Lewis Hamilton sealed his fifth Formula One World Title at the last Mexican Grand Prix in the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit. His next goal: matching Michael Schumacher’s seven titles. The most any driver has achieved in the history of Formula One.
Hamilton is now level with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, the second most successful F1 driver in history. Which have been the key factors at play for the Briton’s sweeping success?
From a strictly quantitative point of view, in 2018 Lewis Hamilton has won a total of 9 Grand Prix compared to the 5 taken by his main rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The Briton has also been extraordinarily consistent in his performance, climbing up the podium in 15 of the 19 races. His German colleague, however, has only managed to come within the top three positions on 11 occasions.
Both Hamilton individually and his Scuderia collectively have shown a number of invaluable strengths without which it would have been very difficult for Hamilton to conquer his fifth title. Those strengths are:
For a good part of the season, mostly during the first half, the performance of the Mercedes W09 has been inferior to that of the Ferrari SFH71.
The biggest issue has been the excessive wearing of the Mercedes’ tyres in comparison with those of his rival. For the first time in years, the German car lagged behind the Red Bullet. The Brackley team was losing at both Maranello’s favourite tracks as well as their own.
The start of the season couldn’t have been more promising for the Prancing Horse or more depressing for the Silver Stars after Vettel’s two consecutive victories in Australia and Bahrein. But from such a critical and complex situation, a very accepting and adaptable Lewis Hamilton emerged. He knew the limitations of his W09 and was going to squeeze all the juice out of it.
Aware of the mechanical superiority of his opponent he displayed a cold, calculated and masterful driving style, minimising any damage and losing the least number of points possible to his German rival.
Despite being accustomed to being the top dog of the hybrid era, Lewis Hamilton showed a great deal of patience and nerves of steel to not lose hope, always displaying a positive demeanour and radiating a deep serenity. He knew his moment will come sooner or later in the season and concentrated on making no mistakes while waiting for it. This was another key to his success: A precise, effective and mistake-free performance that would secure the greatest number of points.
Mental speed and strength on the track
To come out on top from his delicate situation required a strong psychological determination and a solid disposition of mind. The Briton was not only able to overcome his vehicles’ mechanical issues but to defeat his adversary both psychologically and on the track.
Lewis Hamilton sized Vettel up and showed him his superiority in hand to hand combat. The Briton has, in fact, come out trumps from all battles with Vettel. By the middle of the season, when Mercedes finally managed to upgrade their singles-seater to match that of Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton wasted no opportunity to crush his rival. Proof this are his four consecutive victories and six podiums in seven races that immediately followed the summer holidays. A breath-taking winning spree.
Since the end of August, Hamilton has only missed the podium at the Mexican Grand Prix, and then he didn’t need to finish within the first three in order to take the Championship. His level motivation and skill have made Lewis Hamilton stand above the rest. Ferrari nonetheless, is also accountable for their failure.
Mercedes, a great team
Without the support of a great team, the legendary success of Lewis Hamilton would have not been possible. This season, the Brackley Scuderia has demonstrated that they too can do a great job under very challenging and demanding circumstances. They have been able to turn things around after the bleak start of the season and to fine-tune their vehicle so as to give their hero a car fit for a winner. After all the work, Lewis Hamilton and the clever ventilation holes in the wheels of the German cars have worked the miracle.
The other side of the coin in their collective effort to give Hamilton his fifth title has been the issuing of team orders to Valtteri Bottas. The docile Finn let Hamilton through without protesting when it was necessary (Russia) and slowed down the pace of the race in order to obstruct Raikkonen (Italy) and facilitate his team-mate’s victory.
Leaving some initial mishaps aside, Mercedes’ strategy overall has been determinant to Hamilton’s success. The war with the Maranello team has been won both on the track and from behind the scenes.
Vettel’s mistakes and inconsistencies
Sebastian Vettel has often flaked under the pressure and hasn’t made the most of one of the best Ferraris of the latest years. This has been apparent in his numerous mistakes (Azerbaijan, France, Austria, Germany and Italy) some of which are truly unthinkable for an F1 four-time world champion.
Accustomed to shine on board his dominant car, the driver from Happenheim was weakened by his insecurities when posed against a slightly superior machine.
Despite his initial success at Albert Park (Australia) and Sakir (Bahrein), Vettel knew Hamilton was very eager to draw up level with Fangio and his fifth titles. He soon started to feel threatened by the Briton’s determination and began to make careless driving mistakes.
Among the biggest ones is the mistake he made at the German Grand Prix. Sebastian arrived at Hockenheim eight points ahead of Hamilton and left 12 points behind. He came off the track inexplicably on lap 52 while he was at the lead. The senseless mistake and the 25 points he lost as a result, weighted heavy on his shoulders from then on.
As if things hadn’t been already bad enough for the Tifosis, the next big mistake came at the Italian Grand Prix. On the first lap in Monza, he attempted to overtake his team-mate and pole-holder Kimi Raikkonen. He failed, and in the manoeuvre, he accidentally touched Lewis Hamilton and was sent spinning as a result. For the rest of the race, he had to climb back from the bottom of the pile.
Vettel managed a remarkable fourth position but the Briton won taking also a 30-point lead in the standings right there at Ferrari’s home turf. Another blow to Vettel’s already fragile position. Since then he became just a mere witness to Hamilton’s successive triumphs and final conquest of his fifth crown, never climbing up to the podium again.
A final negative impact has been the power war inside Maranello to fill the void left by their president, although it seems that finally Maurizio Arrivabene, current sporting director for the team, will be nominated.
Main image: Mercedes AMG.