The debate is over: Lewis Hamilton *IS* one of the all-time F1 greats
Despite labouring through what was certainly his worst race of the season, on Sunday in Mexico Lewis Hamilton became only the fifth man in history to win four Formula 1 World Championship titles.
In the end, that he sealed the title without being able to add to his record of 62 Grand Prix victories or 72 pole positions did not matter. He is the 2017 champ - and he has wrapped up the title with two races to spare.
He is still three titles and 29 victories short of Michael Schumacher, but Hamilton already holds virtually every other meaningful F1 record - and he is only 32. He could easily race for another five years and wrap up every record going.
Records we all thought would never be broken when Schumacher finished setting them just over a decade ago.
He’s already had an incredible career and it’s far from over yet - but what *is* over is the debate about whether Hamilton is now one of the all time greats.
If it was ever in doubt, sealing his fourth title surely confirms that the Mercedes ace is right up there with Schumacher, Senna, Prost, Clark and Fangio.
I know writing that sentence will have dozens of you frantically writing rebuttals in the comments section below this article, but I believe we are witnessing a truly world class driver at the peak of his powers right now.
Let me try to counter some of the arguments that get thrown my way - and pre-empt some of the comments that will no doubt be written underneath this piece:
You’re only saying that because you are British and therefore biased in Hamilton’s favour
Well, yes I am British, but nationality has nothing to do with my opinion. Prost, Senna, Schumacher - none of them are British but that doesn’t mean I think any less of them as drivers.
If Hamilton was French, German or Armenian it would not alter my opinion of him or his extra-ordinary talents.
He’s had the best car for the last four years
Welp. Most of the time the best drivers find their way into the best cars (Fernando Alonso's last few years notwithstanding), because the best teams want to hire them. All the greats who achieved big things in F1 drove for the best teams and often had the best cars. You can’t win championships in a Sauber any more than you could in a Minardi or a Simtek.
Yes, Hamilton has driven for Mercedes throughout their period of dominance but Senna, Schumacher, Prost, Fangio and plenty more all enjoyed a significant car advantage at one point or another in their careers. Does that lessen the significance of their achievements?
He hasn’t always beaten his team-mate
It is of course true that Nico Rosberg beat Hamilton to the title in 2016. But Nico Rosberg is no Eddie Irvine.
In Rosberg, and before him Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, Hamilton has had to drive against seriously quick team-mates - and has never had team orders in his favour.
Consider this: other than two years with Heikki Kovalainen, up until this season, every team-mate Hamilton has ever raced with has been a world champion. The same cannot be said for Prost, Senna, Fangio and certainly not Schumacher.
He didn’t have to build a team like Schumacher built Ferrari
Sure, Schumacher played a significant part in creating the winning machine that Ferrari became in the 2000s, but he didn’t do it alone. It would not have been possible without Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Paolo Martinelli and a host of others. And there are those who were there at the time who insist Schumacher’s role in that team-building was less than has become the accepted wisdom.
Has Lewis had less to do with creating the Mercedes era of dominance? Perhaps, but perhaps that is because less was needed from him. What they needed from him was to drive the wheels off the car. And that’s what he has done.
Still don't agree?
I know there are plenty of people out there who will disagree. Plenty who will think it sacrilege that I’m even talking about Hamilton in the same breath as other titans of the sport. Plenty who somehow think his achievements mean less because he’s had a dominant car for several seasons. Plenty who dismiss him because he can be moody, petulant, non-conformist, and favours a celebrity lifestyle outside of the sport.
But I think Lewis has been special ever since he arrived in F1 as a rookie and got up to speed so quickly that he should have beaten his reigning double world champion team-mate to the title in his very first season.
He has shown how special he is at countless races like Canada in 2007 when he won in just his sixth ever Grand Prix.
Races like Silverstone in 2008 when he was in a different league to everyone else on the track.
Like Bahrain in 2014 when he came out on top in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle with team-mate Rosberg.
Like Fuji in 2007 when his wet weather mastery saw him win while Vettel, Webber and Alonso couldn’t keep it on track.
Like Brazil in 2008 when he sealed his first title in the most dramatic and emotional of circumstances.
There are plenty more we could name and there are plenty of records and numbers we could point to prove his greatness.
But in the end, the mark of the true greats is that ability to outperform team-mate, car and conditions time and again.
Think what you like about Hamilton’s personality, hobbies, celebrity friends and Jetset lifestyle, but it’s time he is recognised for what he is: one of the true greats in F1 history.