HE’S got the record, but is Lewis Hamilton the greatest Formula 1 driver ever? PETER COSTER reports:
THE tiny figure with a camera on top of the empty grandstand roof looking down on the podium at the Portuguese Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton’s father.
Anthony Hamilton was there to record this son’s 92nd Grand Prix victory, breaking the record set by Michael Schumacher and making it almost certain the British driver will equal Schumacher’s seven world championships this season.
Hamilton’s proud dad and his camera have been with his son on a journey that started when Lewis Hamilton was a child, living with his family in a council house in Stevenage in Hertfordshire, a town once described by Charles Dickens as “drowsy in the dullest degree.”.
Anthony Hamilton worked on the railways, grasping at every opportunity to promote his son to team owners through go-karts and junior formulas. Lewis Hamilton at the age of five had declared he wanted to be a racing driver.
The difference between Hamilton and all those other kids who dream of being Grand Prix drivers is that he is now at the pinnacle of the world’s most expensive sport, being paid $75 million a year, with total earnings of $400 million.
There seemed to be few words between them father and son after Lewis Hamilton jumped from his Mercedes following his Portuguese victory. They hugged. The fans were not in the grandstands because of the virus but Hamilton’s triumph could not have been greater.
“There were no words,” said his father. “It was an absolutely unbelievable day. It took me back to when Lewis started karting at eight years of age. It is the culmination of all our dreams. We were both just dumbfounded. Don’t forget we started off in a council house when Lewis was five or six years of age. We had no idea we would end up here.”
McLaren boss Ron Dennis was the first to recognise what was a prodigious talent, giving Hamilton a place in the team’s young driver program.
He won the first of his six driver world championships with McLaren in 2008 before moving to Mercedes in 2013 and winning five more with a seventh title surely certain this season. With five races to go, Hamilton leads by 77 points.
And then there is next year for the 35-year-old driver who shows no sign of losing his competitive edge, let alone retiring.
Is he the greatest grand prix driver of all time?
Statistically he is, but as Jackie Stewart said after Sunday’s race, you can only be the best of your time. Comparisons will be made, but Stewart is right. The Scot won three world championships, as did Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Jack Brabham.
Juan Manuel Fangio won five and Sebastian Vettel, now enduring the worst season of his career with Ferrari won four, as did Frenchman Alain Prost.
Stirling Moss failed to win a world championship but is regarded as one of the greats and even superior to Fangio in sports cars.
There have been six double champions since the championship started in 1950. Fernando Alonso, who won in 2005 and 2006, will replace Daniel Ricciardo at Renault next season.
The Australian driver, as with Lewis Hamilton in 2008, hopes driving a McLaren with a Mercedes engine next year, will bring him his first world title.Embed from Getty Images
You can only beat those who drive alongside you and while champions often drive the best cars, there are some who were able to win in spite of the machinery they drove.
Some combined a ruthless determination with their talent, such as Schumacher, who drove into Damon Hill in the Adelaide Grand Prix in 1994.
Hill took the inside line on a corner but Schumacher who had hit the wall in his Benneton turned in on Hill as the Williams driver tried to pass. Both cars failed to finish, but Schumacher won the world championship by point.
Bernie Ecclesdtone was to say: “Schumacher is a ruthless, brutal driver who would do anything to win. If he can live with what he did, that’s it.”
Ironically, Schumacher is now either in a coma from a skiing accident or conscious but unable to communicate.
Jack Brabham, a hard racer, who once pushed his car to the finish in a Grand Prix, said Schumacher had done the only thing he could do.
Who among all these drivers can be judged superior to Hamilton is impossible to say. Some will say it was Fangio at the Nurburgring in 1957.
The Argentine master broke the lap record nine times, seven in consecutive laps, after falling nearly a minute behind Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins in their Ferraris after a wheel nut rolled under the car during a pit stop.
It is regarded as the greatest chase in Grand Prix history.
At the Algarve circuit in Portugal on Sunday, Hamilton pulled back the lead after starting on pole before then being passed by teammate Valtteri Bottas and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.
Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo picked up nine places in the first lap, getting up to sixth.
Cars were being shuffled forward and back by differences in grip. The long run down the straight with DRS available meant it was almost too easy to pass the car in front.
The race itself finished as expected with Hamilton regaining the lead and taking first place by 25 seconds. He lapped most of the field.
Hamilton is one of the fairest and most consistent drivers on the grid.
Would Jim Clark, a two-time world champion have been quickest? Clark was to die in a Formula Two race after a mechanical failure. Perhaps it might have been Ayrton Senna, who died when his steering column snapped in his McLaren in Italy in 1994?
The answer is there can be no answer.
But the car-struck kid from a council house, whose father helped him achieve his dream in the unlikeliest of circumstances, is the greatest driver of his time.