The statistics are astonishing. Mercedes have taken pole position for 84% of the 100 races held so far in Formula 1’s V6 era, and won 74% of them. That dominance is significantly greater than Ferrari managed between 2000 and ’04 (60% of poles and 67% of wins), or Red Bull between ’10 and ’13 (68% and 53%).
Lewis Hamilton’s prowess within that statistical dominance is undeniable: 52 poles and 51 wins – while adding four world titles to the one he achieved with McLaren. Sebastian Vettel took pole for more than half the races he started for Red Bull between ’10 and ’13; Michael Schumacher won more than half of Ferrari’s races between ’00 and ’04. Neither managed both, as Lewis has.
But numbers are only one measure of a driver’s greatness. This month, we delve into the method behind the might, and analyse the key facets of Hamilton’s genius as a driver – how, particularly since Nico Rosberg quit Formula 1, Lewis has pushed himself to even greater heights.
Mercedes have played a major part in his evolution, allowing Lewis freedom to explore his interests away from F1 while going racing his own way. Mercedes’ management deserves credit for recognising the need to release Hamilton from corporate shackles, so they can extract the best from him and he can extract the best from himself.
This wasn’t an easy season either. The W09 was difficult to begin with, and things were close with Ferrari until Maranello’s development progress stalled in the summer. The Mercedes became stronger in the latter half of ’18, but it still needed a driver of Lewis’s rare calibre to elevate it. Mercedes won 11 races, all to Lewis. Even if Lady Luck credits Azerbaijan and Russia back to Valtteri Bottas, that’s still a major dependency.
Would Lewis still have won the title had he swapped cars with Vettel? Difficult to say. But you get the feeling races like Germany, Hungary, Italy, the US, maybe Singapore too, would have turned out differently for Ferrari were Hamilton in their car.
Vettel at his best can get close – in qualifying and so long as it’s dry – and rookie of the year Charles Leclerc will be another in red to watch out for (though it remains to be seen how he will deal with the step up from F1’s midfield morass). But as things stand, Max Verstappen looks the biggest threat to Hamilton’s current reign – if Red Bull receives a Honda engine worthy of their chassis, and Max can smooth the “raw edges” admirer Toto Wolff feels are holding him back from becoming a champion.
That’s for the future. For now, grand prix racing is all about Hamilton – the undisputed King of F1. This is his domain and he rules supreme, backed up by an astonishingly successful Mercedes team.