Four Formula One world championships, by any yardstick, is a remarkable achievement. Lewis Hamilton’s accomplishment in Mexico might simply be measured by the company he now keeps in the record books. He has one more title than Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Jack Brabham – a breathtaking array of talent. He shares four with Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel and only two drivers have more – Juan Manuel Fangio on five and Michael Schumacher’s seven. Yet perhaps what is most striking is that he has joined their company with his greatest season yet and a title that has proved the hardest and most gratifying to secure.
Hamilton’s three previous championships, in 2008 for McLaren and for Mercedes in 2014 and 2015, were without doubt impressive but this season he has been pushed to the limit. His battle with Ferrari’s Vettel has demanded the obvious requirements of raw pace and race craft but so much more. He has had to display maturity, composure and attention to detail. It has required him to be calm under the pressure being applied by a four-times world champion, where the slightest misjudgements would be punished, and to repeatedly run error-free, flawless meetings.
Which is not to play down his previous successes. In 2008 he was in a genuinely tough fight with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa that went to the wire, passing Timo Glock on the last corner of the last lap in Brazil for the fifth place he needed to secure the championship. There were high points – in the wet at Silverstone he was magnificent. But errors too, not least when he hit Kimi Raikkonen parked under the red light at the pit-lane exit in Canada and his lock-up at turn one in Japan that forced Raikkonen wide and resulted in a drive-through penalty.
“In 2008 I was a kid,” Hamilton admitted here. “I had all the natural talent I have today but I didn’t have the knowledge and experience. I’m now fighting a championship-winning team in Ferrari and a champion driver but I’m much better equipped than I was in 2008.”