Briton matches Michael Schumacher’s seven titles having recently surpassed his total of race wins
A report by Rebecca Clancy for The Times of London.
As Lewis Hamilton sat in the confines of his cockpit, no lonelier a place in this sport, he wept.
The magnitude of what he had achieved had hit him and he could no longer contain his emotions as he realised that his life’s work had made him the most successful driver in Formula One history — a record-equalling seventh world drivers’ title and a 94th victory extending his record for race wins.
There he sat, at the apex of his sport, at the apex of British sport, his name etched in the pantheon of greats, alone with his thoughts.
This is not an individual sport, however, and as he collected the winner’s trophy for victory at the Turkish Grand Prix, it was right that Toto Wolff, the team principal at Mercedes and the architect of their success, was up there to celebrate with his driver.
Hamilton, 35, had no business winning yesterday’s race and that is perhaps the greatest mark of a champion. How many times in his career have we seen him claim victory in the most unlikely of situations?
The Istanbul circuit was recently resurfaced, making it ideal for figure skaters but a huge challenge for Formula One drivers. Rain on Saturday compounded the issue and Hamilton was only sixth-fastest in qualifying. With a great start, he was up to third by the first corner, yet in wet conditions all the drivers were struggling for grip and even Hamilton, a master in the wet, spun and was pushed back down the pack on the second lap.
But there was no panic. Hamilton does not win his championships by making rash decisions. He rarely makes mistakes, or attempts the more questionable moves often attributed to other greats such as Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton’s crew massed on the barriers at the finish to cheer the 2020 champion over the line
So many times in his career we have seen that his patience and ability to read a race like few others can —including those sitting on the pitwall with all the information in front of them — lead him to victory.
All he had to do to wrap up this championship was finish ahead of Valtteri Bottas, his team-mate, the only other title contender. The Finn had started ninth but a spin on the first lap meant that he dropped to 18th. Hamilton would have known this; known that he could ease off and finish the race where he was at that point, in sixth position. In fact, with Bottas out of the points, Hamilton did not need to finish at all to claim the title, but that is not how his mind works. Anything less than victory is a bad day for him.
How fitting it was that he could battle it out again with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel here. The German was a worthy opponent for two seasons in 2017 and 2018 when he had the faster car but of course Hamilton does not need the fastest car to win. The pressure he applied that season forced Vettel into enough mistakes for Hamilton to come out on top.
As shown in qualifying, rain can be the greatest leveller in this sport and it lashed it down just before the race. The Racing Point drivers looked well suited to this track, with the 22-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll grabbing his maiden pole position and Sergio Pérez, his team-mate, qualifying in third.
The Red Bulls had also looked handy, with Max Verstappen starting second, but the Mercedes duo were off the pace.
That matters little to Hamilton. His race craft is superior to his peers and he knows it. All the drivers, bar the two Williamses of Nicholas Latifi and George Russell, started on the full wet tyres, with the track covered in standing water.
As the track dried out, it was time to move to the intermediate tyres. Hamilton stopped on lap eight and what happened next was a herculean effort from the Englishman.
He still had 50 laps until the end of what was shaping up to be a race that would use up most of the allotted two-hour window. As other drivers struggled to make the tyres work, Hamilton carried on.
Despite his best efforts he could not pass Vettel, but his old rival eventually pitted for a second time in his Ferrari, handing Hamilton the place. With Pérez and Stroll ahead, Hamilton was lapping two seconds faster than the front-runners and closing on them quickly.
Stroll was struggling on his tyres and, having led for 36 laps, eventually pitted again for fresh intermediates, only to complain shortly afterwards that he was having problems with them. He quickly started dropping back down the field and eventually had to settle for ninth in a race that he seemed to have command of.
In reality, he didn’t have command of the race. Hamilton did and passed Pérez with seeming ease, though if you looked closely you could see the world champion go off the racing line and back into the soaking wet track to make the move stick.
It was at this moment, with a little under half the race to go, that the engraver could have started to etch Hamilton’s name on to the drivers’ championship trophy for the seventh time.
Radio messages went back and forth about the possibility of putting on the tyres for a dry track but Hamilton dismissed any chance of that. So the radio messages changed to suggesting that he should pit for fresh intermediates but again Hamilton dismissed that out of hand. He is the master when it comes to managing tyres.
Hamilton, leading the race, did not stop again and completed 50 laps on a tyre others could make last only 25. To rub salt into the wounds of Bottas, he lapped him with more than 20 laps left.
Bottas, 31, had possibly the worse race of his season, at just the moment he needed to be at the very top of his game. His first-lap spin was followed by another five pirouettes across the track and he was never in the points, finishing 14th. It is all well and good having a fast car but in these conditions a light touch is required, with cat-like reactions as the car slides all over the track.
Hamilton clinched the title with three races remaining and has a huge 110-point lead over his team-mate, but those numbers no longer matter.
Of course Hamilton is in the best car, just as Schumacher, Senna and many more before him were, but it is not just the car. He is, without question, the greatest driver of his generation and arguably the greatest British athlete ever.