If Nico Rosberg needed some gentle words of encouragement after his vanquishing by Lewis Hamilton in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim they certainly did not come from the Mercedes head of motorsport, Toto Wolff.
Hamilton, said Wolff following the British driver’s sixth win in seven races, was simply “unbeatable”.
Rosberg, who witnesses Hamilton’s best work at slightly closer quarters, has seen a 43-point lead in the drivers’ championship turn into a 19-point deficit in the space of those seven grands prix. During that time, he has won only once, the European Grand Prix in Baku, and he could finish only fourth in Hockenheim after slipping back following a poor start from pole.
Wolff, marvelling at the world champion Hamilton’s performances, said: “Lewis has so much talent and speed that, on his day, I think he is unbeatable. But then it is a mechanical sport and he is human, and you can have good days and bad days and that is why he is not winning every race. I really admire the way it is going. The ping-pong between the two and the way it is coming back.”
What we are seeing now, however, is plenty of ping without the pong. In recent weeks it has been as one-sided as Laurel and Hardy playing with a seesaw, with Hamilton equalling his best run of success towards the end of the 2014 season.
So was he unbeatable, Hamilton was asked, following Wolff’s comments? “I didn’t know he would say that,” he said. “I never feel invincible or unbeatable. I feel when I’m at my strongest, number one is where I can be.”
Perhaps it is time to consider – and you had better whisper this in the presence of Sir Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss and the ghost of Jim Clark – that we are watching the greatest Formula One driver Britain has produced.
That has generally been considered to be Clark, viewed alongside Ayrton Senna and Juan Manuel Fangio as the greatest there has been. However, there will come a time, and it has probably arrived already, when the almost oppressive weight of Hamilton’s statistics will start to bear down on the legend of Clark, who won two world championships and 25 races, even though he would have surely added to both those figures had he not been killed aged only 32 in a Formula Two crash at Hockenheim in 1968.
This year, Hamilton, still only 31, is on schedule to win his fourth world title. His most recent victory was the 49th of his shimmering career. Only Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91) stand ahead of him. Now even Schumacher’s figures, which include seven world titles, look vulnerable to Hamilton’s remarkable rapacity.
There have been rather too many people a little anxious to portray Hamilton as some gruesome morality tale in the making, a Dorian Gray with a fast car. There are many in the predominantly white and very conservative village of F1 who not only fail to comprehend his bewitching talent but also struggle to understand his fascination with sharing his vivid personal life on social media. “It will all catch up with him one day,” the critics have opined. Even the liberal-minded 1996 world champion Damon Hill warned last year that Hamilton was becoming too distracted.
Hamilton is delighted that one of his long-term critics, the former F1 driver from Northern Ireland John Watson, who has often said that Hamilton’s lifestyle could result in him losing focus on the track, has recently changed his mind.
“I think that’s awesome,” Hamilton said. “I like that view. It’s easy to get stuck in your ways, and your views, including myself. Sometimes we’re not open-minded about things and willing to shift your perception and your opinions. It’s taken a long time! It’s been 10 years! I’ve seen plenty of interesting stories from him, so it’s nice. I live my life the way I want to live it.
“There’s not a day goes by that I regret living it. You never know when is your last day, so the most important thing is to enjoy and embrace whatever opportunity you have ahead of you. Life’s too short to not be happy and the things I do make me happy. Every day I want to continue what I do and drive the way I drive. And if I change one person’s perception I think that will be a success.”
There is a growing perception that Formula One without Lewis Hamilton would be a very desolate place indeed.
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