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Lewis Hamilton: Britain’s Greatest Ever Racing Driver?

Guest writer Nigel Chiu looks at Lewis Hamilton and what has made him so formidable within the racing world.

Credit: Steve Etherington / Mercedes-Benz

This is the first chapter in a new series that I will be doing over the coming months. I will look at one of the best racing drivers from their own country who are still racing now in whatever discipline they’re doing. Why are they the best driver from their country? Why are they the fastest? What makes them one of the best in the motorsport world? The first driver is from Britain.

Lewis Hamilton is the most successful British Formula 1 driver, that is a fact. I think that he is also the greatest British racing driver ever. Many love him, some hate him, but we can all agree that he is incredibly fast and naturally talented.

Now a four-time world champion, Hamilton is at the peak of his career. 2017 was his best year and it showed that he is on an all time high. His stats suggest that he is one of the sport’s greats. 62 wins (2nd of all-time); the record for the most pole positions with 72 and counting; the most front row starts; most pole positions in a debut season; most grand slams in a season; the list goes on and on. His speed which he shows in every race is sometimes unmatchable, even before the Mercedes dominance era. Then in the race, he can set consecutive laps which get faster and faster when chasing someone or pulling away from the rest of the field.

Not many racing drivers have a devastating pace which can make you a championship contender immediately when you arrive on the scene. That’s exactly what Hamilton did in 2007 in his first year. He finished 3rd on his debut race and after the Spanish Grand Prix, he was in the championship lead and became the youngest driver to ever lead the world championship.

Then in Canada, he took his maiden pole position and race win in dominant fashion. Canada is one of Hamilton’s best tracks. What’s unique about the circuit is the chicanes which can make or break your lap time. It’s these chicanes were Hamilton can take that extra bit of speed into the corner and carry it through the chicane to maximise the exit speed whilst trying to straighten the chicane to shorten the distance of the track. This is one of Lewis’s strengths. Canada requires very good breaking from the driver which is another big strength of Hamilton. It’s the braking phases of the lap where you can gain the most time on a lap and Hamilton is so good at finding the limit and applying the perfect amount of brake pressure to bot lose any time in the braking zone.

Credit: Mercedes-Benz

It’s something that he’s worked on since his karting days and he knows that he is a demon on the brakes. Remember Hamilton’s overtake at Monza on Räikkönen in 2007? It was very similar to Daniel Ricciardo’s move last year at the same place? Ricciardo is regarded as one of the best on the brakes as is Hamilton. Bad luck robbed the 33-year-old of a world championship in his first F1 season which would have been special and remarkable. It took a bit of luck one year later in Brazil to take the world championship and some people think that 2008 shouldn’t have been Hamilton’s year. He wasn’t quite as impressive but after the heartbreak a year before, who knows what it would have done to the Brit if he lost the championship again with one hand on the trophy.

Amazingly, in his 11 seasons in F1, Hamilton has won at least one race per season. Now you may say that he’s had one of the best cars every year but in 2009 his car was probably the 3rd/4th best car and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen didn’t even get on the podium that year. Then, in 2011, he always seemed to find himself on the same piece of track as Felipe Massa and it was a year of struggle yet 3 wins were still managed. 2012 would be his final year at McLaren in a car that was capable of a championship in the hands of Hamilton but five retirements is just too much when you want to beat the mighty Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. We missed an opportunity of Hamilton vs. Vettel vs. Alonso that year even though it was still a very exciting one. A move to Mercedes was a tough decision to make but it has paid off in abundance.

Whether this was pure luck or great communication with Ross Brawn about the future of the team and how good the car would be, Hamilton chose correctly. If it was the latter, then you have to give Hamilton credit for not just making good decisions on the track but also off the track. It’s part of being a racing driver and Hamilton got this vital, important decision just right whereas Fernando Alonso has got it wrong. His first year at Brackley was hard for the 2006 GP2 champion because he is so used to winning regularly but instead, the W04 suffered from high tyre wear and downforce on the medium to high-speed circuits in the races. Nonetheless, five pole positions in 2013 showed the speed of Hamilton as he got every hundredth out of the car in qualifying with his aggressive style.

Credit: Steve Etherington / Daimler

We all know that Hamilton had by far the best car in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Apart from three retirements the Stevenage born racer took podiums in every race that season. His teammate Nico Rosberg showed that he could match Hamilton at times for speed but when it came to racecraft he was second best. Rosberg proved that he was a very good driver, underrated in my opinion, yet Hamilton annihilated him at times and put in some stunning performances such as the Bahrain, Japanese and US Grand Prix. It was probably Hamilton’s worst championship winning performance because he wasn’t consistently quick across the season and it just felt slightly lacklustre.

In 2015, Hamilton was much better and he started to show that he was up there with Britain’s all-time greats. It was the fact that he won with three rounds remaining which was impressive when just a year before it went down to the final round. Something was lost which clearly affected his driving after winning a 3rd world championship as he struggled in the latter stages of 2015 and the early part of 2016. The qualifying pace went away and he couldn’t recover in the races. If Hamilton does have a weakness then it’s probably things that happen off the track which can affect his mood which then goes on to affect his driving and the extra edge which he either has or doesn’t have in qualifying when you need to get every thousandth out of the car. It may sound a bit strange but I feel that Hamilton does need his hand held sometimes and he definitely needs all of the team behind him to get the best out of himself and the car. That’s something we all learnt in 2016.

A clash in Spain, a collision in Austria, a frosty relationship and misfortune in Malaysia contributed to a championship loss. He did win that Austria race but the relationship between the team and himself and Rosberg wasn’t exactly pretty. Secrets were kept, not all of the data was shared, a few mind games were played, things that can get to Hamilton’s skin. I think the fact that Hamilton had a chance to win the title in Abu Dhabi was a bit surprising anyway because not much went his way that year. What impressed me the most was Hamilton’s pure class in the 3 wet races that year: Monaco, Britain and Brazil.

Credit: Steve Etherington / Daimler

He stole victory from Ricciardo with a very aggressive strategy by not changing to intermediate tyres. In Britain, Rosberg struggled whilst Hamilton romped away. He always brings out something special at his home Grand Prix and he’s now won the race 4 times in a row. Motivation seems to play another crucial part in Hamilton’s style because if you look at the races after Hamilton has won the championship (as an example) he lacks that edge and he’s still yet to win a race after winning the title. He says that he’s pushing 100% but you naturally don’t have the extra one or two percent that you would normally have because your big goal is already in the bag.

Although Verstappen took the headlines in Brazil 2016, Hamilton’s performance was equally as impressive and it shows that he’s arguably the best driver in the rain. His control and feel of the car as nearly 1000 break horsepower is charging through the engine to power you out of a corner is on another level. You can’t really teach a skill like that and it’s part of Hamilton’s natural ability. He didn’t go on to win the championship but some of his drives were superb.

I can assure you that I’m not a Hamilton fan, in fact I didn’t really like him until the last few years when I’ve come to respect him and appreciate what he’s done for the sport. When on top form he’s unbeatable, when given a decent car he can win, when it rains he’s be up towards the front, when the pressure is high he finds even more speed.

Lewis Hamilton, Britain’s best driver.

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