Lewis Hamilton, the best of his generation

But love him or not, one thing you cannot question is that Lewis Hamilton is an exceptional racing driver, certainly one of the greatest of all time.

Drivers like Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Schumacher and Fernando Alonso garnered nationalistic support from their home countries on a level that Lewis Hamilton has never been able to achieve for some reason.   -  AP

The US Grand Prix weekend is one of my favourites. Austin is a great city, we get a huge crowd who are loving F1 more and more, and the atmosphere at the track is fantastic. It was also a very busy weekend with lots of news and gossip outside of the track action!

Things kicked off on Thursday with our first look into the future of the sport from 2021 and beyond. On the whole, my first impressions are positive and Ross Brawn and Nikolas Tombazis from the FIA presented a very logical and data-driven set of rules that seemed to make a lot of sense. The most important thing is the focus on the “raceability” and making it easier for the cars to follow each other closely without losing too much downforce and therefore be in a better position to overtake.

Currently, the car following closely behind their competitor loses about 45 percent of their downforce, which is what stops them from following too closely and overtaking. The new rules are meant to allow cars to follow and only lose about 20 percent of their downforce, which will be a significant improvement. Yes, the top three teams are very concerned about the way the rules are restricting their design creativity, but ultimately for the show, the FIA and F1 need to do what’s best for all 10 teams and also entice other new ones in.

They are also looking at several ways of reducing the costs involved and are aiming to create a set of rules that reward people who spend their money wisely, not necessarily the people who spend the most amount of money. This of course will mean that the big teams will end up losing people as they scale back their workloads, but the hope is that we will be able to entice new teams to F1 and these people will get jobs with the new teams.

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The bumps around the Circuit of the Americas were a big talking point as well. I drove several laps around there in a road car over the weekend and there’s no question that some of the bumps were really quite extreme and beyond anything we see in F1 nowadays. I’m a fan of bumps on a track as I think they give it character, but this was a bit over the top in some places. I think it’s a fair assumption that this contributed to Sebastian Vettel’s suspension failure in the race.

There was a really tense undercurrent throughout the sharp end of the paddock from Saturday morning, when the FIA issued a clarification to the teams about the measurement of the fuel flow and any potential interference with the signal that allows the sensors and the measurement system to work properly.

It’s not right for me to comment on the rumours and whispers because unless there’s something in black and white from the FIA, it’s not fair to really say anything speculative. However, what did seem evident looking at the GPS data this weekend is that unlike what we’ve seen in recent races, including at a similar downforce level and track configuration in Suzuka, is that Ferrari did not have as big an advantage on the straights in comparison to the Mercedes or Red Bull cars. As I said before, I’m not going to get into the game of speculation as to why this was the case, but I get the feeling that this issue could rumble on for a little while longer.

The race itself was won by the fastest driver over the weekend – and it wasn’t necessarily the one we would have all expected. Lewis Hamilton has been exceptional around the COTA circuit since we first came here in 2012, winning five times in seven years. But when it came to crunch time in qualifying, it was his teammate Valtteri Bottas who delivered a stellar lap to take pole.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull will be reasonably pleased to finish within five seconds of the winner in third place.   -  AFP

Qualifying was unbelievably close this weekend, with the top three drivers from three teams within a 10th of a second, but also the top five within just three-tenths of a second. With a long lap and lots of high-energy changes of direction, this is a hard track for the tyres and I thought that Valtteri did a very good job of making sure he had the grip he needed for the final sector of the lap. You could see that other drivers were struggling more and more with rear-end grip as the lap unfolded, but even at the final corner, the Finn seemed to have the rear end of the car under control, which was impressive to watch.

In the race, the Ferraris really struggled in the opening stint on the medium-compound tyres. For whatever reason, their pace was way off anything that the Mercedes drivers or Max Verstappen could do, and that’s something they need to really work out. Once Charles Leclerc put the harder tyres on, his pace seemed fine, but it was too late to do anything about the leaders.

We had an interesting strategic contest for the win, with Hamilton managing his tyres to do a one-stop race against Valtteri on a two-stop. In terms of strategy, I don’t think there was much in it on Sunday as we have to remember that Lewis started further behind from Valtteri and Lewis on a one-stop was able to get in front of a two-stopping Verstappen. Max and Red Bull will be reasonably pleased to finish within five seconds of the winner. Christian Horner told me that the Dutchman picked up some front-wing damage on the opening lap which hurt his race and therefore finishing within a few seconds of the winning car was a good result for them.

But ultimately, at the end of it all, the biggest story of the weekend was of course Lewis winning his sixth World Championship. I remember when I was growing up that every one thought Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of five titles would never be beaten. Then we thought that Michael Schumacher’s record of seven championships would stand forever, and really as recently as 2013, that seemed to be the case. But now, it looks very likely that Lewis is going to beat that record, which is an amazing feat.

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Lewis is clearly someone who divides fans. There are several people who love him, but equally there are people who just can’t warm to him. Drivers like Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Schumacher and Fernando Alonso garnered nationalistic support from their home countries on a level that Lewis has never been able to achieve for some reason.

But love him or not, one thing you cannot question is that he’s an exceptional racing driver, the best of his generation and certainly one of the greatest of all time. So I’m going to finish by saying, congratulations Lewis – it’s been a pleasure to watch greatness unfold on the track!