If you’ve been following the Formula 1 World Championship for the past couple of years you’ll have no doubt recognised a pattern when it comes to the performances of Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
For a second year in a row we’ve had a resurgent Fin, Valtteri 2.0 in 2019, and Valtteri 3.0 in 2020 but despite his strong and promising starts, Lewis Hamilton seems to quickly turn the tide. The Briton’s relentless consistency and ability to extract the maximum from the car week in week out with one, maybe two driver errors in an entire year is a result of talent, hard work, and incremental improvement over many seasons.
Just when Valtteri seems to have the measure of Lewis in practise, the Lewis goes and pulls out a Senna-like qualifying performance to demoralise not only his teammate but the entire field. Half a second was the difference between himself and Bottas in Spa Francorchamps this weekend. That’s like Novak Djokovic beating Rafa Nadal 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. At Roland Garros. Epic.
Would Hamilton have the same amount of success if someone like Max Verstappen was in the other Mercedes? We don’t know. Sure Max is a special talent but sometimes drivers are so dialled into their car and the team, it’s difficult for anyone to make inroads. Just look at how Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull era of 2010-2013 became so dominant. Seb was untouchable much like Lewis today. Yet come 2014 and the post-blown diffuser era, Seb struggled against a hungry Daniel Ricciardo and has still struggled, particularly in 2020, to find synergy with his car at Ferrari.
How would Lewis handle a less competitive Mercedes Formula 1 car? How would he be measured in 2022 if the Mercedes is only the third best car? It would be hard not to jump to conclusions and say “Oh look he’s lost it”, but as is always the case, it’s your teammate you’re judged against first. Such is the determination of the man, it would be hard not imagine Lewis still having the measure of anyone he goes up against.
Age does not seem to worry him, and as long as he remains fit, healthy, and sharp, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for what he could achieve for not only himself but in the record books as well.
The last five years we’ve seen elite athletes such as Roger Federer and Valentino Rossi get written off multiple times due to their age. Yet time and time again they have changed our perceptions of what we thought was possible, our bias driven by those who have chosen to retire in the past. The mind is an incredible thing and as long as the intense desire is there to compete at the highest level and combined with sophisticated physical training regimes, then boundaries will continue to be reset.
Lewis may end up losing a little bit of speed, call it a tenth, in the next five years but given his recent performances he’s still got another 4 tenths in the bag. It’s not just driver speed however, it’s always the driver and car as a package. The experience Lewis now has means he can find time in the car where others simply can’t.
One lap pace does not win a championship however, and race craft, experience in how to manage tyres, and that consistency that he has means he has every opportunity to continue to dominate.
After Spa Francorchamps 2020 he has almost a two-race buffer over Max Verstappen in the Red Bull with (at the time of writing) 10 races left to run. Only an engine failure like he had at Malaysia in 2016 which allowed Nico Rosberg to take control of the championship and just hold on take the title, would stop Lewis from winning again. Even if that did happen he’s got another 22 points to play with and given Valtteri and Max are trying hard to take points off each other, it leaves Lewis free to surge ahead.
The record books are being re-written at the end of almost every race and the 2020 Formula 1 world championship is looking like it’s going to belong to Lewis Hamilton, equally Michael Schumacher’s total of 7. The only way a driver can achieve such lofty heights is stable rules and a dominant car, yet they still have to deliver week in week out. And quite simply, that’s what Lewis is doing.