1 history to win three World Drivers’ Championships in succession, Hamilton continues to challenge the motor sport record books, but could he now go for the ultimate and what looked unattainable feat of seven world titles?
Schumacher for many will be the greatest F1 driver to ever grace the cockpit, but should the Briton draw level with the German next season, few could argue Hamilton as a serious contender to the Schumacher throne. But, he will have to earn that position, with it likely that next season could be Hamilton’s toughest yet, should all the pieces come together in Formula 1 .
The 2019 Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix takes place at Interlagos, between 15 and 17 November.
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