The winningest driver in F1 history missed out on a title last year, but his status as F1’s most revered driver has not changed.
If you count just his time at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton’s 77 poles, 82 wins, and six championships are all top two careers of all time. At just Mercedes, Hamilton has nine more career poles than previous career record-holder Michael Schumacher. His resume is beyond stellar, it is now unquestionably the greatest in the history of F1. But he lost last year’s championship, the first he hasn’t won since 2016. This offseason, that put him in a particularly strange place.
Hamilton lost what would have been his record-setting eighth driver’s title on the last lap of the final race of the season, the direct result of a shocking race control decision that led to then-race director Michael Masi being removed from his post. Hamilton never confirmed whether or not he was contemplating a retirement any more seriously than in past offseasons, but he disappeared from social media for months from the night of the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and returned with a flurry of statements about how he had lost some faith in the integrity of the sport. It was a late defining moment in a career that has been set since his first championship in 2008, a moment where Hamilton was forced to ask if F1 was still for him. He decided that it was, which means one very simple thing: So long as Mercedes remains competitive, Lewis Hamilton is still the week-by-week favorite in every grand prix this season.
Hamilton’s path to Formula 1 is the sort of thing racing teams dream about. He was brought into the fold at McLaren as a karting prospect at a very young age. Immediate success led him to cars fairly quickly, culminating in him winning the second-ever GP2 championship as a rookie in 2006. McLaren promoted him to their senior Formula 1 team immediately.
His legend began immediately. Hamilton scored podiums in his first nine career races, culminating in his first career pole and win at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. He’d go on to win four times that year, enough for him to tie with superstar teammate Fernando Alonso in the driver’s standings and leaving him just one point shy of taking a world championship as a rookie.
He took the championship the year afterward instead.
McLaren was not nearly so fast over the next four seasons, so Hamilton instead bounced between fourth and fifth before taking a deal with the then-upstart Mercedes AMG F1 team in 2013. It was a shocking decision, but one of the greatest in the history of the sport; while McLaren struggled to score two podiums over the next seven years, Hamilton set the world on fire.
You know the rest: Six more championships, 77 more poles, 82 more wins. Hamilton is now the winningest driver in F1 history, the driver with the most poles in F1 history, and tied with Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most championships in F1 history. There is nothing left for him to do on track to prove his greatness, all arguments that anyone else could possibly the greatest Formula 1 driver ever are down to semantics and storytelling.