Best of all time?
Long ago, I gave up arguing about who is the best Formula 1 driver of all time. It’s a subjective thing, and while magazines use it to stir up discussion, interest and – of course – sales, there are no answers. The answer is what you want it to be – even for those dreadful people on social media who think they are always right about everything. Anyway, the only way one can make any quantitative judgements is using statistics – and, as Disraeli pointed out: There are ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics…’
By winning his 92nd victory, with a dominant display of ability at Portimao, in Portugal, Lewis Hamilton became the most successful race winner in F1 history – passing the mark set by Michael Schumacher back in 2006. That is really all we can say. You could analyse percentages, but that doesn’t take into account things like the level of the opposition. Nor how they were achieved. When all is said and done, I think the only thing we can do is respect anyone who wins a World Championship. I don’t think Lewis gets enough respect. Okay, he’s a bit quirky as a character, but, as a racing driver, he’s remarkable. And we should respect that. That doesn’t mean we should agree with everything he says, but we should respect his ability to drive racing cars faster than anyone else of his generation.
The signs are that Lewis will take that record over the 100-mark in the course of 2021, and may end next year with an eighth World Championship, which would eclipse Schumacher’s once-astonishing seven titles. But how much longer will Lewis go on racing after that? Even he does not know the answer to that question.
Lewis will celebrate his 36th birthday in January – three-and-a-half weeks after this F1 season ends in Abu Dhabi on December 13. No-one doubts that he will sign a new deal with Mercedes for 2021, but the big question is how long that new deal will be for.
‘I haven’t made any decisions, but I do want to stay,’ he said in Portugal. ‘When we do sit down, normally we plan in three-year periods, but, of course, we’re in a different time. Do I want to continue for three years? That’s also a question; there are many, many questions still to be answered. We’re also going into a new era of the car in 2022. So it kind of excites me, what could happen in 2022, in terms of what the cars are like.’
‘I guess, at some stage, we have to sit down and have the conversation, but it’s not a priority right now,’ he said at the recent Eifel Grand Prix. ‘Getting the job done – winning a seventh title – is for me, personally, this year the priority. That’s what I’m solely focused on right now.’
Lewis’s deals with Mercedes started with a three-year contract for 2013-2015, the second three-year deal covered 2016-2018, but he then decided on a two-year extension for 2019 and 2020. Another two-year deal could allow him to pass Schumacher’s record of World Championships if he wins in 2021, and would then give him a year to see how he likes the new formula – and how Mercedes does…
‘At the end of the day, I’ve always been committed to this team, and completely transparent,’ he said. ‘I know if you don’t have communication for a while, people can start to hear whispers or have fear. I could, for example, worry that Toto is speaking to somebody else. Which is silly, because I don’t think that. I’m just saying that’s what humans can do. So, it’s always been important just to be really clear with each other about our intentions. I haven’t spoken to anybody else, and I don’t plan to. At some stage, Toto and I will sit down and work out our path, moving forwards. We have achieved quite a lot together, and it’s quite remarkable what we’ve done together over these years. And we are still not done.’
Lewis says that part of his motivation is working with such a great team of people. People often laugh about him thanking the team after each win, but, for Lewis, this is an important reality.
‘I’ve got the best team behind me,’ he says. ‘They continuously inspire me. Each year, I come back to the factory and see these guys pumped up, focused and being incredibly smart and innovative. And also just so welcoming to me. You would have thought that, after all this time, we’d get fed up with each other but we don’t, there’s a real love within this team and I’m grateful for that. I love doing what I do. I love the challenge.’
Lewis does wonder about the future, and he is also smart enough to understand that he is going to miss it.
‘The sport, the smell of it, the whole aura and atmosphere it creates, is going to be difficult to let go,’ he added. ‘But, whilst I’m older, I feel as young as them, at least in spirit. I’m still very much a kid when I’m off the camera. That will probably change when I start seeing grey hairs and stuff, but I’m good for now.’
Personally, I love watching Lewis race. He’s a huge talent and the thing that makes him exceptional is that, unlike some of his predecessors, Lewis has never been underhand. He’s just been quick…
That is important to him – and that says a great deal about the man himself. Winning is all about winning fairly. If not, you’re cheating everyone – but most of all you’re cheating yourself.
Joe Saward has been covering Formula 1 full-time for over 30 years. He has not missed a race since 1988.