Going into the Mexican Grand Prix last weekend, Lewis Hamilton needed only to finish seventh or higher and he would secure his fifth world drivers title. Barring a mechanical failure, that seemed like a pretty easy task, considering that when Hamilton has been forced to the rear of the grid he has managed to make his way to the top five. His title run, therefore, had a feeling like a fait accompli, done deal.
Sure enough, that came to pass.
Hamilton limped his Mercedes home to a fourth-place finish and then started the party. The result looks decent but consider that he was the last car on the lead lap as Max Verstappen put together one masterful race, starting with his move to take the lead at the opening and squeeze out both his teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Hamilton.
From there, Hamilton simply managed his driving. In a peculiar turn, however — in what was supposed to be a crowning achievement as he joined Juan Manuel Fangio as the only other driver with five titles — Hamilton suffered through one of the worst drives of the season as his car refused to ever get with the track, providing a challenge with a slipping rear end and tyres that fell off too quickly in an effort to compensate.
The way of looking at his performance, really, is to acknowledge that he did what he needed and got what he could. A better way of considering his performance is to remark that he did what champions do: clinched the title. Any questions, derision, or logical gymnastics should be pushed toward the Mercedes engineering department, one that has been stellar all year.
His fifth title further pushes Hamilton into rarefied air and, of course, because the sports-yak and internet pundit world requires it, brings about the question: Is Hamilton the greatest of all time?
The reaction here: Ugh! Seriously, that’s what we’re on about? Hamilton is 20 wins behind Michael Schumacher and still two championships in arrears. Hamilton, without question, is one of the best drivers the sport has ever had. Determining a GOAT seems to be the way to get clicks, listeners and viewers and really is just a bunch of wasted words and hot air. It’s topical nonsense and bloviated BS brought on by the 24/7 news cycle of the modern age.
Hamilton still rocks and has a number of years left to cement himself as an icon and a rare talent. We can all check in on him when he decides to announce his retirement from the sport, taking along his ridiculous statistics and outsized personality, and thus moving on to his Hamilton brand empire of media, fashion, and who knows what else. For now…Kudos to Lewis Hamilton!
Odds & Sods
- Put this bit of news down in the peculiar file. Marcus Ericsson, who has been relegated to the reserve driver role at Sauber for next year after driving for the team the past four years, will be making the move to IndyCar next season, driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The odd aspect isn’t that he will be able to continue his career as a driver and make a foray into another series but rather how that move was kept so quiet.
While it’s understandable that Fernando Alonso grabs a lot of headlines and is an intriguing and popular figure, that he couldn’t manage to make an IndyCar season work while the less-considered Ericsson will be in the series full time is just kind of funny. That doesn’t mean that the switch won’t be perfect for Ericsson. It also showcases that IndyCar and Formula E have become refuges for F1 castaways (see: Alexander Rossi), frequently drivers that may have talent but don’t have the financial backing to bring to a team to ensure a commitment.
The back of the grid in F1 continues to become more of a place to ‘pay for play’ rather than either a proving ground or a place for surprises – perhaps with the exclusion of Toro Rosso, though next year even they seem to be settling with the trend.
Good on Ericsson for finding a place to continue his driving career. He’ll be playing in both series as his reserve role has not been compromised. That’s a pretty good situation in which to find oneself.
- While on the topic of F1 refugees, did anyone even notice that Stoffel Vandoorne crossed the finish line in eighth? The points are his first since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix back on April 29. Vandoorne will be driving in Formula E next year so the finish works as kind of a swan song; it is unlikely that he’ll maintain such performance for the rest of the season.
Oh wait, the season has just two races left. Maybe he will. Vandoorne is much like Ericsson in that he certainly could have talent, but one will only have to guess if that is truly the case as both have been saddled with disappointing cars for their whole careers.
- The series takes a week off before moving on to Brazil for the penultimate race of the F1 season. The track always seems to bring a miasma of difficulties, be it rain, downforce, pavement, or silly driving maneuvers. Hence, while the drivers’ title is over, there still is reason to watch. The fact that the constructors’ title still has a ways to go should also provide a sense of intrigue as that story continues.