Five-star Hamilton cements his status in pantheon of all-time greats

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In a life where they say anything is possible with hard work and a bit of luck, Lewis Hamilton has cemented his status as one of the greatest drivers of all time after clinching his fifth world title at the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday.

From a small council house in Stevenage to a fortune worth more £170 million is a leap beyond imagination and even the Briton has to pinch himself at times to realise how far life has taken him.

The Mercedes driver is now level with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio on championship wins. Only Michael Schumacher with seven crowns is a cut above.

And with two years remaining on his current Mercedes contract, the 33-year-old’s chances of matching the legendary German remains all the more possible after his latest triumph.

But aside from the world championship victories, Hamilton has already surpassed the German’s previous pole record of 68, with 81 to his name – but is still 19 race wins behind Schumacher who leads the way on a stunning 91. However, if Mercedes continues its domination, Hamilton could well reach that feat by the age of 35.

Whereas some sports stars desire fades after continued success, the imperious Hamilton appears to have become stronger with every passing season.

Each era of sport will have different heroes and legends, but Hamilton has proven time and again his ability to drive to the maximum potential and eek every millisecond out of a track when it really counts.

In the 18 races so far this campaign, the Stevenage native has stormed to pole position on nine occasions and looks a genuine cut above the rest of the field when it comes to pace and precision over one lap.

Of course there is more to greatness than just numbers. In the racing world, greatness means love from the fans.

Ayrton Senna was a three-time champion and adored by the entire Formula One public. Not just because he was ridiculously skilled behind the wheel, but because of the way he carried himself on and off the track.

While no other driver has tasted as much success as Schumacher, he was never liked the way Senna was.

The same goes for Hamilton. Perhaps one of the most significant problems with the Brit is people’s perception of him.

He rubs shoulders with superstar athletes and musicians, attends fashion events and has a clear addiction to social media. But for all the criticism he faces, he still backs it up with titanic performances on race day.

In the build up to Singapore Grand Prix last month, he was heavily criticised for his 25,000 air miles clocked in the days before the race, flying to Shanghai and New York for the launch of his fashion collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger.

Many thought the gruelling schedule, coupled with the jet lag, would impact negatively on his displays at Marina Bay Street Circuit. Once again, he proved the doubters wrong with a sizzling victory to stretch the gap in the championship race to 40 points.

For all the negativity, maybe it’s his interests off the track that have made him a more formidable driver over the years. While others on the grid are immersed solely in F1, Hamilton has fashion, music and his sponsorship commitments to focus on and take his mind off the pressures of life on the track.

At the end of the day, not everyone is going to like you no matter who you are. Hamilton is a human being before a sports star and should be judged solely on his results and his performances, instead of his endeavors and interests away from it.

Still, enthusiasts of the sport are lucky to be able to watch such a stellar British talent excel on the world stage. Maybe it’s only going to be something we realise once he does retire.

His latest world championship triumph caps off another remarkable season, but one that disappoints in some aspects with title rival Vettel unable to maintain any form of momentum in the championship race.

If Vettel is to prevent Hamilton’s march to matching Schumacher’s record over the next two seasons, he will have to erase the inconsistencies which have plagued his previous two campaigns.

He has the pacey car, the skill, the confidence and the experience of winning four world titles, but he was a clear fading force again for the second half of the season, and needs to cut out errors on the track if he is to stand any chance of making the title race competitive in 2019.

Whatever happens between now and the end of Hamilton’s contract in two years, nobody would deny him a place among the Pantheon of all-time greats.

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Where the F1 title race was won for five-time champion Lewis Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton has clinched his fifth Formula One World Championship. The Mercedes driver wrapped up the world championship in the Mexican Grand Prix.

Here, we look back at six key races in the battle for this year’s championship race.

Azerbaijan

Sebastian Vettel’s championship challenge has been littered by errors, and he made his first of nine this year in the closing stages of a frantic Baku race. The Ferrari driver was running in second place before he attempted a gung-ho pass on Valtteri Bottas for the lead.

His move backfired as he ran off the track and dropped two places to fourth. Hamilton, who had been off-colour for much of the weekend, then took the chequered flag after Bottas’ tyre exploded on the penultimate lap.

France

Another mistake by Vettel cost the German further points at the Paul Ricard Circuit. As Hamilton galloped to a regulation victory from pole, Vettel collided with Bottas at the opening bend.

The Ferrari driver, handed a five-second penalty by the stewards for his role in the coming together, damaged his front wing and had to stop for repairs before clawing his way back to fifth. Vettel’s demise, and Hamilton’s victory, enabled the Briton to reclaim the championship lead.

