This weekend we all got to witness a single race that demonstrates just how great a driver Lewis Hamilton is. The Turkish Grand Prix was a pure masterclass of the patience, determination, driving skill, tire management and strategy that Hamilton has developed over the course of his record-breaking career. In qualifying it was plain to see that the Mercedes chassis didn’t really respond well to water on the track surface, and he could do no better than sixth on the grid. Hamilton, and the Mercedes team backing him, were hardly confident of a result going into Sunday’s GP. But then he won anyway.
From his very first season in F1, Hamilton has finished behind a teammate in the championship only twice. And one of those times was 2016 when he finished five points shy of Nico Rosberg, who won that championship. The guy has been on it from the word go, falling just one point shy of the championship in his rookie year. He won the sixth Grand Prix he ever competed in as a 22-year-old driver.
People thought Michael Schumacher’s seven title career would never be broken. From 264 starts, Hamilton has won 94 races and taken 97 pole positions. He’s good in qualifying, he’s good in the race, he’s just plain good. Think about it this way, of the 1031 Grands Prix run in history, Lewis Hamilton has won 9.11 percent of them. That stat alone makes Lewis’ career appear truly insane. And he’s only 35 and still at the top of his game.
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always had Lewis Hamilton’s back. I lived in Spain when Fernando Alonso won his first title, and like the entire country my blood ran Renault blue and yellow for those two years, then silver and orange when he moved to McLaren. He’d ended the Schumacher dynasty, he was the king-slayer. And here comes this cocky young Brit who thinks he can square up and throw hands with Alonso? Pah!
And then, well, he did. I have seen only one F1 race in person, the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix, which Hamilton won handily over Alonso. I was distraught, but even then I could admit to myself that the cocky little kid actually had some talent to back it all up. Over the years there has been a lot of vitriol spewed about Hamilton, not least of all because of the pigment of his skin. It’s taken some time, but he’s grown and matured as a man and as a driver; through it all he’s just kept his head down and driven the best race he can.
There are still detractors, like Sir Jackie Stewart, who called for Hamilton to be fired by Mercedes in 2016 for his actions at the season finale. Most of the guff that Hamilton gets is in the form of praise for the Mercedes team, saying he wouldn’t be winning all of these races if it weren’t for the car underneath him being the best of the grid. While it’s true that the Mercedes is clearly a dominant car, one need only look to the inconsistent record of teammate Valtteri Bottas for the Lewis Hamilton Effect.
Bottas has won two GPs this season to Hamilton’s 10. Even if you discount Hamilton and promote Bottas’s second-place finishes to victories, he would gain only five. Look at just this most recent race and you’ll see Hamilton converted a sixth place starting position into a win, while Bottas started ninth, fell to 14th by hitting everyone and their mother on the way down, and was lapped by his champion teammate. If Mercedes were forced to rely on Bottas to carry the flag for the team alone, Sergio Perez would have won this race. Same car, very different result. Bow before your GOAT and kiss the ring, Valtteri.
And perhaps the greatest thing about Hamilton? He’s not going to just shut up and drive. He’s a climate activist, an equality activist, he speaks truth to power and people pay attention because of his talent. Hamilton is a true up-from-nothing story, coming from a modest middle-class background racing at the local karting track to become the greatest F1 driver of all time. It took me a while to admit it, but after witnessing the 2020 season and the enormous adversity that Hamilton faced this season — yet still coming out on top by a landslide — I can’t deny it any longer.
The ride isn’t over. With these cars remaining pretty much the same for the 2021 season, it’s quite likely that Mercedes will still carry an impressive advantage over the rest of the field. Though it’s not official yet, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Hamilton will be back in the No. 44 seat, ready to take his eighth World Driver’s Championship. If he keeps a similar win rate to this season, he’ll have won more than 10 percent of all the F1 races in history by this time next year. Nobody can touch that. At least not for quite some time.