As the cheers echoed through the newly re-opened Algarve Racing Circuit in Portimão, a familiar sight took hold. Lewis Hamilton pulls up to the podium having won another race, his 92nd: the most races ever won by a single driver in the history of Formula 1.
“You are rewriting the history books,” said Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer, when speaking to Lewis after he crossed the chequered flag at the 2020 Portuguese Grand-Prix.
Team sport or individual talent?
Formula 1 stands out compared to more traditional sports for its simultaneous team-oriented, and individual-oriented nature.
Lewis Hamilton is now the driver with the most wins in the history of the sport; but, how much of that can be attributed to his individual racing skills, as opposed to the car that Mercedes has built for him?
When compared directly to his teammate, Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas, from whom he is 77 points clear (before the race at Imola on the 1st), does Hamilton’s dominance become fully evident. Only when comparing Hamilton’s immense talents as a driver and the excellence of his team, who have won the previous 6 constructors championships, can his dominance really be put into perspective.
This is not to say that other sports do not have comparable individual/team dynamics. Almost all top-level athletes have a team of people looking after their health and well-being.
Formula 1’s greatest strength and weakness
What makes Formula 1 different is that it takes this dynamic a step further, by going beyond an individual’s body and health, and actually equipping specific drivers with the best instruments to play the sport.
To make a slightly cliché parallel, this is the equivalent to one of the sides in a football game having a smaller goal. It is both Formula 1’s greatest strength, and its greatest weakness.
Speaking from personal experiences in the wider Formula 1 community, it is completely acceptable to write off entire seasons due to the unbalanced nature of teams. The lingering hope remains that, eventually, regulations and rules will change, and races will become more competitive.
It’s easy to understand why fans would be frustrated when it becomes normal for an entire year to become a foregone conclusion.
An unbalanced nature is not necessarily a criticism of the sport; because, as history has shown us, when different teams and drivers actually have competitive vehicles, the sport can provide incredibly high-octane entertainment.
For me, the best moment of this season so far was when Pierre Gasly won the Italian Grand Prix at the historic Monza circuit. He was racing for Red Bulls ‘sister’ team, Alpha Tauri, who currently sits 9th in the standings, and cemented his first-ever win, and only the second in his team’s history.
Unfortunately, moments like these can be chalked down to no more than fluke, dependent entirely on incredibly unlikely scenarios.
Is it reasonable to expect every race to be competitive for every driver? Not without stifling the incredible work that the teams put in. I don’t think this is a reasonable expectation or a demand that anyone is really making.
So will Lewis Hamilton ever stop winning?
Not for a while, it would seem. Having beaten the great Michael Schumacher’s win record of 91, it seems likely that he will surpass 100 at some point, especially with the attainment of his 7th driver’s title seemingly a mere formality at this point.
Hamilton is 35, which is by no means too old to be a top-level driver. Alfa Romeo’s stableman Kimi Raikonnen is still going at the age of 41, and is set to race again next season for the Italian outfit. However, it is certainly in the upper echelons of what is typical.
The more important question to me is — will anyone ever again reach the peaks that Hamilton and Mercedes have attained in the last few seasons?
I hope, for entertainment’s sake, they don’t.
After all, the joy in Formula 1 doesn’t come from who wins, it comes from the racing, and if the racing isn’t competitive, then the sport suffers.