Since the first world championship season in 1950, only three drivers have won five or more Formula 1 (F1) titles. The first was Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentinian maestro who defied death and stood as a giant in his era. Half a century later, Michael Schumacher won his seventh title in 2004, marking a dominance unsurpassed in F1 history. Now in 2018 we have a third, Lewis Hamilton.
The first half of the season saw a tight contest in which Ferrari seemed to have the edge
Before the first race in Australia, this season was already marked out to be special. It was marketed as the ‘fight for five’, the contest between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win a fifth title. Along with Fernando Alonso, these two have exceeded the other drivers of this post-Schumacher generation. If you look at the final season standings, Hamilton beat Vettel by 88 points (almost 4 race victories), yet this does not tell the full story of a year in which Hamilton produced his masterpiece.
The first half of the season saw a tight contest in which Ferrari seemed to have the edge. Vettel took convincing wins in Australia and Canada, scored an impressive victory in Bahrain, and then capped this half of the season by winning Hamilton’s home race in Britain during the dying laps.
Vettel then cracked, losing speed and making more costly mistakes in Italy, Japan, and the US
From there it began to unravel as Vettel began to make mistakes and Hamilton found his stride. The turning point came in Germany, where Vettel seemed to be cruising towards his fifth win of the season when he lost the car and crashed. Hamilton produced a characteristically superb drive in the wet to take the win away from Vettel. Vettel then cracked, losing speed and making more costly mistakes in Italy, Japan, and the US.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was untouchable, and nowhere was this more evident than Singapore. This demanding street circuit had often been Mercedes’ Achilles’ heel, and people believed Vettel could claw back some points here. Yet Hamilton produced his greatest lap to put his car on pole position and didn’t look back. In his lap for pole position comparisons to his hero Ayrton Senna were inevitable, but in his measured drive he more closely evoked Senna’s rival Alain Prost.
While Hamilton flourished, his teammate Valtteri Bottas failed to show any of the ability that earned him the Mercedes seat
Hamilton wrapped up the title in Mexico, but really this had been inescapable since Singapore. The rhetoric between him and Vettel has been one of respect, which has been refreshing after tedious rivalries such as that between Hamilton and Rosberg. But this would likely not have been the case had Vettel stood as a match to Hamilton.
The title fight has not been the only interesting story this season. While Hamilton flourished, his teammate Valtteri Bottas failed to show any of the ability that earned him the Mercedes seat. Max Verstappen showed during the latter half of the season that he could be a match for Vettel and Hamilton if Red Bull can deliver him a race-winning car next season. Sauber’s Charles Leclerc also displayed all the promise he has shown in junior categories and has earned a promotion to Ferrari next season alongside Vettel.
When the sport was looking for a great driver to ascend and take his place among the greats, Hamilton has done so
Further down the field Fernando Alonso decided to bow out of the sport for now. Alongside, and maybe above, Hamilton and Vettel he has been the standout driver of his generation. He won two world championships in 2005 and 2006, being the driver to finally stop Michael Schumacher’s dominance of the sport. Since then he has been plagued by poor and unlucky career choices, and has not found himself in a great car since 2010. It is a testament to his skill that he is still revered as he is. Many are sad to see Alonso leave, as he is a superb ambassador for the sport and definitely has another world championship in him. Maybe with rule changes in 2020 or 2021 we will see him return.
In the end this season has been all about Hamilton. When the sport was looking for a great driver to ascend and take his place among the greats, Hamilton has done so. To name the greatest driver in F1 history is an exercise in futility, but Hamilton is definitely in the conversation. He already stands as one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen. Perhaps he even deserves more credit in this regard. How many other Britons can say they have dominated their sport for such an extended period of time, and established themselves as an all-time great?