By Carol M. Creasey
When Lewis Hamilton made his Formula 1 debut in 2007, the media immediately started to talk and write about him.
Here was a 22 year old rookie, teamed with a double world champion, Fernando Alonso, and he was immediately matching, and sometimes beating the two-time champion. It became obvious that Lewis was a special talent. In 2007, he missed winning the championship by just one point, but a year later he won it by one point. He was 23 years old.
Then the media went into a frenzy writing about him, but unfortunately their coverage was not always favourable. This Briton was not like the other drivers, he was into music, fashion, he had piercings and wore jewellery – he was different, and many sought to complain about it.
He was the first Black driver to grace the grid, and he was unfortunately often faced with racist remarks, and old fashioned biased attitudes. As he had already suffered racial abuse at school, and also during his karting days, he learned to deal with the negativity, and it defined his character, making him strong minded and determined to be the best.
When he left McLaren to join Mercedes in 2013, many people sneered at his decision. At the time Mercedes was only a midfield team, and even the great Michael Schumacher was unable to lift the team up and help them regularly win races.
But then the turbo hybrid era had arrived, and the Mercedes car became a winner. The team was dominant between 2014 and 2016, allowing Lewis to win two championships, while his team-mate Nico Rosberg won one in 2016. At the end of 2016, Rosberg retired from the sport, and Valtteri Bottas became Lewis’ team-mate.
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Ferrari now had a fast car, with one advantage over the Mercedes – it went well at every track, while the Mercedes has often been a diva – certain tracks just did not suit it. In those days Lewis’ main title rival was Sebastian Vettel, who for two years in a row managed to be ahead on points midway through the season. However, on both occasions, Lewis came into his own in the second part of the season, and by 2020 he had reached seven championships, level with Michael Schumacher, but he outscored him with the amount of wins and poles.
In 2021 Red Bull produced a very fast car, while Mercedes was struggling a bit, especially in the first part of the season. Lewis fought valiantly all season against Max Verstappen, but by the last four races of the season, Lewis was 21 points adrift of the Dutchman. However, after winning three consecutive races, they went into the last race at Abu Dhabi on equal points.
In the final race of the season, Lewis outpaced Verstappen and was heading toward his eighth championship. However, ahead of the final lap of the race, race director Michael Masi decided to disregard the safety car rules, basically giving Verstappen the win and the title on a silver platter. It was obvious that Verstappen with fresher tyres would win, and even though Mercedes lodged a complaint after the race, the stewards closed ranks, and Verstappen was declared champion of 2021. At the time Red Bull team boss Christian Horner remarked that in a week or so it would all be forgotten, but one year later, the controversial race continues to dominate headlines, with more and more journalist openly stating that Hamilton was “robbed”.
Naturally after coming to terms with this situation, Lewis came back in 2022 wanting to claim his championship back, but unfortunately the Mercedes car was no more than third fastest on the grid, with severe porpoising issues.
The media swung into action again, some saying Lewis might retire, and others saying he had lost his motivation, pointing to his team-mate George Russell outscoring him. Although Toto Wolff has pointed out many times that once Lewis realized he did not have a car capable of fighting for the championship, he worked hard to help his team discover what was wrong. He was at the factory for hours, using the simulator, and in Toto’s words: “Using his wealth of experience to help us in order to improve the car.” He also said recently that Lewis is more than just a driver at Mercedes – he is an integral part of the team, and he has been the one to keep the team’s spirits up during these difficult times.
However, none of this has stopped certain observers from speculating that Lewis is now past it, and that Russell is the new no. 1 driver. What they choose to ignore is that the points in 2022 did not matter, what mattered was getting the car right for 2023. Russell has done really well in his first year with the team, and he has acknowledged how much Lewis had helped him, and even referred to his work ethic as inspirational.
Ultimately, if Mercedes managed to solve their problems, both Hamilton and Russell will have the benefit of a fast car to fight with this year. Already the pundits are saying the season will be heated between them, but what they don’t seem to realise is that at 38 years old, and with the amount of success he has had up until now, it wouldn’t even faze him if George does beat him. His records stand, and until someone gets eight championships and 104 wins, he remains the GOAT. I am sure he will remain the most written about and most talked about driver forever. Even his haters can’t stop talking about him. Good luck next season Sir Lewis, you are no quitter, and your strength of character is to be admired!
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