Reaching new heights: how did Hamilton become champion?

Lewis Hamilton

Written by Jamie Downes (@JamieDownes11)

With his 4th place in Mexico City last weekend, Lewis Hamilton assured his place in F1 legend.

The Briton’s 5th world drivers championship elevated him above the likes of Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost. Hamilton now stands shoulder to shoulder with Juan Manuel Fangio.

Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 WDC’s, once thought of as unobtainable, is now tantalisingly close for Hamilton. But how did he bring home trophy number 5?

Despite the unquestionable power of the Mercedes car, this season was not a leisurely for Hamilton, not at all. In fact, after Vettel’s victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, the Briton was arguably the underdog for the championship.

Through impressive technical development and research, in Belgium the Ferrari was on par, if not faster, on the straights than the Mercedes. Although in the end a second place finisher by some distance, Sebastian Vettel put in some impressive performances throughout the year.

As much as Hamilton’s talent contributed to his 5th world title, Ferrari themselves played a part in their own downfall. Ever since Belgium, each race has been one blunder after another.

Whether it was having the wrong driver on pole in Monza (Raikkonen, not Vettel), illegitimate calls over tires and pit stops, or simply underperforming in terms of speed, the latter part of the season has been a disaster for the team from Maranello.

Vettel too, has needlessly thrown away championship points. The German Grand Prix, when Vettel spun off and out of the race while comfortably leading, is a prime example of a lack of consistency from the ex-world champion.

Through it all, Hamilton’s experience and talent allowed him to achieve performances that really shouldn’t have been possible. In Hungary, in torrential rain, Hamilton’s wet weather brilliance allowed him to qualify on pole, and take the resulting victory.

In Singapore during qualifying, a track where Mercedes are known to be weak, Hamilton produced a lap of sheer mesmeric quality, that his race engineer Peter Bonnington (only half jokingly) described it as one of the greatest in Formula One history. Second place Valterri Bottas in the sister Mercedes was 0.7 seconds off Hamilton. There was said to be stunned silence in the Mercedes garage as the lap time was registered.

Conversely, Hamilton has also played it cool this season. Fighting battles only if they need to be fought, staying (mostly) out of the way of danger. Allowing himself to be passed for podium positions in Mexico was a prime example of this mature approach to racecraft. Hamilton knew he only needed 7th or better for the title, so why fight?

What next?

At 33 years of age, Hamilton has a lot of time left in Formula One. Despite his jetsetting Hollywood lifestyle, his passion for the sport has clearly not diminished. If he can maintain this level of performance, and Mercedes maintain their status as the team to beat, Schumacher’s record of seven championships could be in very grave danger.