Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 6 August 2020

No one can stop Lewis Hamilton driving into the history books

Even his own Mercedes teammate - Bottas - is incapable of stopping the Briton as the F1 circus heads to Hungary

Lewis Hamilton made history on Sunday. More of it.

But what it means is more important than what it was. Especially for Mercedes’ remarkable racer.

It is a side note to his amazing career that with victory at the Red Bull Ring the six-time champion became one of the few drivers to win over three different decades.

But in adding to a tally that started with McLaren in 2007 Hamilton confirmed what many had expected since the aborted start to the season in Melbourne in March: he is on the path to a far more significant milestone – his seventh world title.

Of course, should he do it he will also become the first F1 driver to win world championships in three different decades.

I say ‘should’ and I really mean ‘when’.

There is no question he is the red-hot favourite. His only real rival is teammate Valtteri Bottas - and history suggests he is not much of a rival at all.

I am reminded of a line in the movie Dumb & Dumber when one of the protagonists asks a beautiful woman what are the chances she will go out with him. “About one in a million,” she says to put him off. “So,” he replies, delighted. “There is a chance.”

Bottas has that kind of a chance. Despite inheriting the world champion’s seat in 2017 he has won just eight races in the car Hamilton has guided to three world titles. The 2018 season was not a good one for the Finn’s CV. Hamilton scorched to his fifth world title while Bottas failed to win a single race. Despite three years in the best car he is yet to show the consistency to win successive grands prix.

So let’s not pretend Bottas is a contender.

Did the same happen in the contest between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost? Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell? Jenson Button and Hamilton? Nico Rosberg and Hamilton? Fernando Alonso and Hamilton? Of course not.

Hamilton emphasised his own genius last Saturday when he bounced back from an error-strew opening round to take pole with one of the most remarkable laps of modern times.

In rain and visibility so bad he could barely see a dozen feet beyond his nosecone he was 1.2 secs ahead of the rest in a sport where 0.2 seconds decides careers. The gap to Bottas was an embarrassing 1.5s.

I am not ‘hating’ on the soft-spoken Finn but mention this but because, unfortunately for F1 and its fans, it is evident Mercedes are in a class of their own yet again.

Moreover, Hamilton’s comfortable cruise to victory last Sunday disguised their real speed.

While Max Verstappen rung the car’s neck, heroically sliding wide over the vicious kerbs time and again seeking an extra few tenths, Hamilton drove well within himself and still had plenty in reserve. Black power (the car is painted black in support of the Black Lives Matter movement) was more than enough.

Afterwards Verstappen was clearly downcast at the prospect of another season chasing the disappearing tailpipes of the two Mercedes.

If they couldn’t even take the fight to Mercedes at one of their least competitive circuits and one where Hamilton is usually, puzzlingly, uncompetitive (as he himself admits) where then?

Well, anywhere with short straights and slow speed corners. Which, interestingly enough, means Sunday’s race in Hungary. And the forecast is for sweltering heat in which the Mercedes suffer.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 12: Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP (C), second placed Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP (L) and third placed Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing (R) stand on the podium after the Formula One Grand Prix of Styria at Red Bull Ring on July 12, 2020 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Joe Klamar/Pool via Getty Images)
Race winner Lewis Hamilton, second placed Valtteri Bottas and third placed Max Verstappen stand on the podium after the Formula One Grand Prix of Styria in Spielberg, Austria. Getty

There is little chance of competition from Ferrari, who are in greater disarray than they have been for, perhaps, three decades.

Their drivers committed the cardinal sin of crashing into each other for the second time in four races on Sunday. There is an old F1 adage: you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you definitely can lose it. Ferrari did.

Sebastian Vettel, pushed out the door for next year before the season had even started, is disgruntled and lacks incentive to work for the team that clearly needs his experience. The car’s aerodynamics are atrocious and the V6 turbo is under-powered.

There is growing suspicion the FIA’s winter investigation of Ferrari’s new fuel system has contributed to their drastic loss of form.

Focus on the systemic chaos enveloping Maranello is zeroing in on management failings, particularly Mattia Binotto, who is both technical chief and team boss – a combination many believe is too much for one man.

Being jettisoned from the Maranello mayhem could prove an unexpected blessing for Vettel. He is tipped to join the team that has taken Ferrari’s place as third best, Mercedes-powered Racing Point under the Aston Martin banner next season.

So he could move from the seething cauldron that is Ferrari to the warm bosom of the Mercedes family without ruffling Hamilton’s feathers. Meanwhile the Briton can be left to focus this year on making more history.

Updated: July 16, 2020 07:17 AM

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