Sebastian Vettel 4

Germany

Hamilton started 14th in Hockenheim after his Mercedes broke down in qualifying, while Vettel secured pole. Vettel appeared set to take victory only to crash out of the race following a late rain shower. To make matters worse for the Ferrari man, Hamilton benefited from the subsequent safety car to seal a remarkable victory.

Afterwards, Hamilton’s former rival Nico Rosberg claimed it was the darkest day of Vettel’s career, and it was hard to disagree. Indeed, it could be argued that it was an incident from which he never recovered. He has never led the championship since.

Italy

Monza’s ‘Temple of Speed’ became Ferrari’s ‘Temple of Doom’ after they fluffed their lines on home turf. Ferrari had the superior machinery, but it was Hamilton in his Mercedes who claimed one of the finest wins of his career.

Vettel was last at the end of lap one after clumsily colliding with Hamilton. He recovered to finish fourth, but his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was unable to stop the rampant Mercedes from passing him for the victory in the final stages of a stunning drive.

Singapore

Hamilton delivered the lap of his life to upset the odds and place his Mercedes on pole position. Hamilton should never have been in contention for the front slot at a venue which has proved a bogey track for the Silver Arrows in recent years, but not only did he take pole, but the size of his gap to the rest was mighty, too: more than six tenths faster than Vettel, and seven tenths ahead of team-mate Bottas.

No wonder Hamilton described it as magic. Overtaking is impossible at the Marina Bay track, and Hamilton perfectly executed the win.

Hamilton flashes the sign of victory

United States

Any slim chance Vettel had of stopping Hamilton taking the championship evaporated after his eighth and ninth mistakes of the year in Austin. First, Vettel was penalised three places on the grid after failing to slow adequately under red flags in practice.

Then, in attempting to fight back through the pack, he tagged wheels with Daniel Ricciardo and spun. Despite a strategy error by Mercedes, Hamilton extended his championship lead, setting up his memorable Mexican night.

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Ferrari don't make the right decisions, says triumphant Lewis Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton believes Ferrari are cracking under the pressure of this season’s championship fight after he took another major stride towards winning the world title.

Hamilton will start the Japanese Grand Prix from the front of the grid after claiming an 80th pole position of his record-breaking career at the Suzuka circuit on Saturday.

Sebastian Vettel, who is already a distant 50 championship points behind Hamilton, lines up only ninth after an embarrassing tyre blunder by Ferrari cost the German dearly in qualifying.

It did not help that Vettel was also culpable of another error as, in attempting to make amends for his team’s mistake, he ran off the circuit at Spoon and finished 4.4 seconds down. His team-mate Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth.

Despite only a smattering of rain drops in the moments before the shootout for pole, Ferrari elected to put Vettel on wet tyres. Hamilton headed out on the slick rubber.

While the Englishman posted the pole lap, Vettel had to dash back to the pits for a change of tyres. By the time he was ready to set his best effort, a rain shower left him terribly exposed.

The track became increasingly damp, and there would be no challenge to Hamilton who, barring a disaster, will now extend his title lead and further tighten his grip on championship number five.

“Every team has smart people, but ultimately when it comes to being under pressure and making the right decisions and the right calls, that is why we are the best in the world,” a delighted Hamilton said.

“It adds to the momentum of this championship. It is always difficult to make the right call, but that is another real big difference that we as a team have made this year.

“The Ferrari cars pulled out of the garage on the intermediate tyres, and I honestly didn’t think it was the right decision.”

Hamilton was not alone. Vettel was already on the radio even before he left the pits to tell his team they had messed up. It was too late.

Vettel’s ensuing mistake also supports one paddock theory that his error-prone campaign has been sparked by trying to manage his hapless Italian team from inside the Ferrari cockpit.

On Saturday night, the 31-year-old German toed the party line, but he will know that this latest setback is likely to mean the end of his championship challenge.

“We expected more rain, and it didn’t come straightaway so it was the wrong decision,” he said.

“I am not blaming anybody. It doesn’t matter who made the call. Why does it matter? It was our call.

“If it starts to rain five or six minutes earlier then we performed a miracle because we are the only clever ones. If it turns out the way it does then we are stupid. I defend the decision.”

The best Vettel can realistically hope for in Japan on Sunday is fourth and if, as expected, Hamilton takes the chequered flag, the British driver will move 63 points clear with 100 on the table. It means the championship could be decided as early as the United States Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.

“It has been an incredible year, but never in a million years did I think I would get to 80,” said Hamilton, now 12 poles ahead of any other driver in the sport’s history. “Eighty is not the end, but it is a milestone I am very proud of.

“It makes me think of all the great years that I have had, and quite a few of those were at McLaren when we didn’t always have a championship-winning car.”

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