It’s been a couple of record-breaking seasons for Lewis Hamilton. In 2017, he equalled and then passed Alain Prost for second place on the list of most Formula One race wins and tied the Frenchman as well as title rival Sebastian Vettel on four World Championship wins. This year has seen more of the same, with Hamilton surging ahead midway through the season as the Ferrari challenge floundered amid poor driver and team decisions.
With the Japanese Grand Prix victory, Hamilton stands just 20 behind Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins. And his fifth driver’s World Championship will see him equal the great Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five of the first eight F1 titles. With four races to go in the season, Hamilton leads the standings by 67 points, and if he wins the US Grand Prix with Vettel finishing no higher than third, the title is his. Of doing so he must be supremely confident. After all, Hamilton has won five of the six races run at the Circuit of the Americas since it was added to the calendar in 2012.
But the larger story is that of Hamilton and Vettel, two prodigies who lived up to the expectations, all the while shattering record after record. Hamilton became the youngest world champion ever in 2008 at the age of 23 years and 300 days. Two years later, Vettel took the title at 23 years and 134 days. It’s another matter that Hamilton lost the 2007 title to Kimi Raikkonen by a single point after the Brit led the standings going into the final race of the season.
Vettel not only broke the record for youngest champion; with four championships in a row, he had equalled Prost by age 27. Hamilton, on the other hand, had to wait six years for a second title, but at age 33 is set to surpass his rival.
The Vettel-Hamilton rivalry follows a pattern: greatness breeds greatness in Formula One. Since its 1950 inception, the 1960s were the only period that saw no single dominant pairing. In the 1950s, it was Fangio and Alberto Ascari (two titles). Alain Prost duelled with Nelson Piquet (three titles) in the early and middle 1980s and Ayrton Senna (also three) later. Michael Schumacher, the record-holder with seven, had to contend with Mika Hakkinen in the late 1990s and rising star Fernando Alonso in the mid-2000s (two back-to-back titles each). And the 1970s saw a three-way fight for dominance between Niki Lauda (three titles), Jackie Stewart (three) and Emerson Fittipaldi (two).
Hamilton is now 33 and Vettel 31, and both have a few years of racing to go. The records set by Schumacher seem increasingly within their grasp.
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