Lewis Hamilton’s career hit dizzying new heights in Mexico, securing his fifth World Championship – something that only the Maestro, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have done before.
And while Hamilton’s race was conservative, with the Brit finishing fourth after struggling on the supersoft tyres – his season has been supreme as he fought back from a strong Ferrari start.
It’s been an incredible campaign for the 33-year-old, who stormed through mid-season, winning six of the last nine races, from Germany to Japan, his total of nine this year two off his 2014 record of 11.
And it’s an achievement lauded by those who have gone before him, with 1980 F1 World Champion, Alan Jones speaking exclusively to The Inside Line on another successful Hamilton campaign.
SOUNDBITE (English) ALAN JONES,
1980 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“You’ve got to give it to Mercedes, they’ve given him an unbelievable car, which they have done over the last several years. He’s on top of his game at the moment.”
It’s a run that’s been in part aided by his rival’s competitive collapse, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel making a series of embarrassing mistakes – while the team went down a blind alley with upgrades costing performance.
… despite team principal Maurizio Arrivabene giving his full support.
SOUNDBITE (Italian) MAURIZIO ARRIVABENE,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, FERRARI:
“At this level, I believe they're all really strong pilots. Hamilton is having a remarkable season this year, but I don't think Sebastian is any worse than him, and neither is Kimi.”
The watershed moment came at Hockenheim, where Vettel skidded into the Sachs curve barriers in wet conditions, handing Hamilton the lead of the championship, and an ominous 17-point advantage.
With the silverware now in the bag, the focus turns to the final two races – and whether the Brit will continue his winning streak.
Or back off from his ultimate performance, something he has done in the past, famously in 2015 – when Nico Rosberg won three-straight.
But on the horizon, Hamilton has a far bigger challenge to consider and it involves the sport’s biggest records, once thought unbreakable.
Many of them are still held by Michael Schumacher, who has seven world championships, 91 race wins, 77 fastest laps, and 155 podiums. Hamilton holds the record for pole positions, with 81.
But at least equalling Schumacher’s seven titles is no doubt the holy grail – and, on this, 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill said last year he could see Hamilton getting to six.
SOUNDBITE (English) DAMON HILL,
1996 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“He's still got time. It's harder as you get older I think and opportunities don't always come along, but a man of his calibre, I'm sure he'll be in the frame for one or possibly two more championships.”
Hamilton is certainly capable. But regulation changes for next year to help improve closer racing, and a potential teammate swap in 2020, with Valtteri Bottas potentially making way for a hungry Esteban Ocon, make it difficult to know whether he’ll be able to become statistically the greatest.
… let alone if the Brit wants to climb that mountain.
SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
5-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I've never really had the dream to chase Michael [Schumacher] or chase other people's titles.”
Regardless, Hamilton is now one of the greats. One who’s on equal terms with the late, great Fangio; winning titles with multiple constructors’, which is something both the Argentine and Schumacher did.
And a two-year $100 million US dollar contract will provide a lot of motivation to keep racing in the greatest sport in the world - while he works out what he’ll do in 2021 and beyond.