Will Lewis Hamilton’s legacy be tarnished without that famous red stamp of approval?

Numbers do sometimes speak louder than names: 260 starts in Formula One, with 90 victories, a total of 159 podiums and counting; all powered by Mercedes. That is a brief, but compelling resumé of one man: Lewis Hamilton.

I was sceptical of anyone ever closing in on all those Schumacher records, yet Lewis has already overwritten several of those and having recently surpassed the German legend’s record 91 wins, he is tantalisingly close to equalling his 7 drivers’ titles, and deservingly so. Some have argued over the years that a spell with Ferrari would be the jewel in Lewis’ sporting crown. In hindsight, many of these claims were merely the product of paddock gossip, with such an agreement yet to be close to coming to fruition. If such a contract were ever to be signed, Hamilton would become the tenth Englishman to drive in Maranello, adding to the 155 starts and 13 race wins brought in by the likes of Mike Hawthorn, John Surtees or Nigel Mansell.

To question Hamilton’s professional worth without the Ferrari experience is cynical, unjust and frankly pointless, in my opinion. I remember being dazzled by his raw speed and assertive driving that yielded 2 victories and 4 pole positions, in an arguably mediocre McLaren, back in 2009. In his youth, he was extremely inconsistent, regularly producing race-ending errors, alongside his moments of brilliance. His battles with teammate and childhood rival Nico Rosberg between 2014 and 2016 reaffirmed his speed, consistency and fighting spirit. As I see it, the 2016 title loss to Rosberg pushed Hamilton to dig even deeper, re-evaluating his approach. His subsequent battles with Sebastian Vettel only showed him to be ever-more consistent and resilient.

A victory or drivers’ title success in F1 is of equal value, regardless of the team or context. It has taken me years to comprehend but I genuinely believe Hamilton is on a par with true greats like Michael Schumacher or his idol, Ayrton Senna. He is instinctive, clever and much more of a team player than he is often given credit for, as his returning of 3rd place to Valtteri Bottas in the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix attests to.

Finally, it has to be said, Hamilton will also be remembered for his various endeavours outside of the cockpit. As I see it, his fights for diversity and climate change, in addition to his general enterprising character, make him an outstanding figure that will go down forever in the history of the sport, regardless of the teams featured on his resumé.

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Sebastian Lajos

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July 2021
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